The Vampire Diaries Book 5: The Return: Nightfall

The Vampire Diaries: The Return: NightfallWritten By: L.J. Smith
Grade: A-

Nightfall marks the start of a new chapter in The Vampire Diaries series. The Return is a sort of sub-series. This is the start of a new trilogy with the same characters, but a new focus in the story: Elena, the light beauty and  her relationship with the powerful vampire of darkness, Damon. Stefan, the caring and more morally conscious vampire actually isn’t even in majority of the book. Nightfall was written over 15 years after the first book and there are obvious differences in both Smith’s growth as well as her characters. The style is similar, but more adult, dark, and everything is far more layered and complex.

Elena Gilbert was once human, but when she died, she came back as a vampire from sharing the blood of both vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon. She gave her life to save theirs and was an angel that watched over her friends, helping warn them about the trouble to come despite interferences from her after death tormentor. Now she has miraculously come back as a human. However, she seems to still have hung on to some of her supernatural instincts and is a spirit child now. Elena can’t talk and doesn’t remember how to do anything she did as a human; she has truly been born again. Stefan works with her to remember anything she can. They do communicate through telepathy although Elena’s thoughts are somewhat jumbled. She often floats in the air and kisses those she sees to put the memory of them in her mind.

There are much more peculiar things going on in the small town of Fell’s church besides Elena’s new form. The trees seem to come to life with evil intentions. Elena’s friends, Matt, Meredith, and Bonnie get attacked, trapped, and nearly die under the tree’s grips. Bonnie calls out through her mind and reaches Damon for help when Elena and Stefan are too far away to reach. Something comes over him when he nearly tries to seduce and kill Elena’s old high school rival, Caroline. During this he continues to ignore Bonnie’s desperate pleas as the life is being drained out of her.

Damon realizes that something was taking control over him, manipulating him to do or not do the things it wanted. He discovers there is a malach, an overwhelming source of evil possessing its environment,t that was controlling him. The trees aren’t the only things that attack either. The malach controls swarms of insanely fast bugs that are the length of an arm each. Aside from these possessions of nature, many of the young girls in the town are acting awfully strange. They parade around with next to no clothes on. They proposition any and every guy they can, including relatives. The pre-teen girls scream and intentionally hurt themselves, sticking themselves with needles, cutting their tongues in half, and harming themselves in any other way that they can. They don’t stop there though, violently harming, chasing, and practically hunting everyone around them. The girls all claim that the people around them are doing this to them and that it pains them so much that they are forced to release it physically.

Amongst all this, Stefan appears to have left Elena, leaving a note in her diary leaving her for her own good and protection. Damon is given the responsibility of her new protector. Although, he saved her friends, he appears to be as evil and malicious as ever. Something comes over him as he sets out to humiliate, manipulate, and control Elena in every way that he can. She knows Damon thrives on power, but she also knows he cares for her and wouldn’t think he could ever put her through the hell he is trapping her in.

The immediate difference that you notice in Nightfall is that it is a much longer book. All of the others have been around 200 pages and this one is nearly 600. I was glued throughout the book, not bored with it for one second. Although, the books typically have a lot going on in them that the characters eventually have to piece together, Nightfall definitely has the most going on. I have heard complaints that it is too confusing, but I really didn’t have any issues with this. From very early on in the book everything is basically one death trap to the next, not even giving our characters a breath before the next disaster strikes them. You do want them to at least reach each other to share the information and what they have just been through, but often times they aren’t even able to get that far before having to fight off the next evil headed their way. This might be frustrating for some people, but for me it helped build up the anticipation and tension further.

There was some jumping around even within a chapter, sometimes only having a paragraph or two on one character and then going to another one. I feel so deeply for each and every one of the main characters though that this wasn’t a problem. If I felt like I didn’t really know or care about any of the characters this wouldn’t have worked. This format was a good way to go about it since there were so many different things going on, all which intersected. If one was focused on for too long it would felt forced or out of sequence when the story suddenly went back to what was going on with another character at that time. It keeps us on the edge of our seats for longer. Also, since we get perspectives of at least 4 or 5 characters, we feel an even stronger connection and understanding to each person and what’s happening around them.

The Struggle is my favorite in the series, because of how strong the character of Damon is and how Elena is equally disgusted by him and attracted to him. In Nightfall, Damon comes back as strong as he was then, if not stronger. His character, as well as all of the characters really, is developed even further. There are so many completely enthralling, thrilling, and even devilishly funny moments through him. He has an intriguingly dark sense of humor that he has a lot of fun with. These are mostly in his thoughts so we would have missed out on this if the book would have solely been told from Elena’s perspective. He has become a character that you can’t help but care about. He isn’t pure evil; there is another side to him. That perfect mix of care, desire, and domination makes for a great character. Yet he is still the classic vampire. He has fun playing games, getting what he wants by exerting his power, and of course luring his victims in with his unbearable attraction. In this book he goes to a much darker place than we have ever seen him before, every move more intense and malicious.

Usually love triangles can get old pretty fast, especially if there isn’t any contrast or desire that draws you back from one to the other. The Vampire Diaries gives us an incredible strong and conflicting triangle, pinning good vs. evil. Still, it didn’t leave it so black and white and developed Damon, suggesting that perhaps he could be the best of both worlds. Stefan is the more loyal and safe choice and the one that Elena did fall in love with first. Still, Smith didn’t draw this out for 5 books. It was sort of dropped for a while, but Elena wasn’t really around to fight over either. Now after all of these years, Damon’s quest to seize Elena’s heart is back. The suspense and excitement constantly increases as he gets closer and closer to tasting his forbidden fruit. Damon also gives us some disturbing, uncomfortable, and shocking moments. This hits on the darker and more adult nature of the book, going farther in that forbidden territory than ever before. We get this type of unpleasant and sinister material through some of the youngest characters shown in this book, using the age to make things more uncomfortable.

Nightfall deals a lot with reality vs. fantasy. The enemy in this book is a master of games and our characters’ world is essentially turned in to a maze. The villains in Nightfall are completely wicked and horrifying. Others’ pain is their pleasure. They see everything and everyone around them just as toys there for them to play with. Selfish intentions, brutal harassing, and this being their idea of fun combined with the massive power that seems to outdo everything that our characters have even come across seems to leave them with little hope. There is obviously no reasoning with them and they are masters of trickery. Allusions against reality are constantly being piled against each other. This gets the reader to question everything that they are reading.  If you accept everything blindly you are more likely to get lost or confused while reading. If you have read the books from the beginning it serves as a great test to how well you know the characters that you have spent the last 4 books with. The book is still set up for the possibility of readers starting with this one. Even if you do believe some of the allusions it makes more shocking possibilities, making you question what dark, murky material the book will hit on next.

Nightfall is one of the best books in The Vampire Diaries series and shows that L.J. Smith has still got it. If I had any issues it would be that sometimes things for Elena are a little too convenient. This really starts with the ending of the fourth book. After Elena has said goodbye for good and stated that she won’t be able to communicate with her friends any longer she is suddenly a living human again. Her childlike spirit state in the beginning seemed to work a little better from going from death to life again. However, when it fades she is a normal human again. She doesn’t have these special powers, but then all of a sudden when she is most desperately in need of them, she suddenly has access to them. This does make some sense since she had great power when she was a spirit so it would be possible that some of that power was still there without her really realizing it. So it didn’t ruin the battle for me, it was just a little questionable at times. Even in these somewhat questionable moments, you are so consumed and taken in by the book that your enjoyment while reading drastically outweighs any minor flaws. The ending just like the previous books ends with a major cliffhanger, leaving many things unanswered. It’s a great start to the new direction that the sub-series will be going in and already sets up the next book. Damon is expected to play a much larger part than in the first four books. I am glad that Smith decided to go in this direction since Damon is without a doubt the most gripping, intriguing, and dark vampire character in the entire series. The progression of his fight for Elena suggests that maybe in the end Elena really will be his “princess of darkness”.

Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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