A Love Triangle of Unspeakable Horror…So I just finished reading The Fury, and honestly you guys, this trilogy has been such a fucking roller coaster. The first one was OTT and wonderfully camp, the second one was meandering and kind of boring, and now at book three I’m actually starting to enjoy it???
Stefan: Tormented after losing Elena, he’s determined to end the feud with his brother, Damon–whatever the cost.
Damon: Mocking Stefan and Elena, he laughs in the face of doom.
Elena: Wild with her craving for blood, she confronts the ultimate evil.
The terrifying story of two vampire brothers and the beautiful girl torn between them.
I’m still having a hard time pinpointing why three kind of works for me when one and two don’t, but I think a lot of it has to do with chips being cashed in. We’ve finally, FINALLY finished with set-up and shit is actually happening, which shockingly enough is much more entertaining to read than chunks of unrelated set-up.
Also, arcs! The characters! are! finally! developing! I mean, “arcs” is being generous, because it’s more like character “rubber-banding” – two seconds ago Elena was here and now she’s way the fuck over there, but I will accept that progress if it means I can read this book without wanting to stab everyone in their eye sockets.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. When we last left our trio, Elena had ~risen from the dead~ and was wandering with pointedly obscured purpose towards Stefan and Damon’s battle on the edge of town. In a twist I’m genuinely shocked Smith didn’t drop at the end of the last book, when Elena finds them, she leaps into the fray to help Damon, not Stefan. For you see, Damon was the last vampire to give her blood before she died, so when she rose as a vampire, she rose blank-slate and imprinted on him.
This whole Tabula Rasa Elena thing makes no sense to me, tbh. Mechanically, the amnesia is glaringly selective – she can remember Damon and things he’s done for her, has vague memories of Matt and her other friends, but can’t even remember Stefan’s name, really?
Narratively, it’s a game-changer for everyone’s relationships, something that seems like it’s setting up a new status quo, and yet it’s introduced and resolved in the first fifty pages.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it was supposed to last longer and got cut down for time or page count, but as it is it’s a pretty awkward fucking way to protract this love triangle.
Anyway, Elena shows up and starts gnawing on Stefan’s neck, and Stefan being Stefan, gives up the instant he realizes what’s happening. It’s actually pretty gruesome, the way the book describes Elena chewing on his flesh, trying to find a vein as he writhes in pain. It’s also a level of brutality that I would never have expected from an interaction between the two halves of the series’ OTP, though I’ll grant there’s still an element of romanticization in Stefan’s readiness to die by Elena’s hand.
Alas, Damon breaks it up before she can finish the job, and he and Stefan finally take a moment to talk like fucking adults. Damon denies killing Elena, and though Stefan doesn’t completely believe him, they prioritize caring for her over fighting.
First step is getting her fed, and though they dither for a while about how to do it, eventually Stefan remembers that Matt is a human doormat. They bring him to Elena, and Matt, being Matt, agrees to put aside his own emotional trauma to be her living Gatorade.
I’m still genuinely confused by Matt’s devotion to Elena, especially here, before she’s had a chance to rubber band into some humanity. We’ve never seen her treat Matt anything but poorly, and though they try to insist at the very end of this book that Elena was “strong and loving and loyal to her friends”, we never fucking saw it.
The traits we actually saw were her ambition and confidence, and while I can see those being admirable, they were wielded in service of her true defining trait: selfishness.
It makes this relationship utterly incomprehensible. The only conclusion I can come to is that Matt has at least as much psychological baggage as Stefan, to devote himself to a girl who by all indications treated him like dogshit.
Maybe that’s why they get along so well.
At any rate, Damon takes a satiated Elena to Totally Not a Predator Alaric’s house, and puts her to bed with her old diary as reading material. She takes a three-day nap and reads the diary when she wakes, and finally we get our first halting, jerky steps towards character development.
Her diary! Eagerly, she snatched it up and opened it, skipping through the entries. They stopped with October 17; they were no help to discovering today’s date. But as she looked at the writing, images formed in her mind, stringing up like pearls to make memories. Fascinated, she slowly sat down on the mattress. She leafed back to the beginning and began to read about the life of Elena Gilbert.I think this might be the first recorded instance of Elena doing any kind of self-reflection. Granted she comes up with a lot of excuses for her behavior, but it’s still a wake-up, as she’s made to see her life from an outside perspective.
When she finished, she was weak with fear and horror. Bright spots danced and shimmered before her eyes. There was so much pain in these pages. So many schemes, so many secrets, so much need. It was the story of a girl who’d felt lost in her own hometown, in her own family. Who’d been looking for…something, something she could never quite reach.
Elena regains her sense of self and takes her existential crisis to the streets, which you’d think would be a bad idea given that the whole town knows she died, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Luckily the streets are empty, and Elena wanders undetected until she finds a church.
Elena’s legs trembled as she made herself creep closer to the building. She’d known this church all her life; she’d seen the cross inscribed on that wall a thousand times. But now she edged toward it as if it were a caged animal that might break loose and bite her. She pressed one hand to the stone wall and slid it nearer and nearer to the carved symbol.See, this is a good moment. It’s surprisingly poignant for The Vampire Diaries, and would go down SO MUCH BETTER if Elena had actually been arc-ing and not rubber-banding.
When her outspread fingers touched the arm of the cross, her eyes filled and her throat ached. She let her hand glide along it until it gently covered the engraving. Then she leaned against the wall and let the tears come.
I’m not evil, she thought. I did things I shouldn’t have. I thought about myself too much; I never thanked Matt and Bonnie and Meredith for all they did for me. I should have played more with Margaret and been nicer to Aunt Judith. But I’m not evil. I’m not damned.
Like, if Elena had had more dimension, if she’d ever struggled internally with the way she treated people, if there’d been more of a sense of her being driven by something other than selfishness, if there had been a REASON that she was driven by selfishness, if this moment felt like it had any build up whatsoever, it’d have been much more satisfying. It’d have felt earned.
Also, I really, really need Elena to take responsibility for her shit without immediately qualifying it. Not “I did wrong but I’m not evil”, not “I did wrong but I was sad”, just “I did wrong, I’m sorry”, the end. She gets close, really close with Matt, but of course Matt is Matt, so he provides the qualifier, even if Elena doesn’t.
Anyway, turns out the reason that the streets of Fell’s Church are ~bereft~ of people is because the whole goddamn town is inside for Elena’s funeral. “Every pew filled, and the back of the church packed solid with people standing” – YES, WE GET IT, EVERYONE LOVED ELENA, SHE WAS SO IMPORTANT, OUR LIVES ARE ALL WORSE FOR HER PASSING, blah blah blah.
Elena hides out on a balcony to watch the show, eventually joined by Stefan. She apologizes for, you know, trying to gnaw through his carotid artery, and Stefan, being Stefan, apologizes for ever being a vampire in her presence. He comforts her, they make up, Stelena 4eva, etc etc.
Then Damon shows up and god there’s so much to unpack here.
Elena’s calm shattered, and fear snaked through her bloodstream. She’d forgotten Damon’s hypnotic intensity and his burning dark eyes.That last paragraph is just…
“How did you get here?” said Stefan.
“The same way you did, I presume. Attracted by the blazing beacon of the fair Elena’s distress.” Damon was really angry; Elena could tell. Not just annoyed or discommoded but in a white heat of rage and hostility.
But he’d been decent to her when she’d been confused and irrational. He’d taken her to shelter; he’d kept her safe. And he hadn’t kissed her while she’d been in that horrifyingly vulnerable state. He’d been…kind to her.
Are we supposed to forgive and forget because Damon didn’t take advantage of her impaired state this time?
It’s so frustrating because that would ACTUALLY have been a nice way to show that Damon isn’t the heartless monster he pretends to be, IF HE HADN’T DONE THIS EXACT THING LESS THAN A WEEK AGO.
It also permanently taints the Damon/Elena dynamic, which is a crying shame because from here on out they’re actually pretty entertaining.
Anyway, the funeral is capped off by a Stephen King-esque standoff between the townsfolk and their dogs that is effectively weird and creepy, if depressing for dog lovers – TW for violence against animals for the rest of this book – and afterwards, Elena, Stefan, and Damon regroup. Elena tries to establish a platonic truce so that they can fight the True Evil in Fell’s Church, but the brothers turn it into a romantic ultimatum.
“But are you suggesting that this is your choice? Remember, we agreed that when you were more rational you would make one.”
Elena stared at him. Of course it wasn’t her choice, if he meant romantically. She was wearing the ring Stefan had given her; she and Stefan belonged together.
But then she remembered something else, just a flash: looking up at Damon’s face in the woods and feeling such – such excitement, such affinity with him. As if he understood the flame that burned inside her as nobody else ever could. As if together they could do anything they liked, conquer the world or destroy it; as if they were better than anyone else who had ever lived.
I was out of my mind, irrational, she told herself, but that little flash of memory wouldn’t go away.
And then she remembered something else: how Damon had acted later that night, how he’d kept her safe, even been gentle with her.
Stefan was looking at her, and his expression had changed from belligerence to bitter anger and fear. Part of her wanted to reassure him completely, to throw her arms around him and tell him that she was his and always would be and that nothing else mattered. Not the town, not Damon, not anything.
But she wasn’t doing it. Because another part of her was saying that the town did matter. And because still another part was just terribly, terribly confused. So confused…
Plus, it comes to nothing! Stefan and Elena settle back into their monogamous romance, and Damon gets shut down every single time he makes a pass at her. So why even bother?
Anyway, Elena manages to broker her truce, and Stefan takes his first begrudging steps towards admitting that Damon isn’t as evil as he pretends to be – though “admitting” feels like the wrong word because Damon has gone OUT OF HIS WAY to make him believe it. Also, I guess we’re just forgetting the rapey forced biting from the end of the first book.
“He stopped me from killing you,” she said.
She felt the flare of Stefan’s defensive anger, then felt it slowly fade. Something like defeat crept through him, and he bowed his head.
“That’s true,” he said. “And, anyway, who am I to call him evil? What’s he done that I haven’t done myself?”
“Then you do agree?” she said hesitantly. “Stefan, tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Right now I’m thinking that you always get your way. Because you always do, don’t you, Elena?”
Elena looked into his eyes, noticing how the pupils were dilated, so that only a ring of green iris showed around the edge. There was no longer anger there, but the tiredness and the bitterness remained.
But I’m not just doing it for myself, she thought, thrusting out of her mind the sudden surge of self-doubt. I’ll prove that to you, Stefan; you’ll see. For once I’m not doing something for my own convenience.
I know I keep lamenting how late into the trilogy this is happening, as though this series doesn’t go on for another two decades, but I’m SO TERRIFIED we’re going to lose these versions of the characters just when they’re getting good.
Like, Elena exasperated with Dark Broody Vampires is the shit I wanna read.
“Go,” Elena hissed almost inaudibly to Stefan. “You have to be as normal as possible so you can stay here in Fell’s Church. I’ll be all right.”
“But where will you go?”
“To Meredith’s. I’ll explain later. Go on.”
Stefan hesitated, and then started down the stairs, calling, “I’m coming.” Then he pulled back. “I’m not leaving you with him,” he said flatly.
Elena threw her hands up in exasperation. “Then both of you go. You just agreed to work together; are you going to go back on your word now?”
She’d just decided that she might have to go without them when the curtains whipped back into her face, flapping in a burst of wind. Bonnie lurched up with a gasp, knocking the reading lamp off the nightstand and plunging the room into darkness. Cursing, Meredith worked to get it righted again. The curtains fluttered madly in the flickering light that emerged, and Bonnie seemed to be trying to scream.
When the bulb was finally screwed back in, it revealed Damon sitting casually but precariously on the sill of the open window, one knee up. He was smiling one of his wildest smiles.
“Do you mind?” he said. “This is uncomfortable.”
Elena glanced back at Bonnie and Meredith, who were braced against the closet, looking horrified and hypnotized at once. She herself shook her head, exasperated.
“And I thought I liked to make a dramatic entrance,” she said.
Damon stretched out his long legs and spoke lazily, looking around the barn. “No, I don’t think it’s dangerous, particularly. But I don’t see what you expect to accomplish.”
“Neither do I, exactly,” Elena admitted. “But I don’t have any better ideas. Do you?”
“What, you mean about other ways to spend the time? Yes, I do. Do you want me to tell you about them?”
Elena waved him to silence and he subsided.
The attic was as she remembered it, dark and dusty and full of mysterious oilcloth-covered shapes. Damon, who had come in more conventionally through the front door, had had to take the shutters off to let her in through the window. After that they sat side by side on the old mattress and listened to the voices that came up through the ducts.
“I could think of more romantic settings,” Damon murmured, fastidiously pulling a cobweb off his sleeve. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather—”
“Yes,” said Elena. “Now hush.”
‘” Joyous companions forever.’ Isn’t that what Katherine said to you and Damon?” Elena murmured.
She could feel Stefan’s stiffening, his withdrawal. “She was talking about all three of us,” he said. “I wasn’t.”
“Oh, Stefan, please don’t, not now.”
“Stefan, why didn’t you notice them coming up behind you? Why were you so weak?”And my personal favorite:
Stefan shook his head evasively, and she added, “When did you feed last? Stefan, when? You always make some excuse when I’m around. What are you trying to do to yourself?”
“I’m all right,” he said. “Really, Elena. I’ll hunt later.”
“Do you promise?”
“No,” Elena said violently. “But did it have to be Matt? Oh, don’t answer that; I can’t think of anybody else, either.” She took a shaky breath.” But now I’m worried about him, Stefan. I haven’t seen him since that night. Is he okay? What has he said to you?”YES. THIS. I WANT MORE OF THIS.
“Not much,” said Stefan, looking away.” ‘Leave me alone’ was about the gist of it. He also denied that anything happened that night, and said that you were dead.”
“Sounds like one of those individuals who can’t cope,” Damon commented.
“Oh, shut up!” said Elena.” You keep out of this, and while you’re at it, you might think about poor Vickie Bennett. How d’you think she’s coping these days?”
“It might help if I knew who this Vickie Bennett is. You keep talking about her, but I’ve never met the girl.”
“Yes, you have. Don’t play games with me, Damon— the cemetery, remember? The ruined church? The girl you left wandering around there in her slip?”
“Sorry, no. And I usually do remember girls I leave wandering in their slips.”
“I suppose Stefan did it, then,” Elena said sarcastically.
Anger flashed to the surface of Damon’s eyes, covered quickly with a disturbing smile. “Maybe he did. Maybe you did. It’s all the same to me, except that I’m getting a little tired of accusations. And now—”
“Wait,” said Stefan, with surprising mildness. “Don’t go yet. We should talk—”
“I’m afraid I have a previous engagement.” There was a flurry of wings, and Stefan and Elena were alone.
Elena put a knuckle to her lips. “Damn. I didn’t mean to make him angry. After he was really almost civilized all evening.”
“Never mind,” said Stefan. “He likes to be angry. What were you saying about Matt?”
In general, the self-awareness with which this book handles Elena, Stefan, and Damon is SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING than the melodrama they were acting out before. Like, legitimately, unironically interesting.
I deeply enjoy seeing Elena take the piss out of Damon’s bad-boy schtick, and de-fanged Damon is best Damon. WISH I COULD LIKE U DUDE. SHAME ABOUT THAT (THOSE?) SEXUAL ASSAULT(S). #RuinedForever
From there the book mercifully focuses on the one plot point we’ve been working towards the entire trilogy: who is the Other Power, aka the person responsible for all the shit they’ve been blaming on Damon.
The characters go about this in a pretty accurate-to-unskilled-teenagers sort of way: they make a list of the people they think are suspicious and then stalk them 24/7 in hopes of finding evidence. It doesn’t work, of course – they don’t get anywhere near the actual villain of the book because they don’t know she exists – but they do manage to wrap up a few outstanding plot points while we mill the rest of the book.
Creepy Teacher Alaric is revealed to be a parapsychologist brought in by the town Patriarchs to hunt vampires. It’s kind of a fun subversion of the grizzled monster hunter archetype – Alaric is bookish and inexperienced and kinda bumbling, but the town elders act like they’ve hired Abraham Van Helsing, so he has to flail and play along.
There’s also a part where Stefan is ambushed by the angry fathers of those guys he almost killed last book, so our heroes gaslight Caroline into doubting her memories and then blame Damon.
Most of the rest of the book, though, is just Elena using her last few days to develop into a decent human being.
She says goodbye to her aunt and to her sister, then goes to reconcile with Matt, which is a…mixed bag.
He was breathing deeply but raggedly, “Elena.”I like the reversal of Elena comforting Matt while he breaks down and she stumbles towards an apology, but mostly I’m struck by how fucking shredded Matt seems. He has, hands down, the most visceral reaction to Elena’s death in the book, which is wild considering how many other, closer characters there are.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“No. I’m here.”
“Dead people don’t come back. My dad didn’t come back.”
“I didn’t really die. I just changed.” Matt’s eyes were still shut in repudiation, and Elena felt a cold wave of hopelessness wash over her. “But you wish I had died, don’t you? I’ll leave now,” she whispered.
Matt’s face cracked and he started to cry.
“No. Oh, no. Oh, don’t, Matt, please.”
She found herself cradling him, fighting not to cry herself. “Matt, I’m sorry; I shouldn’t even have come here.”
“Don’t leave,” he sobbed. “Don’t go away.”
“I won’t.” Elena lost the fight, and tears fell onto Matt’s damp hair. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, ever,” she said. “Not ever, Matt. All those times, all those things I did— I never wanted to hurt you. Truly …” Then she stopped talking and just held him.
Matt, bb, please talk to someone.
“Okay, so you’re here. You’re alive,” he said roughly.” So what do you want?”YEEES, ELENA, CONFRONT THE PERSON YOU WERE. This is good, this is almost a good apology, now as long as Matt doesn’t–
Elena was dumbfounded.
“Come on, there must be something. What is it?”
New tears welled up, but Elena gulped them back. “I guess I deserve that. I know I do. But for once, Matt, I want absolutely nothing. I came to apologize, to say that I’m sorry for using you— not just that one night, but always. I care about you, and I care if you hurt. I thought maybe I could make things better.” After a heavy silence, she added,” I guess I will leave now.”
“No, wait. Wait a second.” Matt scrubbed at his face with the sheet again.” Listen. That was stupid, and I’m a jerk—”GODDAMIT MATT. Oh well. At least Elena seemed to take it to heart.
“That was the truth and you’re a gentleman. Or you’d’ve told me to go take a hike a long time ago.”
“No, I’m a stupid jerk. I should be banging my head against the wall with joy because you’re not dead.”
By the time we hit the climax, it’s Elena, Damon, Stefan, Bonnie, Meredith, Matt, and Alaric vs the world, and naturally it all comes to a head the night of the winter dance. Shit kicks off when Bonnie puts herself into a trance to summon the spirit that’s been giving them ominous warnings. They follow it to a lair underneath the tomb of one of the town’s founders, and get exposition bombed by a ghost that feels wildly out of place in this vampire book.
She’s basically there to spell out the Other Power’s evil plan, and give us one last chance to guess who the villain is before she shows up. The team splits to handle different fronts of the attack, with Damon, Stefan, and Elena staying in the tomb to confront the big bad…Katherine!
I honestly couldn’t tell you how much of an ass pull this feels like, because it’s been so long since I didn’t know she was coming. I did see some foreshadowing in the last couple books, and there’s a button of hint dropping right before the reveal, but if you didn’t expect it, don’t worry – LJ SMITH GOT U.
Katherine uses her villain speech to recap EVERY GODDAMN THING she did that we weren’t explicitly shown, and spell out all the things you’ve probably already put together. Like, they literally have a game where she forces the captive protagonists to guess what she’s been doing the last two and ¾ books and GOD is this whole sequence clunky. I feel like Smith is trying to explain how much of an ass pull this isn’t, but it’s a real SHE DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH kind of situation.
It doesn’t help that Katherine acts like a more childish, less threatening Drusilla, so her dialogue is generally eye-rollingly obnoxious.
There is a weird undercurrent of internalized misogyny from Katherine that I thought might be intentional, and that I wish Smith had used to say something more explicit. Like, Katherine punishes Vickie for having sex by making her do explicitly sexualized things in public, like stripping in the cafeteria, or aggressively feeling up another guy in front of her boyfriend. Later, she calls Elena a “tramp” for taking blood from both Damon and Stefan, which is weirdly hypocritical considering that she was the OG proponent of the Salvatore sandwich.
Coupled with the way that Elena’s comfort with herself and her sexuality has always been a differentiating point between them, Katherine’s regressive, maybe even self-hating? attitude towards sex seems like something that might be significant for her character, but wasn’t developed in any meaningful way.
As she was, I found Katherine a thoroughly underwhelming final boss. I’m sure the childish thing can be done well, but here I think it robbed Katherine of a lot of gravitas and menace.
On the upside, we get some good development on the brother front in these last scenes. Stefan breaks down in front of all of them for killing Damon, which feels less self-flagellating than usual, and more like a genuine apology.
Damon, meanwhile, rejects Katherine’s offer of life as her companion, because he’s really a good dude who cares about his brother deep down, you guys.
In the end, it’s – SHOCK – Elena who sacrifices herself to kill Katherine. She gets a few moments to say goodbye and make her vampire boyfriends promise not to murder each other, and then she dies.
Stefan, natch, tries to kill himself almost immediately, but Damon stops him and Stefan lets him, and the two walk off into the sunrise to recover together.
The last chapter is from Bonnie’s perspective, as she writes a sort of epilogue in Elena’s journal. Despite the weirdness of the animal attacks and the town’s willingness to hire a motherfuckin’ vampire hunter, nobody really wants to believe that anything supernatural happened. Yet somehow, Bonnie convinces them to put Elena’s vampire-filled journals in the library as a record, where they’re stored alongside the diary of the town’s founder, cementing Elena’s position as a patron fucking saint.
Then Bonnie closes it out with–
I didn’t mean to get so into this; I’ve never kept a journal myself But I want people to know the truth about Elena. She wasn’t a saint. She wasn’t always sweet and good and honest and agreeable. But she was strong and loving and loyal to her friends, and in the end she did the most unselfish thing anybody could do. Meredith says it means she chose light over darkness. I want people to know that so they’ll always remember.SURE WISH we’d seen the “strong and loving and loyal” Elena before book three, but WHATEVER.
So. Taken as the ending that I think it was initially intended to be – and not like, part three in a fifteen-book series – I’m not a fan of the way this goes down. I find the posthumous deifying of Elena frustrating, not because I didn’t like the character that she was becoming, but because it feels like a gross way to end her arc. I get that she was almost preternaturally selfish and that sacrificing herself for ~the town~ is on the opposite end of that arc, but it feels cheap and reductive.
And fuck, if we’re looking at Elena’s death as a “redemptive” act, like, what is it redemptive for? I’m first in line to say that Elena was a selfish asshole who treated people like shit, but dying for it is a little narratively extreme. Apologizing, striving to be a better person – that’s how you grow a character out of shittiness. You don’t off them and then romanticize the shit out of their deaths – especially if they’re teenage girls in a book meant for teenagers. Gross.
Anyway, I don’t know if bringing her back in Dark Reunion was always the plan, but on its own this ending fucking sucks thematically and I don’t like it.
So that’s the original Vampire Diaries trilogy! Obviously I liked this last one considerably more than the first two, though it doesn’t make up for the atrocious characters and pacing. But, reading part three does put part one more in context for me – Elena, Stefan, and Damon are unbearably awful cliches, but they grow and get the piss taken out of them in a way that I genuinely didn’t expect.
It’s got PLENTY of faults – I’ve not touched on how blindingly CisStraightAble-bodiedWhiteRich&Skinny it is, but rest assured, IT IS – and I’m eternally side-eyeing those sexual assaults, but this tril turned out better than I expected.
I take it back. It’s not worse than Twilight.