Written By: L.J Smith
The Struggle, the second book in the vampire diaries series picks up right where the last one left off. The two really seem more like one book than two separate. The book begins as Elena is screaming Damon’s name in the graveyard. Stefan has gone missing, which is assumed to be proof that he is guilty of a series of murders that have been going on in Fell’s Church. Elena seems to be the only one who believes he is innocent, but the real murderer is a vampire who is often not visible and sometimes only presents himself in crow form. There is no solid evidence that he killed these people and no way to catch him. So Elena and Stefan can’t do anything to stop him.
Damon uses his powers against Stefan so he can get to Elena more directly. He makes it clear that he doesn’t want to hurt Elena, but he will. Damon admires her strength and feels that she should sit beside him as his queen for all eternity, taking whatever they want whenever they want it. Now that he has hurt Stefan and taken him away from her, she feels more hatred towards him than ever before. By showing this and rejecting him yet again Damon makes her a promise that she will eventually be with him. In the meantime he plans to hurt her and everyone she loves. It becomes questionable whether Stefan can even protect Elena from him. He attempts to and as Damon begins playing games with Elena, taunting her, and trying to steal her away from Stefan, he isn’t far from losing his control. Elena is terrified at the idea that they would fight over her. She knows that Stefan is much weaker and will be killed if they fight, and it will all be because of her.
Damon begins to outsmart and overpower her on many occasions, yet she has to keep this all a secret from Stefan, or it could cost him his life. Stefan tries to give Elena all the pointers he can on how she can protect herself from Damon, although many of these come too late. There is still something he doesn’t know that has been haunting her. The diary with her inner most private feelings, particularly about Stefan, has been stolen. Someone has been torturing her, quoting her diary back to her in anonymous notes. The diary doesn’t divulge what he is, but it could be enough to place him at the scene of every crime, surely getting him run out of town or even killed.
The Struggle takes the series in a great direction, building up on the tension much more effectively than the first book. For a good part of the first book, a lot of the suspense was more based on whether Stefan and Elena would get together and how this could possibly work out. It isn’t until towards the end that Damon even has that big of a role in the story and for quite some time although he is powerful, dangerous, and seductive it still seems possible for Elena to resist him. In The Struggle, the inevitable seems to catch up with her though. His character alone adds so much intensity to the story. Elena, Stefan, and everyone Elena cares about are in danger. Damon shows how tactful and smart he is. He plays games with Elena, making him seem like a desirable seemingly nice guy rather than the source of all of her problems. One of her best friends nearly falls for him until Elena reveals him as the real murderer. Even her aunt seems to be crazy about him, trying to get Damon to replace Stefan as she feels he has only made her act strange since they started dating. Damon forces his way in to her world. He’s been invited to her home as well as her friend’s home and begins controlling her in her sleep, getting her to do anything he wants her to. He begins simply taking from Elena as well as playing the hero, using this as leverage; now owning her. At one point Elena does note that she has an undying attraction towards Damon, but her hatred and inability to love anyone besides Stefan fuels her feelings for him.
Another improvement in The Struggle is that our affection for Elena is challenged and it actually succeeds. We really come to care for her, sharing her insights and feelings. We form an understanding through her that hadn’t come full circle before. If you made it to the second book than you have come to accept her as the protagonist. There is a great twist in her character and as she continues to slowly be defeated by Damon. In this we realize how completely vital she is to the series, not just for plot reasons, but to keep the reader engaged in the story, having that complete connection and essential need for her to make it through everything that she is dealing with.
In the book, Elena and Stefan’s love becomes much more real as well. It goes beyond the point of a high school crush or even the lusting and longing they have for one another. Their love becomes an essential need and one that is related and shown to the reader more effectively. We really see this through how Elena and Stefan are treated like complete outsiders. Elena has to fight nearly everyone around her who seems to be against Stefan. When she first started to like Stefan, he was popular, the new mysteriously charming boy in school. Everyone desired him, but she was determined that she would be the one to get him in the end. In The Awakening we do learn that this develops to something much more. The Struggle takes us out of that situation, testing what they have. We are shown their bond that nothing or no one can break. All this just makes what Damon is doing more maddening, chilling, and pleasing. Constantly throughout the entire book, we are given pivotal moments, that could easily change everything depending on what happens next. The tones and emotions are constantly changing, making the reader never know what to expect next. This really gets you in to the story further and gets you completely invested in the characters and everything that is going on.