Reviewed on July 28th, 2010
By James (administrator) & filed in the Book Reviews vault
"This is my... BOOMSTICK!"
It’s nice when pleasant surprises come along. First up was the opening season of The Vampire Diaries which I confess I wasn’t expecting to like. It seemed a bit “american tv” (in otherwords safe and brightly lit) and after the likes of Twilight I presumed it was cashing in on the genre in the hope of providing more teenage girls with their vampire fix. After all who wouldn’t want a vampire as a boyfriend?…
And yet the series proved to be deeply satisfying. Dare I say it better than True Blood. For a start it actually had a proper story arc and a genuine end of season cliffhanger that has you screaming for more. But alas season 1 is finished so I decided to turn my attention to the books with some trepidation.
Other reviews seemed to fall squarely in one of two camps. Love it or loathe it. In fact my other half (who loves this kind of thing) hated it and struggled to get through the first four books when I returned home with them (yes I know 4 is a lot to struggle through but she perseveres and probably had nothing else to read). Like all relationships we don’t agree on everything and this is a good example. I loved it!
Initially the differences seem huge; Elena is blonde, Stefan and Damon are Italian, Bonnie is white, Damon is an evil, murderous (but charming) S.O.B and most noticeably of all Elena is the one of the biggest cows you will ever meet. She is the self-appointed queen of the school (think Mean Girls if you have seen it) who throws her weight around, treats her friends like servants and looks down her nose at everyone else.
And of course the story has its differences too. A lot more romance but equally a lot more suspense and menace (and the tv show certainly didn’t pull its punches). But after a while you start to realise the differences aren’t huge and if anything Elena in the books is perhaps a more realistic interpretation of a teenage girl – overly confident, somewhat deluded and nowhere near as worldly wise as she may think.
However the core of the story stays the same; a young girl who has lost her parents at a difficult time in her life, who needs to readjust to the world around her when in walks the mysterious stranger who steals her heart, but at a price – dating a vampire is one thing but dating one who has a homicidally envious brother is more than anyone could have bargained for.
There is however an important factor at the basis of this. L. J. Smith (Lisa to her friends) wrote this in 1991. Ok so some of you are lucky enough to either not remember ‘91 or perhaps weren’t even born then. But I was. And at college I met plenty of girls just like her. This was a time that predates the widespread use of mobile phones or that new fangled internet. Social circles were built on face to face communication and a hierarchy existed in every group.
There is no doubt that in the light of Twilight every suitable vampire property got snapped up and a new lease of life was breathed into The Vampire Diaries. The changes in the plot for the TV series are abundantly necessary – not only have almost two decades past rapidly but the target market needs to be able to relate to our heroine. Bella appeals to emos, goths and misfits everywhere, Sookie chimes a bell with, umm, waitresses and thick, self-centred people? and Elena hits home with girls on the cusp of womanhood who are fiercely determined to prove to the world that they are strong and capable.
But bitchy is so 90’s and so her arrogance and aloofness got re-channeled into leadership and integrity – which really aren’t that far away in the characteristic spectrum. Throw in a few tweaks here and there to round out the cast and move the love triangle along at a quicker pace and you have a winner.
I stopped to ponder at the end of book 1 whether my feeling of satisfaction would be the same if I read the book before watching the show. After all the True Blood books hooked me first (although I am now struggling to understand why I gave the first book such a high score – this is better and yet I am obliged to mark it lower to make this review as honest as possible. It seems I got swept away in the vampire frenzy like everyone else – sorry!) and I prefer them to the show and at times am annoyed at the changes. They skirt along the pretold storylines and yet make seemingly needless or irrational changes to the plot. And yet with The Vampire Diaries it feels like a different take on an established story – take what’s good and make it fit the medium for today’s horror hungry audiences.
Simply put this is a good read that I would whole-heartedly recommend. It’s well written, intelligent with properly fleshed out characters, has good momentum and unlike the True Blood series or Twilight you are not stuck in the viewpoint of one person. Seeing everything through their eyes or listening to their thoughts becomes hard work very quickly – especially if you cant make a connection to the protagonist (or find them annoyingly dense). And let’s face it I’m not exactly a 17 year old girl, though fortunately I find myself relating to Damon with worrying ease!
If you do take the time to read this and find yourself liking it I can guarantee you will rush to pick up the second (better) installment, especially as they are quite quick reads. It may not have the sex that Charlaine Harris is clearly getting off on (and is gaining the True Blood TV show such a healthy, mature audience) but I will trade that for a properly flowing story any day. 8 out of 10.
Author: L. J. Smith
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