Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Paranormal
Pub Date: 2009, Harper Teen
Format: Hardcover, 592 pages
Source/FTC Disclosure: I purchased my copy of this book. I was in no way compensated for this review and my opinions are my own.
Elena Gilbert is alive—again.
When Elena sacrificed herself to save the two vampire brothers who love her—the handsome, brooding Stefan and the sleek and dangerous Damon—she was consigned to a fate beyond death. Until a powerful supernatural force pulled her back.
Now Elena is not just human. She has powers and gifts that were bestowed on her in the afterlife. What's more, her blood pulses with an overwhelming and unique force that makes her irresistible to any vampire.
Stefan wants to find a way to keep Elena safe so that they can make a life together. Damon, however, is driven by an insatiable desire for power, and wants Elena to rule as his princess. When Stefan is lured away from Fell's Church, Damon seizes his chance to convince her that he is the brother she is meant to be with. . . .
But a darkness is infiltrating the town, and Damon, always the hunter, is now the hunted; he becomes the prey of a malevolent creature that can possess him at will, and who desires not just Elena's blood but her death.
So here we have it, my first book review on my new blog!
Needless to say, for those of us who read L. J. Smith's novels as teenagers, her latest book is long overdue. (In all honesty, her loyal readers are probably MOST anxiously awaiting Strange Fate, the culminating novel of the Night World series. I know I am.)
I'm not ashamed to admit that I will still read young adult fiction, though at the time of writing this, there are only a few authors that I still enjoy. L. J. Smith is one of them--I have read and re-read her books many times, as the creases in the paperback bindings will attest. I always preferred Smith to the other popular teen horror writers of the day, Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine. I guess deep down I wasn't as into the gore and raunchiness that were prevalent in those authors' books. L. J. Smith was able to tell a supernatural story while keeping it relatively clean. What can I say? I'll take a good quality story over a dirty, sensational one any day!
I think most of you who've read the series and this book will agree that the latest novel is a bit of a departure from Smith's earlier writings. For one thing, it actually is a lot creepier and a tad bit more risque than its predecessors. The fifth book in this series picks up where the last left off, though admittedly this book was written over 15 years later! We see the return of Elena, once the queen of her high school, turned vampire, turned "angel," now brought back to life. And of course, her main group of friends is back to support her: sweet, shy, psychic Bonnie; the perceptive and strong Meredith, and All-American boy Matt. Oh yeah, and Elena's vampire boyfriend Stefan and his older, more obnoxious brother, Damon, who also happens to be a vampire.
I've seen a lot of complaints that the central characters are just shadows of their former selves, but I really don't think this is true. Their basic characteristics are still there, but they've simply grown as a result of all they went through in the first four books. I will admit that Damon is more of a departure from his original character--he's more obnoxious than he ever was in the previous books (regardless of whether or not he was possessed throughout most of this one). I rather hope the possession had more to do with his unusually snippy and immature remarks as opposed to Smith developing his character in this direction. But again, I feel it bears mentioning that this book was written many years after the first four. We need to allow the author some room to grow and change, right?
By the time I finished this book, I decided that I liked it, but at the same time I found a few things to dislike, or at least puzzle over. For one thing, the storyline is hard to follow. It's as if after all this time away from writing, L. J. Smith is trying too hard to fit into today's YA audience. She certainly packed the book with strange (and scary) events, but failed to really transition this reader through the events with some necessary explanations and details. Perhaps all of her thoughts just didn't make it to paper. Honestly, I felt that some of the ideas came out of nowhere. I've also read reviews that note Smith's obvious dabbling with anime in this book, but as I have never picked up the first piece of anime, I couldn't attest to this at all. My (very uninformed) impressions of anime are that of cheesiness, and I will say that there is a definite cheese-factor to this book. When I re-read the older novels, I was prepared to find them sadly outdated (read: cheesy) but in the end I feel like her newest book actually takes that "prize." Stefan's sickly sweet little nicknames for Elena just don't feel natural. And Elena's various powers that come in the form of "Wings" just don't feel like they fit in with the series, either. Also coming from out of nowhere are the two antagonists: Shinichi and Misao, a pair of kitsunes. (As Smith helpfully writes in the book, that word is pronounced kit-su-nays.) After dealing with vampires out of Italy it felt strange to be fighting a pair of magical Japanese "fox-demons."
As negative as all that sounds, I think there is a lot of potential for the remaining books in the series. My understanding is that they will all focus more on Damon and Elena's relationship with him, making me wonder if she won't ultimately end up with him instead of Stefan. Only time will tell. Indeed, Stefan was not in this story much at all, but I don't want to write too much and give anything away. Suffice it to say that I'm definitely curious to see L. J. Smith grow as a writer. After such a long drought without her books, it's easy to want to draw negative comparisons between her newest work and what I loved growing up, but I'm trying to remain objective and open-minded about the direction she's heading. I'm already planning to revisit Nightfall in a few weeks to see if I have an easier time following the story the second time around. If it's worth another mention in my blog, you know you'll hear about it.