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The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith Cover Picture

The Awakening:
The Vampire Diaries 1

L. J. Smith

First Published 1991 (this edition 2007)          253 pages

Summary (from the book jacket)

A deadly love triangle.
Elena: the golden girl, the leader, the one who can have any boy she wants.

Stefan: brooding and mysterious, he seems to be the only one who can resist Elena, even as he struggles to protect her from the horrors that haunt his past.

Damon: sexy, dangerous, and driven by an urge for revenge against Stefan, the brother who betrayed him.  Determined to have Elena, he’d kill to possess her.

The Vampire Diaries, a tale of two vampire brothers and the beautiful girl torn between them.

The Review

The Awakening is the first of four novels in L.J. Smith’s popular Vampire Diaries series.  Written for the Young Adult (YA) market and originally published in the early 1990’s, The Vampire Diaries were re-released by HarperTeen last year (2007) as a result of the flurry of popularity that YA vampire genre novels have received since Stephenie Meyer’s huge success with the Twilight series.

The Vampire Diaries were popular at the time of their original release but seem to have gathered a new following 17 years later with a whole new set of teen fans. Seriously, I can’t count how many emails I have received telling me about these novels and asking why they are not listed on the LoveVampires site.  L.J. Smith’s fans are legion and to all the site readers who asked, this review is dedicated to you…

The Awakening gets the series off to a solid start.  The opening pages of the book see Elena, the protagonist of this story, returning home from her European vacation at the start of a new school year.  Even from the first chapter there is a feeling of hidden menace running through the narrative although Elena shakes off any dark feelings as she returns to school and resumes her rightful place at the top of the school’s social hierarchy. 

This year the school has a new student, the mysterious Stefan, transferred from Italy and looking good in his designer Italian threads.  Driving a Porsche and having a whole man of mystery vibe going on he proves to be irresistible to Elena, although he is aloof and standoffish and he repeatedly spurns her attentions.  Determined to have him at any cost, Elena plots and plans with her girlfriend clique ways to obtain the elusive Stefan.  While she is busy plotting a number of mysterious attacks occur in Fell’s Church increasing the sense of menace in the story.

There is a superficial similarity between Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and The Awakening. Girl meets vampire boy, is instantly attracted and can’t work out why he is so aloof with her, etcetera, etcetera.  The similarity is only very slight though, Elena is no Bella, unsure and unconfident but effortlessly engaging the reader with her narrative - and The Awakening lacks the lush romanticism of Twilight.

In fact Elena’s character is probably the greatest impediment to enjoyment of The Awakening because she is just so hard to empathise with.  A privileged and popular girl, the beautiful Homecoming Queen and centre of everyone’s attention, she is vain and self-centred.  She’s more of a Scarlett O’Hara than a Bella Swan any day of the week.  Upon seeing Stefan, who appeared not to be interested in her, she decided that she had to have him - even on the pain of death.  It is her sense of entitlement, that he should be lucky to have the opportunity to worship her, which really alienated me as a reader.

Still this is the first of four novels exploring the deadly love triangle that occurs between Elena, Stefan and Damon, Stefan’s black sheep vampire brother.  The Awakening ends on a cliff hanger and events leading up to the end of the story suggest that Elena (like Scarlett O’Hara) may find that she doesn’t always gets everything she wants even if she thinks she is entitled to it. 

For me, the most intriguing character is the one that we, the readers, know the least about – Damon.  Maybe I’m just being perverse but he excites me the most of all the characters and I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation for his evil ways…!

Certainly, I can see why The Vampire Diaries are still popular teen reading today.  The creeping sense of menace embodied in the wild woods, the old graveyard and ruined church used for the story’s setting and the feeling of doomed young love is pretty much a winner whatever way you look at it.  Now if only I could like Elena just a little bit more…

Rated at 3.5 stars out of 5 (because I just couldn't like Elena!)

LoveVampires Review Rating:

Review Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Note: In the 2007 HarperTeen re-released edition of The Vampire Diaries the first two books, The Awakening and The Struggle, are published in one volume.

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