The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith

Torn between two vampire brothers

Damon: determined to make Elena his, he’d kill his own brother to possess her.

Stefan: desperate for the power to destroy Damon, and protect Elena, he gives in to his thirst for human blood.

Elena: the girl who can have anyone finds herself in the middle of a love triangle…one that might turn deadly.
What the fuck, you guys? Somebody came like a THIEF IN THE NIGHT and sucked all the melodramatic fun out of my Vampire Diaries book. I’m extremely disappointed to have to say that Vampire Diaries 2: Electric Boogaloo, was nowhere near as enjoyable as the first book. In fact, for like 75% of its length, it was almost unbearably boring.

Not to say there aren’t some camp moments, but The Struggle lacks anything as consistently entertaining as the wtf-ery of Stefan and Elena’s “courtship”, which leaves us with random-seeming plot points and choppy pacing.

And oh god is the pacing A MESS. I mentioned in the last review that TVD feels like one book arbitrarily divided into thirds, but boy do you feel this even more in The Struggle. It starts and ends mid-scene under the guise of “cliffhanger”, introduces new elements and then just drops them, sets up and resolves its conflict in one big hundred-page chunk in the middle, and then pulls a separate climax whole cloth out of its ass in the last twenty pages.

Did – did any of you folks read the post-Twilight, pre-TV show re-releases where the books were split into two instead of three? Did it feel like a proper book that way? I NEED TO KNOW IF THERE’S A CONFIGURATION OF THIS STORY THAT MAKES SENSE.

Anyway, this one picks up right where the last one left off, with Elena confronting Damon about Stefan’s wherabouts, and here we start to get a more concrete feel for who Damon is supposed to be as a character – which is to say, a rougher, rapey-er Julian (from Forbidden Game). You can really see the LJ Smith Trilogy Bad Boy archetype taking shape here, as Damon slips into the role of blowhard antagonist who ~secretly cares~ but acts out his deep-seated self-loathing by playing the monster.

He spends the book telling Elena to dump the zero and get with the hero, popping up every so often to tempt her with his offer of power and eternal life. When that doesn’t work, he pulls out the mind control, which is where shit starts getting rapey. Er. Rapey-er. Because mind control.

The first time, he tries to ease Elena’s resistance by willing her to forget Stefan, which isn’t a direct assault on her agency – he tried that last book and learned that Elena has a pretty jacked Will Save – but it’s still gross. Like, if I’m supposed to dig this guy by the end of book three or four or whatever, he needs to step off psychically influencing his love interest, full stop.

He does not.

In fact, like mid-book Damon worms his way into an invite to Elena’s home for mock-Thanksgiving (whether via mind control or natural charm we aren’t told), which is a big deal because in Vampire Diaries, vampires are barred from entering human dwellings unless they’ve been invited in. Now that he has, Damon can just show up whenever he wants, which he does later that night to get his “seduction” on. A technicality keeps him from Elena’s room, so he just threatens her four-year-old sister until she lets him in, nbd.

We're the Bad Guys
Chapter cut to the next morning, and:

Her memories of the last hours were confused and blurry. Only fragments were clear. Damon’s eyes looking down at her, filling her whole world. The sharp sting at her throat. And, later, Damon opening his shirt, Damon’s blood welling from a small cut in his neck.

He’d made her drink his blood then. If made was the right word. She didn’t remember putting up any resistance or feeling any revulsion. By then, she had wanted it.
What?
God, can Elena go one book without getting sexually assaulted???

Because that’s what this is, even if we’re not explicitly playing it that way. Smith’s made it clear that blood exchange = sex, and while I don’t want to deny Elena’s autonomy in this interaction, this sounds REALLY rapey. Damon blackmails her into surrendering herself, and then she wakes up the next morning with foggy memories of a sexual encounter that she doesn’t remember wanting but “must have” because she didn’t actively fight it? WHAT?

The worst part is that Elena follows it up with this:

But she wasn’t dead, or even seriously weakened. He hadn’t made her into a vampire. And that was what she couldn’t understand.
Which is supposed to be an indication that Damon isn’t the heartless monster he’s making himself out to be, so whatever way we’re supposed to feel about how he treated Elena the night before is pushed aside to focus on this thread of Damon’s development.

He didn’t turn Elena, therefore he must genuinely care about her/respect her, therefore he can’t be all that bad, therefore it’s fine that he’s (eventually) a viable, sympathetic love interest! N. B. D.

Look, it’s been a long time since I’ve read these, but I don’t remember Damon getting NEARLY the kind of narrative smackdown that he deserves for the shit that he’s pulling here and that is unacceptable. Unacceptable. What are you doing, LJ Smith?

Ugh, anyway, Damon’s mostly non-consensual “courtship” of Elena is about the only plot thread in this book that runs all the way through. The rest lurch in and out in hundred-page chunks, tied together only by their relative sequence.

So let’s take those one by one, shall we?

  • Damon’s Courtship – Gross, done, see above

  • Stefan’s Discovery and Recovery
    • Exactly what it says on the tin
    • See also: nobody cares
  • Introducing Alaric Saltzman, High School Teacher You’d Be Forgiven for Mistaking for a Sexual Predator
    • The replacement for poor dead Mr. Tanner
    • He’s a Cool Teacher who sits on chairs backwards and insists you call him by his first name
      • Gross
      • You’re not fooling anyone, dude
      • You’re not cool
    • He invites all of his underage, high school students to a party at his house, which everyone finds significantly less weird than they should, and goes to anyway
    • That’s it, that’s all he does in this book
    • He’s probably (almost definitely) just in this so that he’s a viable red herring for the next book
    • Also he ends up dating Meredith eventually so JUDGE AWAY
  • The Saga of Elena’s Diary
    • This is the main conflict of the book
    • Elena’s diary is stolen, and someone taunts her by leaving excerpts from it around the school because we need to fill a page count
    • Surprise, it’s Caroline (and Tyler)
      • I genuinely forgot Tyler was involved with this at all tbh
    • Caroline’s evil plan is to read the diary aloud during the big Founder’s Day parade, further implicating Stefan in the last book’s murders, and amassing an angry mob to run him out of town
      • What
      • Why
      • How
      • WHO CARES
        • WHO CARES?
        • WHO CARES???
      • ???
      • Is this secretly set in 1864?
      • IS THIS FRANKENSTEIN?
      • Caroline I used to like you but this is literally the stupidest plan in the history of plans, I’ve lost so much respect for you and it hurts because we had so much in common
    • It doesn’t work, but ONLY because Damon swaps out Elena’s diary for Caroline’s
      • That’s the only reason this brilliant plan fails
      • Yep
      • Which BTW makes all hundred pages of the shit Elena & co did earlier in the book to try to get the diary back absolutely meaningless
      • He does this to get into Elena’s pants, btw
  • Elena Loses Her Shit and Then Dies and Comes Back
    • So after Caroline is utterly humiliated at the Founder’s Day Ceremony, Elena gets into a fight with her aunt and fianced-uncle over the relative dating appropriateness of Damon and Stefan, and she petulantly reveals to them that she and Stefan are engaged
    • OH GOD I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT ELENA AND STEFAN GET ENGAGED, IT’S GREAT, LOOK:
      • Reaching inside his sweater, he drew out the chain he had worn around his neck ever since she had known him. On the chain was a gold ring, exquisitely crafted, set with lapis lazuli.

        Katherine’s ring. As Elena watched, he took the chain off and unclasped it, removing the delicate golden band.

        “When Katherine died,” he said, “I thought I could never love anyone else. Even though I knew she would have wanted me to, I was sure it could never happen. But I was wrong.” He hesitated a moment and then went on.

        “I kept the ring because it was a symbol of her. So I could keep her in my heart. But now I’d like it to be a symbol of something else.” Again he hesitated, seeming almost afraid to meet her eyes. “Considering the way things are, I don’t really have any right to ask this. But, Elena—” He struggled on for a few minutes and then gave up, his eyes meeting hers mutely.

        Elena couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even breathe. But Stefan misinterpreted her silence. The hope in his eyes died and he turned away.

        “You’re right,” he said. “It’s all impossible. There are just too many difficulties—because of me. Because of what I am. Nobody like you should be tied to someone like me. I shouldn’t even have suggested it—”

        “Stefan!” said Elena. “Stefan, if you’ll be quiet a moment—”

        “—so just forget I said anything—”

        “Stefan!” she said. “Stefan, look at me.”

        Slowly, he obeyed, turning back. He looked into her eyes, and the bitter self-condemnation faded from his face, to be replaced by a look that made her lose her breath again. Then, still slowly, he took the hand she was holding out. Deliberately, as they both watched, he slipped the ring onto her finger.

        It fit as if it had been made for her. The gold glinted richly in the light, and the lapis shone a deep vibrant blue like a clear lake surrounded by untouched snow.

        “We’ll have to keep it a secret for a while,” she said, hearing the tremor in her voice. “Aunt Judith will have a fit if she knows I’m engaged before I graduate. But I’ll be eighteen next summer, and then she can’t stop us.”
        • Lol WHAT KATHERINE WOULD HAVE WANTED AHAHAHA
        • Stefan you are a 500-year-old man, why are you asking this teenager to MARRY YOU?
        • MARRY. YOU’RE A VAMPIRE
          • MARRY
        • SHOW ME THE LEGAL DOCUMENTATION YOU WOULD USE TO MAKE THIS A THING
        • What does Elena’s age EVEN MATTER? Stefan didn’t have the documentation he needed to get into HIGH SCHOOL without mind controlling the principal, there’s no WAY he could get married without doing that again, so who cares about what age Elena is when he does this?
          • It’s not a real marriage if you have to hypnotize the priest and/or judge into doing it, JUST SAYING.
        • FILE UNDER: WHY, BOTHER
        • I don’t like Elena at all but girl GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN, you are SEVENTEEN and he probably doesn’t believe in divorce
        • MARRY
        • Kids, if a vampire ever wants to marry you, you dump them IMMEDIATELY because they are a fucking square and you deserve better
        • Immortality or bust
    • Anyway, it’s a childish outburst that is utterly baffling for anyone who’s not Elena, and it might have been magically compelled, so you can’t even hold Elena accountable for the ridiculous outburst that leads to her own death
    • But she dies, chased by an evil storm into a river, where she drowns
    • Stefan shows up way too late, and he and her BFFs fish her out of the river and everyone is sad
    • So Stefan drains Tyler and his bros nearly dry, then fucks off to have YET ANOTHER suicide fight with Damon, who he thinks killed her
    • Elena fucking comes back, because there is no god
    • CLIFFHANGER
That’s this book in a nutshell. There’s some other stuff, like Matt continuing to be an unbelievable doormat, more of Elena having convenient and unexplained psychic flashes, and LJ Smith being kind of okay at foreshadowing, and then just hammering it in again and again until you’re not sure if she understands exactly how foreshadowing works, because she’s basically just having the characters tell you what’s going to happen and then going *~woooo, psychic intuition, wooooo~*. But it’s not really that important.

I’d have excerpts of this if my library loan hadn’t expired, but it did so this is what we got. Maybe when the poor bastard who rented it after me returns it, I’ll put up a quotespam.

For now: a legit 1 star. This wasn’t even that fun to read :(((

One Star


 

8 Responses

  1. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    July 19, 2017 7:18 pm, Reply

    I remember how much of a struggle it was to finish this book
    I am still judging you for liking the first book – but I agree, Elena in book 1 is so utterly awful, such a complete trainwreck that she’s almost amusing. But this? amusing does not apply
    I also have a fan theory that Elena is a cocaine dealer and Mereditch Bonnie and Matt are addicts because there’s no other reason why they’d stay with her
    I think every relationship in this series is based on a solid foundation of not a fucking shred of respect. And teacher sex offender! “hey class, come party at my house!”

    Also i seriously question Aunt Judith in this book. Hey, I’m all for respecting your teenaged wards, even ones as awful as Elena, but what parental figure wants their teenaged niece dating college boys and doesn’t blink at teachers inviting them to parties?

    Can you imagine if someone hijacked your town’s massive celebration to read someone else’s diary aloud? Srsly?!

  2. Iris Eastfield

    July 19, 2017 9:27 pm, Reply

    RE: the “cool” teacher – As long as I live, I will never see the appeal of the “sexy” high school teacher. I struggle to see the appeal of the sexy college teacher, and at least there you have the chance that there’s not going to be a potential statutory rape charge going on. But here, House of Night, why do they keep popping up in bad vampire YA literature?

    And was I the only high school girl in the history of forever who didn’t secretly want to date a teacher?

    • Cyna Cyna

      July 19, 2017 10:59 pm, Reply

      I get it from a (theoretical) teen perspective. Like, “high school boys are dumb and immature, here’s this handsome adult man willing to treat me like an adult woman”, and, you know, if you’ve got a hot teacher, you’ve got a hot teacher. But I think a lot of teen girls are savvier about that kind of predatory behavior that media thinks/thought, and from like any other perspective it’s 100% gross city.

      Authors putting it into books though…I dunno. A lot of the time it’s portrayed as damaging (in HoN the dude DOES eventually take advantage of her and fuck her over), but otherwise idk, folks got some unfulfilled fantasies?

      Not just you though xD I didn’t have any hot teachers, but even if I had, they were “adult men” which was fucking frightening to high school me. I’ll stick with my trash fantasy boys, TYVM.

      • Olivia Hennis

        July 23, 2017 3:33 am, Reply

        more and more often these days, too, you see news reports of young women teachers sleeping with teen boys. RATHER than men with teen girls. which says a lot about how those women were probably raised and how society fucked them up that they don’t think “hey, this is rape! hey, i am messing up some kid’s head! oh hey also, i am 99% likely gonna get caught if not now then later and then GO TO FUCKING JAIL!”

  3. Iris Eastfield

    July 24, 2017 9:31 pm, Reply

    That’s true. I think what makes so many of the ones I’ve heard about in YA literature squick me out is because the protagonists are so immature. My favorite manga has it that the heroine’s mom married her dad when he was a student teacher in his early 20s and she was 16 or so. That didn’t bother me, and I think it was because the two were on the same emotional and intellectual footings and treated each other as equals. With Zoey, she has the brains of driveway gravel and has all the emotional maturity of a bratty child. So even before the teacher starts blatantly taking advantage of her, his (urgh) flirtations still come across as massively manipulative towards someone too naive to understand what’s even going on.

    (On the subject of vampire literature and inappropriate teacher-student relationships, in Twilight, Edward tells Bella she’d be “surprised” if she knew all the boys at school who found her desirable. Meyer was asked to elaborate on that in an interview and she said that one of the “unexpected” people who was mentally macking on Bella was her SCIENCE TEACHER. Fuuuuuuuun!)

    • Cyna Cyna

      August 5, 2017 1:51 am, Reply

      So even before the teacher starts blatantly taking advantage of her, his (urgh) flirtations still come across as massively manipulative towards someone too naive to understand what’s even going on.

      Oh for sure, and honestly with the Casts who fucking knows if they meant it to be creepy from the teacher angle, or just evil because he’s an evil dude. I mean, these are the people who write characters actively defending Stark’s near-rape.

      Meyer was asked to elaborate on that in an interview and she said that one of the “unexpected” people who was mentally macking on Bella was her SCIENCE TEACHER.

      That is 100% not surprising. Bella’s SO MATURE, don’t you know?

  4. Strontium

    July 25, 2017 3:13 am, Reply

    Another wonderfully funny review, I’m sorry this book was painful to read but I hope you keep reading since I really enjoy your reviews!

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