YA young adult urban fantasy book reviews L.J. Smith The Vampire Diaries 1. The Awakening, The StruggleThe Vampire Diaries 1: The Awakening & The Struggle by L.J. Smith

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsElena is the ice-blonde queen of the school, admired by girls and boys alike. With her friends, Bonnie and Meredith, she enjoys her status and uses it to snag the most eligible boys. However, Elena always feels as though something is missing. When new boy Stefan starts at the school, she suspects she has found what she is looking for, but Stefan manages to resist her charms. Elena makes a vow with Bonnie and Meredith that she will have Stefan no matter what — little suspecting that he hides a deadly secret. When Stefan’s brother Damon arrives on the scene, Elena may be in more trouble than she realizes.

I am a big fan of L.J. Smith‘s writing, and have enjoyed a number of her books. I did enjoy both The Awakening and The Struggle, but felt that they suffered due to an unlikable main character.
I believe that Smith is deliberately writing Elena in this fashion, since the heroines of her other series have been characters I could relate to. I found myself admiring these heroines for their integrity, honour and humour. Elena, however, is a hard character to like, at least in these first two books of the series.
She thinks way too much about boys (although this is forgivable compared to her other faults, especially considering how much I used to think about boys while at school!):

After all, what was more important than boys? They were the mark of how popular you were, of how beautiful you were. And they could be useful for all sorts of things. Sometimes they were exciting, but usually that didn’t last long.

She is completely manipulative when she wants to get her own way:

Throughout Tanner’s lecture on Europe, Elena repeated to herself, ‘Hello. I’m Elena Gilbert. I’m on the Senior Welcoming Committee, and I’ve been assigned to show you around the school. Now, you wouldn’t want to get me in trouble, would you, by not letting me do my job?’ That last with wide, wistful eyes — but only if he looked like he might try to get out of it.

I disliked her to the point that when one of her friends says the following, I almost cheered and completely agreed!:

“You only want everybody and everything revolving around Elena Gilbert,” he said bitterly. “You only want everything you don’t have.”

With this in mind, at the start of the book, I wasn’t sure I would like it. And yet the story sucked me in. This is mainly because of the brothers, Stefan and Damon. On the one hand, we have the tortured soul and on the other, the brother who has embraced the darkness. It is a mark of L.J. Smith’s superlative characterisation that I genuinely didn’t know which of the brothers I wanted to end up with Elena.

Some of the plot devices are less than realistic (which teacher invites his student over for a evening to get to know them?) and some of the subplots become extremely tired (Elena’s lost diary), but at the heart of this book is a great love story and its quality shines through. Of all the teen writers, I believe that L.J. Smith captures best how utterly and sweetly in thrall one can be when falling in love for the first time. The burgeoning relationship between Elena and Stefan is impossibly fairytale and yet very realistic (if you disregard the vampire aspect!).

I also like the diary entry method of writing part of the story. It helps to convey Elena’s feelings and gets inside her head properly. I enjoyed the switch in point of view over to Stefan — the way he saw Elena was beautifully done, and the flashbacks to his history were entertaining.

In summary, The Vampire Diaries has some major faults but I couldn’t help but love the central romance. Elena and Stefan are Romeo and Juliet for the MTV generation!

~Amanda Rutter (2010)science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews

YA young adult urban fantasy book reviews L.J. Smith The Vampire Diaries 1. The Awakening, The StruggleEvery now and then I like to re-read L.J. Smith, the author who defined my tween years. Though The Vampire Diaries is now better known as the CW show (which piggy-backed off the success of Twilight), its popularity meant that all of Smith’s works have recently been republished for a new audience. And her original four-part vampire story holds up surprisingly well, though even as a teenager I preferred the supernatural mystery to the melodramatic romance.

Elena Gilbert is the most popular girl at her high school, ruling the roost alongside her friends Caroline Forbes, Bonnie Bennett and Meredith Sulez. But when she returns to school after a holiday in France, things have changed. Caroline has become resentful and unpleasant, and Elena herself feels dissatisfied with her life. Having broken up with her dependable boyfriend Matt, Elena now feels a keen sense of approaching danger — not helped by the increasingly bizarre occurrences that are taking place in the small township of Fell’s Church.

That’s when Stefan Salvatore shows up, a handsome new student who is bafflingly uninterested in Elena. This only makes her more determined to get his attention, and soon she has Meredith and Bonnie roped in to her plan to make him her latest conquest.

But Stefan has a secret — which I’m sure you can guess considering the title of the series. In uncovering his dark past, Elena begins to realize there’s a malevolent power on the loose in Fell’s Church, though discovering who (or what) it is takes some detective work, especially once Stefan’s brother Damon enters the scene…

As a protagonist, Elena is refreshingly proactive and motivated. Granted, Smith waxes on constantly about how beautiful and intelligent and popular she is, but I enjoyed the fact that she’s also headstrong and rather self-absorbed — a far cry from the usual shrinking violets that populate teen-vampire novels. Her friendship with Bonnie and Meredith forms the basis of the story, and is perhaps even more narratively important than the romance with Stefan.

That said, the romance between Elena and Stefan has not aged well — in fact, it’s practically built on red flags. Let me count the ways: she’s only interested in him because he ignores her, she begins to neglect her schoolwork and friends in her pursuit of him, she acknowledges that he can turn violent but is insistent that he’d never hurt her, she starts keeping secrets from her friends and family, she accepts an engagement ring from him only a month or so into the relationship — yikes. What seemed like perfectly reasonable behaviour when I was a teenager just doesn’t cut it these days.

All that aside, the book still have a fun “turn your brain off and just enjoy it” quality. Viewers of The Vampire Diaries on the CW may be interested in reading the original books on which the show is based, though I understand that a lot of things have been changed (not least the fact that it no longer takes place in the nineties, which makes up a lot of its charm. No smartphones or social media here! Back in those days, teens had to amuse themselves with séances and school projects!).

The republication of The Vampire Diaries has split the original four books into two: this volume contains The Awakening and The Struggle, with the second covering The Fury and Dark Reunion. Put together they make a fun blast-from-the-past, as well as one that’s had more influence on the teen-vampire genre than it’s given credit for.

~Rebecca Fisher (2018)

Publisher: This special paperback bind-up contains the first two books in L.J. Smith’s New York Times bestselling series The Vampire Diaries, The Awakening and The Struggle. Elena Gilbert is a high school golden girl, used to getting what she wants. And who she wants. But when the boy she’s set her sights on—the handsome and haunted Stefan—isn’t interested, she’s confused. She could never know the real reason Stefan is struggling to resist her: Stefan is a vampire, and Elena’s in danger just by being around him. What’s more, Stefan’s dark, dangerous vampire brother Damon has just arrived in town. And wherever Damon goes, trouble always follows. Binge-read the first two books in the New York Times bestselling series that inspired the hit CW TV show The Vampire Diaries with this bind-up.


  • Amanda Rutter (guest)

    AMANDA RUTTER, one of our guest reviewers, used to be an accountant in the UK but she escaped the world of numbers and is now living in a fantasy world she creates. She runs Angry Robot's YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. And we knew her when....

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  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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