Hello Vampire Diarists, and welcome to the second installment of my Vampire Diaries reread and book talk. In the first one, I discussed the first book in the series The Awakening. Today, obviously, I’m discussing the sequel.
Last time I posed the question of whether The Awakening holds up and found that it does not. This time around it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that the series as a whole doesn’t hold up. The Struggle is no exception.
Fortunately, it’s filled with things to discuss, and so discuss them we shall.
Elena remains as selfish as ever, but now with a bitchy twist. Hell, this quote from Elena herself shows how unbearable she is: “Life couldn’t be that cruel, not to Elena Gilbert.” Other people can suffer, as far as Ms. Gilbert’s concerned. But she draws the line at her own suffering.
In the last book talk, I talked about Elena in mostly broad terms. In this one, I’ll be using specific examples.
First, here’s a small thing. Elena has a huge victim mentality. When Stefan goes missing and Elena has a near meltdown, and her loved ones want to take care of her instead of letting her go out into a storm to look for him. Naturally, this means “they were all against her.”
Elena is a lot bitchier in this book, but mostly just toward Matt. He tries to help her and she goes off on him, accusing him of only helping her because he “promised Stefan.” Even though Matt explicitly says he cares about her. Even though they’re supposedly friends.
Later, after all her friends— including Matt— help rescue Stefan, Elena doesn’t thank everyone for their help until after Matt leaves. She doesn’t even spare him a thought. I absolutely despise her treatment of Matt.
Elena also consistently prioritizes Stefan over Bonnie. And I’m not talking about petty stuff. I mean life and death. First, she demands Bonnie use her psychic powers to find Stefan, even though Bonnie says it’s dangerous. Elena argues that Stefan is in danger too. So I guess that means Bonnie needs to sacrifice her safety so they can maybe find Stefan.
Later, when everyone is worried about the terror Damon could wreck, Elena decides she needs to call Stefan. Bonnie, meanwhile, has just had a psychic episode and is in distress. However, Elena “wasn’t worried about Bonnie; the other times this had happened hadn’t seemed to do any permanent damage.” Excuse me?!
Elena repeatedly refuses to take responsibility for her actions, instead blaming her emotions or other people. But don’t worry! Stefan makes her want to become a better person. Too bad she never takes any steps toward doing so.
I’d like to end this section on another quote that perfectly encapsulates Elena Gilbert, this time from Caroline:
Elena’s the most selfish person I’ve ever known. Everyone thinks she’s so together, but it’s really just coldness. It’s sickening the way people suck up to her, never realizing that she doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything except Elena.”
Stefan is just as dull as ever, except now he has a backbone. Well, he has a backbone in one scene. And that’s… something?
Okay, it is something. It’s a big something. Because he’s standing up to Elena. She reveals she’s been lying to him for the whole book (which we’ll get to) and apologizes. And Stefan says and I quote,
“You should be! You should be sorry for keeping something like that from me when I could have helped you. Elena, why didn’t you just tell me?”
Get that bitch!!!!!!
But that’s where the good stuff ends. Now let’s get to the worst thing. So, it should come to no surprise that Elena dies. It’s been so heavily foreshadowed, Smith practically spoiled it. And this causes Stefan to snap. And so he kills a bunch of people so he can be powerful enough to fight Damon, whom he believes killed Elena.
Except the people he kills are his classmates. People who schemed against him and literally had him cornered earlier that same day. Where are Stefan’s steadfast morals?
Look, I get that he thinks this is going to be his last act. But still, what the fuck?
We’ll get to him when we talk about Delena.
Bonnie has a very bizarre habit of romanticizing dying young. This was odd enough, but now she apparently also romanticizes killers. Here is what she says when the girls are discussing Damon:
I don’t know; killers are sort of romantic. Imagine your dying with his hands around your throat. He’d strangle the life out of you, and the last thing you’d see would be his face.”
Elena and Meredith don’t agree, but they hardly react. Elena treats it like an annoying joke and Meredith doesn’t say anything at all. So, I guess this is just an uncontested thing about Bonnie’s character.
I’m going to go kind of broad with Caroline, mainly because my main issue with her character is her actions toward the plot. She steals Elena’s diary and plans to read it out loud at the town celebration because it contains supposed evidence that Stefan is the killer that’s been plaguing their town.
Except she leaves snippets of the diary for Elena to find. She taunts Elena and makes it fairly obvious it’s her. This, in turn, leads Elena to spy on Caroline and discover her and Tyler’s plan.
Caroline literally could’ve taken down Stefan (and therefore Elena) if she’d just kept her stupid mouth shut. I’m not sure if this is a genuine plot criticism or if it’s a good portrayal of Caroline’s character. Honestly, I think I mostly hated it because I hate Elena and want to see her suffer.
Alaric isn’t a regular teacher, he’s a cool teacher.
Seriously, the dude starts his first class by telling his students to call him Alaric and sitting backwards in his chair.
Then he makes the students talk about their teacher’s murder, traumatizing Bonnie.
And then he invites all his students to a party at his house.
Stranger danger! Stranger danger!
Meredith has quickly become my favorite character. I love how she has no time for Elena’s bullshit, but is still a good and loyal friend. Also, she is a lesbian and L.J. Smith is a liar.
And now, here’s Meredith going off on Elena:
For once in your life, listen to me, you little idiot. It’s true we don’t know what to think about Stefan. But, don’t you see, that’s your own fault. Ever since you and he got together, you’ve been shutting us out. Things have been happening that you haven’t told us about. At least you haven’t told us the whole story. But in spite of that, in spite of everything, we still trust you. We still care about you. We’re still behind you, Elena, and we want to help. And if you can’t see that, then you are an idiot.”
Matt spends the book helping Stefan and Elena because he’s an angel. He also won the award for Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year, which is what he deserves.
Stefan and Elena’s relationship can be described with two words: intensity and toxicity.
Elena spends the entire book lying to Stefan, hiding from him the fact that Caroline stole her diary and her interactions with Damon. What’s more, Stefan even points out that Elena values honesty in a relationship. In fact, it’s what she told him after all the things he hid from her in book one. So not only is Elena a giant hypocrite, but this establishes that these two are terrible with communication.
This is further displayed when Stefan skips school to get some vervain (an herb that protects against vampiric influence) for Elena. Except he doesn’t tell her where he’s going or that he’s not going to be in school. But don’t worry, he called Meredith to tell her so she and Bonnie could escort Elena to school.
Elena is way too wrapped up into Stefan. When Aunt Judith suggests she spends less time with him, Elena throws a fit and then locks herself in her room and sobs. After Stefan goes missing, Elena searches for him alone. She winds up sitting down in the middle of a snowstorm to wait for him, before hallucinating and nearly dying of hypothermia.
Elena also asserts more than once that she believes Stefan is “the one.” She tells Damon, “I’ve already found what I want. And I know who I want to be with forever.” Later she thinks to herself, “She was going to marry Stefan, or no one. And Stefan was going to marry no one but her.”
But this isn’t just girlish fantasy. Elena and Stefan actually get engaged in this book. And, let me take this moment to remind you, they have been dating for one month. And Elena is seventeen. How romantic?
Damon and Elena’s non-relationship is even worse than Stelena. Why? Because Damon is an abusive nightmare and metaphorical rapist (I’ll explain soon).
Let’s start with the tamest aspect of their “relationship:” the inexplicable attraction between them that is shoehorned in halfway into the book. It’s just… suddenly there. Damon wants her to be his “Queen of Shadows” just because.
And now let’s get onto the ugly. Firstly, Damon takes a bite of the breadstick that is currently in Elena’s mouth. This would be weird if they were together and it was consensual. But neither of those things apply, so it’s weird and scary. And it gets worse.
Damon threatens Elena with physical and/or emotional harm almost every time they’re together. When she first confronts him for hurting Stefan, he says, “I can do anything to you, and to the ones you love. You have no idea, Elena, of what I can do. But you’ll learn.”
Later, Elena tries to escape from him by jumping from the roof. He catches her, but threatens to drop her when she tells him to let go. Elena even notes, “If she said yes he would drop her.” And we’re supposed to buy him as a swoony love interest?
But the worst, in my opinion, is what I describe as metaphorical rape. What is metaphorical rape? Well, there is a scene where Elena is dreaming and, in the dream, Damon drinks her blood. Then she wakes up and realizes it wasn’t a dream. She is horrified because she would never consent to this while awake.
But that lack of consent itself isn’t what makes this reminiscent of rape. It’s the way drinking blood is framed in the novel. In both scenes where Stefan drinks Elena’s blood, it is framed as an intimacy comparable to sex. Elena climbs on top of him and grazes her cut finger over his lips. As he begins drinking from her throat, Elena says, “Through the bond they shared, she felt only fierce joy and satisfaction… Her own pleasure came from giving, from knowing that she was sustaining Stefan with her own life.”
That reference to connection and the description of this scene is eerily similar to a sex scene. This is further emphasized later in the novel when Stefan and Elena have an emotional heart-to-heart, culminating in the two drinking each other’s blood. In this scene, “Feelings of love, of delight, of appreciation overwhelmed her and with incredulous joy she realized the feelings were his.” The scene ends with them saying they love each other and getting engaged.
So yeah, there’s a clear parallel to sex here. Which makes it all the more horrifying that Damon forces himself (or rather, his teeth) on Elena.
What’s more, he threatens to do it again. When she refuses his offer of help in exchange for blood, Damon says, “I’ll have it anyway, eventually. If you’re honest, you’ll admit that to yourself. Last time wasn’t the last. Why not accept that?” This is terrifying. And it gets worse.
When Elena thwarts his plan to get to her, he gives her the “choice” of offering herself up or letting him drink from her four-year-old sister. Read that again because that is a real plot point in a real book. And it still gets worse.
Two pages later, Elena relates the following:
[Damon had] 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.”
That’s right, we get to end this section with a healthy dose of victim-blaming.
There’s a bit more plot in this book than the first one, but not by much. The plot is basically that they rescue Stefan and then they must get Elena’s diary back so they can save Stefan again. Meanwhile, they’re trying to avoid Damon. And they keep failing. And then Elena dies and turns into a vampire. The end.
The characters in this story use some seriously bizarre leaps of logic. They make inexplicable decisions in the hopes of achieving dubious goals. It requires a lot of presumptions on their part, and they always conveniently turn out to be true. And naturally, there’s a lot more telling than showing.
For most of the story, Stefan is under suspicion as the killer responsible for all the recent attacks. And, despite knowing him for less than a month, Elena is aghast when people who’ve known him for even less don’t trust him. It is a personal affront to her, rather than something understandable she wants to prove false.
When Elena runs into Damon at Alaric’s party, she begins asking him questions about his cover to “unmask him.” Except, how would that unmask him? Even if she gets him to trip up, that won’t automatically reveal him as a murderous vampire.
This lapse in judgment is furthered when Damon comes to Elena’s house for dinner and Elena throws her sister’s cat at him. You see, animals don’t like vampires and react violently. And I guess this is supposed to make her family distrust Damon? Somehow? All it does is make Elena look childish and insane.
In this book, it is revealed that vampires can’t enter a residence without an invitation. With jubilation, Elena realizes that Damon never entered the side of her house where the living room is. This is good because that part of the house (which includes her bedroom upstairs) is from the original structure, while the rest of the house has been rebuilt.
For some reason, this means Damon can’t enter Elena’s room. I guess this is an okay loophole, but I can’t understand why a house would be built that way. This just seems improbable.
The last bit of dumb logic is toward the end of the book. Elena sees Damon at the Founder’s Day celebration and realizes he secretly helped them stop Caroline’s plan. She goes off on him and Aunt Judith admonishes her for being rude. Elena assumes that Damon is using his Power to manipulate her, rather than the fact that she seems to be acting like a brat to a near stranger. But Elena could never be in the wrong. At least she dies at the end of the chapter.
I have a fairly long list of things that are either strange or deeply concerning. So as to not bog you down more than I already have, I’ll limit this section to the ones that bothered and bewildered me the most.
There’s a scene toward the beginning in which Robert, Aunt Judith’s boyfriend, is going to stay over. The weird thing is he volunteers to sleep on the couch and Aunt Judith tries to get him to sleep in one of the guest rooms. Why would he not just sleep with Aunt Judith? This isn’t a huge thing, but I’m just so hung up on it.
The next scene I want to discuss is when Elena and Co. rescue Stefan and rush him back to the boarding house. Elena shouts for the boarding house owner to let them in, but then Bonnie just opens the front door and says it’s unlocked. I don’t think it’s meant to be funny, given the gravity of the situation. So why is it there?
Later Elena calls Katherine a “stupid child” for killing herself, calling it “the worst mistake of the whole affair.” In that same paragraph, she calls her stupid and weak. So yay, this book shames people who commit suicide.
As the whole diary ordeal with Caroline is going on, Elena realizes that a dream she’d had beforehand where Stefan looks at her with accusing eyes was about Caroline’s plan. So I guess she’s psychic now? Or at least has prophetic dreams? There’s no reason behind it, she can just do this.
The last two WTF moments have to do with a minor character named Vickie Bennett. In the previous book, she and her boyfriend were attacked by Damon. In this book, she is seemingly still under vampiric influence. In a fugue state, she does a strip tease in the cafeteria. An underage girl does a strip tease in school.
Even worse, Bonnie just sits there are rages about how nobody is stopping her. Well, why don’t you? Oh yeah, because Elena needs to be the hero. But she needs prompting first. (And naturally, responsible adults don’t exist in this moment.)
Alas, Vickie’s poor treatment doesn’t end there. When she goes into another fugue state later, Elena bemoans the fact that she didn’t give Vickie any vervain to protect her. Stefan replies, “It wouldn’t have made a difference. Believe me. Some people are more easily influenced than others, Elena. Vickie’s will was never very strong. It belongs to him, now.”
So basically, Vickie is a weak-willed loser who deserves what’s happening to her. There’s no point in trying to help her because she’s just not strong enough.
And that is the second section we’re ending with victim-blaming.
Smith sometimes uses really weird descriptions to refer to people. For example, she calls Katherine “the dead girl” and Caroline “the green-eyed girl.” Troom Troom, is that you?
There are a few other small writing pet peeves in this book, but I’d like to focus on some bigger things. Firstly, the first two books have revolved around Elena and Stefan’s perspectives. However, toward the end of the book, Bonnie gets two POV chapters out of nowhere. Why would Smith have introduced this so late in the novel?
The next two issues are somewhat connected. The last chapter ends with Elena waking up as a vampire and basically sensing that Stefan and Damon are fighting because one of them is her sire. She thinks to herself about how she needs to get to “him.”
Smith tries to make this vague and mysterious, but she explicitly says “he” has dark eyes. Stefan has green eyes. Damon has dark eyes. It’s obvious who sired Elena if you paid any attention.
There’s a bit of a cliffhanger in this novel and it’s not terrible. It ends with Elena stepping into the clearing where Stefan and Damon are fighting. However, my copy includes the first chapter of The Fury and I think its ending would’ve been a much more powerful cliffhanger.
The chapter shows Elena fighting Stefan because he is hurting her sire. The brothers are able to calm her down and quickly realize what she has become. They ask her if she knows who they are, because her memory is a little hazy. But she does remember them and ends the chapter by telling Damon he loves him.
Imagine that jaw-dropping declaration being how Smith ended The Struggle. To find out how the brothers react, you need to read The Fury. Such amazing potential wasted.
There are some good things in this book. Granted, there aren’t many. But they exist and I’d like to talk about them now.
I really like the friendship that’s starting to form between Matt and Stefan. They have fun banter. It’s nice to see a positive relationship forming that involves a Salvatore brother.
There’s a neat twist that happens in this book. It’s not a huge twist, but interesting nonetheless. When Elena is attacked by Damon as a crow, she is at Bonnie’s house. Later Bonnie tells her she had a scary dream where Elena killed a crow. Elena assumes it’s because of what happened, but Bonnie reveals she had the dream before the earlier incident. Dun, dun, dun!
There’s also some great humor in this book. Not all of it is necessarily intentional, but it’s funny either way. One of my favorite bits is that at every Founder’s Day celebration they read poems by M.C. Marsh because he’s the only poet Fell’s Church ever produced.
There’s some funny one-liners that don’t make sense without context. So I’m going to share images from the book so you can read them.
I honestly think I had a worse time reading this book than the first one. Perhaps because I knew the quality going in. Who knows?
I will be continuing my reread/book talk, but I don’t know when. As I said, I have to get the next book from the library and am not sure when I’ll get around to it. That said, I may (keyword: may) reread and do a book talk on Dark Reunion. Originally, I hadn’t planned to because the first three books form a complete arc. But Elena is not in it, so I might decide to give it a shot anyway. We shall see.
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