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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

Vampire Diaries: The Fury and The Reunion by Lisa J. Smith
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. {February 2009}
ISBN- 978 0 340 99915 8

Richard Crawley review

Human beings do not like to be afraid.
We have an innate need to conquer our fears and nowhere is this propensity to make light out of darkness more evident than in the evolution of the vampire myth. From its genesis in the gloomy mountains and unfathomable forests of Romania and The Carpathians, the mere mention of vampires once conjured up images of savage, if not occasionally sultry demons against whom the only sure defence was sunlight and the stake.

But human beings had to rationalise. Had to tame and domesticate these boogeymen. And so from the folkore of Transylvania was born Bram Stoker's Dracula; not de-fanging the feral beginnings of the vampire myth but certainly draining away a little of its symbiotic venom.

In turn, the novel was adapted and gave birth to Bela Lugosi's much parodied, though rightly beloved performance, which itself inspired a thousand pale pantomime imitations.

And so the trend continued: until Nosferatu became Count Duckula and vampires were no longer sucking blood but instead offering up their own as part of the bargain. Indeed, human consumption of vampire blood is a prominent theme in the hit HBO show True Blood, itself based on Charlaine Harris' popular series The Southern Vampire Mysteries.

This represents a reversal of power. An exorcism of vampiric fear. And with this in mind, it was perhaps inevitable that teenage girls were going to start falling in love with them.

L.J Smith published the first triumverate of her Vampire Diaries books in 1991, releasing a fourth volume a year later before disappearing for a self imposed decade of literary abstinence. In February of 2009, in the midst of worldwide frenzy over Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga, Smith returned, releasing the first chapter in a new trilogy of The Vampire Diaries: The Return.

The plot of the series may seem to wander a well trodden path but it's important to remember that Smith was the first to walk it: High school girl meets vampire boy, after a shaky start the two profess love only to be threatened by dark forces connected to vampire boy's past. Cue high school girl's introduction to a world of the supernatural far beyond her initial comprehension and danger that threatens to consume everything she holds dear.

It is here that books three and four of the series [The Fury and The Reunion, respectively] pick up; taking us deeper into Elena's [said High-School girl's] relationship with vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvador whilst exploring the strange, dark force that has invaded our heroine's white-picket-fence hometown of Fell's Church, Virginia. The arrival of vampire hunter Alraic and sadistic werewolf Klaus only serve to complicate matters, setting the scene for a confrontation that will change Elena's life forever.

The writing is more adult and sophisticated than the bloody-candle front cover would perhaps suggest: torture, deception, death and resurrection are all prominent within the narrative and are all dealt with with a subtle finesse and sleight of hand that elevate Smith above her young-adult contemporaries. Her style is fluid and easy; reminiscent of J.K Rowling or Irish author Darren Shan. The characterisatons too are far superior to their interchangeable Twilight counterparts: Elena Gilbert is a more multi-dimensional being than Bella Swann and, oddly, given the character was created ten years prior, feels more contemporary and fresh. Imagine Buffy The Vampire Slayer compared with a chemically castrated production of Romeo and Juliet and you start to get the idea.

Sex itself is a refreshingly absent theme in the books. Twilight scribe Meyer is a devout Mormon and has stated publicly that her stories were written as a metaphor for abstinence and sexual restraint while Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries are erotically charged to the point where vampirism is reduced to little more than a fetish. In this way, Vampire Diaries is comfortable in its own skin in a way these others will never be. Smith is not trying to preach to or titilate us, only entertain.

And her stories certainly manage that; they are well crafted, expertly paced and thoroughly immersive examples of paranormal romantic fiction that stand far superior to any of the hybrid pretenders that have risen to prominence while Smith has been away.

However, I do have one bone of contention with Smith's writng. Perhaps I am a purist of the genre, or perhaps I simply long for the good old days when vampires were wicked and cruel and predatory, but when I was reading Vampire Diaries I never once felt the way I think all good vampire literature should make you feel. The way it used to make you feel.

© Richard Crawley October 23rd 2009
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