Written By: L.J. Smith
L.J. Smith certainly has gone a different direction with “The Return”, the sub-series of the Vampire Diaries. Shadow Souls marks the second book and most recent addition to the Vampire Diaries. That being said the bulk of it doesn’t really feel like a Vampire Diaries book. We are only very briefly in the supernatural magnetic small town of Fell’s Church, Virginia. For the first 200 pages very few of our characters are together, in the same place at the same time. The vampire element isn’t nearly as central as it has been in the past. It mostly lies in Damon and Elena’s undeniable attraction that she at long last gives in to.
Elena’s vampire boyfriend, Stefan, who craves for humanity, is tricked in to a hellish prison cell by his rival and evil-natured vampire brother, Damon, and a bargaining kitsune, a fox-like mischievous supernatural creature who craves manipulation through memories. Elena and her friends Meredith, Bonnie, and Matt, managed to save their town from total domination from the brother and sister kitsune, Shinichi and Misao. They had all of the young girls in the town possessed and violently attacking themselves and everyone around them. Meredith and Bonnie stay in town trying to talk sense in to the monstrous creature that was once their friend, Caroline. She is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s baby, who happens to be a werewolf. This means she herself will turn in to a werewolf as this is the nature of the baby inside of her. Plus, she was possessed by the kitsunes and she seems to have something evil lurking inside of her, taking over. To keep her pride and reputation she has created a manhunt against Matt, claiming that he got too aggressive on their date and that the baby is his. Bonnie passes out when she goes in to her house, as the demonic voices are too overwhelming.
Meanwhile, Damon, Elena, and Matt set off to save Stefan. Damon bargained with the kitsunes to get his brother out of the way so he could have Elena to himself, thinking if Stefan were out of the picture she would live by his side. Since then Damon has regretted what he has done, knowing he has given him a fate worse than death. Rescuing Stefan is no easy task as the only information that they have is twisted in to a riddle about a world that none of them live in or know that much about. Stefan has been taken to the Dark Dimensions, another world where the inhabitants live in limbo. It is mostly reserved for the worst, grimiest, and most devilish individuals; vampires, demons, and kitsunes included.
Before they get there Damon works with Elena on controlling her aura, as someone who has been a normal girl, dead, vampire, dead again, a spirit, and not so normal but human girl again, her aura would attract others who might want to take advantage of her. Damon protects Elena at night while she sleeps and he kills attackers sent by Shinichi; clearly he knows that they are on their way. Through their trip, Elena grows closer and closer to Damon. When Matt catches them in an embrace, he gets angry, goes back to Fell’s Church, and doesn’t contact Elena again. He sells his car to help Meredith and Bonnie buy plane tickets to meet Damon and Elena while Matt stays with one of the town’s practicing witches who knows what’s going on with the possessions, teaming up to stop the demonic forces taking over.
When they get to the Dark Dimensions, Elena, Meredith, and Bonnie have to pretend to be Damon’s slaves as no humans are permitted access unless they are the property of a supernatural creature. It is full of hungry, starving people who have nearly lost all hope. The kitsunes play with them, offering them a meal for a memory which they use as the key to their mind. Shinichi has done this with Damon, constantly taking memories away from him, rendering him clueless to things that have just happened. When Elena sees a women being whipped by her maniacal master for no reason, continuing to beat her as her blood runs, Elena speaks up to put a stop to this. The whip breaks Elena’s skin, scarring her and the blood sucks through her clothes. Damon is by her side in a second and kills the master for hurting Elena.
After what Elena did there is a chain of slave revolts along the Dark Dimensions. Everyone is out for both Damon and Elena’s blood. To go any further with their mission Elena has to apologize and be publically whipped to end the slave revolts. Elena is determined to make a difference, to help free these people of the pitiful lives they are forced to live. She knows that she can’t do this overnight and if she gets too caught up in other things Stefan could be dead by the time she gets to him. They realize they have to capture the two kitsune keys that fit together to open Stefan’s cell. They have to find them and get to Stefan before he is tortured and damaged beyond repair, creating many allies and enemies out for their blood along the way.
The thing I appreciated the most about this book was the Damon and Elena relationship. It is no longer just an attraction that she can’t give in to; it’s an attraction and connection that Elena can no longer deny. The temptation has built up throughout the series, seeing Elena giving in to it is even more satisfying. There are a few moments where Damon loses his entire consciousness and senses and becomes dangerous and vicious, nearly draining Elena dry. Nearly every time Elena and Damon become intimate with one another she enters his inner consciousness where she sees a small starving boy bound by chains, hiding a deadly secret. Elena craves and yearns for Damon and when she embraces him it feels completely right. At the same time, she is even more desperate to see or touch Stefan again, even traveling to him through an out-of-body experience.
Damon goes through drastic changes throughout the book. He risks his life time and time again for Elena and Stefan; something the earlier, completely self-interested Damon would never do. He shows remorse and vulnerability as well as ferociousness and vengefulness. While it was nice that this developed his character further, we didn’t get the typical snarky remarks and mocking, aggressive allure, and vicious animalistic nature that define Damon. Especially with some of the other far more evil creatures in this world, Damon came off as very tame in comparison. Luckily, there was still interesting material with him and it’s thrilling to see that perhaps he will end up with Elena in the end. At least he will be one side of the triangle.
There were some uncomfortable moments in the book, especially focusing around the vicious slavery taken place in the world they find themselves in. This world is pretty menacing considering the most rotten creatures have all the power and brutally exert it over the poorest individuals who don’t even dare to dream of any other life. Slavery is cruel enough, but you can just imagine how vile it might be when the masters are powerful and devious vampires and demons who desire nothing more than to see others suffer. They have the power to make them bleed for eternity if they so choose and these supernatural creatures are all so self-interested they see no reason why they shouldn’t. There is slashing, blood flowing, and staking. Many of these moments are slow, raw, and disturbing. While this gave a displeasing tone and added some complications, the bulk of the book being in this setting played a major part in the book not completely feeling like it belongs in the series. Along with this the slave’s back story, the descriptions of gowns, and some of the parties that they go to in order to try to track down the keys seem like they could have been better left out or at least shorter. While most of this material was interesting enough, it seemed to take away from the more exciting moments of the story.
I wasn’t crazy about the ending of the book either. The overall ending was fitting, but the last few pages really reverses the roles. It works in a darkly ironic and doomed sort of way. In another book I might think it was a good twist and it was funny in a way. Still, it changes fundamental things about our characters, and the most intriguing characters at that. It certainly gives the next book plenty of material to work with, especially considering this is only one of the major issues that haven’t been resolved.
Shinichi and Misao are our new villains in the new Vampire Diaries books. They played a much more dominant part in the first one, Nightfall. Shadow Souls is mostly a rescue mission. Shinichi only appears at the very end, but in doing so plays with everyone’s mind and proving that things are far from over. He seeks control and domination and he will do whatever it takes to get these things. If he has to get creative, that just makes it more fun for him. While I did really enjoy the vampire villains in the original books, Shinichi is a very inventive villain that constantly keeps you guessing, blurring the lines of reality and fantasy and putting our characters in a constant state of puzzles and entrapment. I only wish that he would have played a larger part of this book as he did in Nightfall. That being said I did enjoy the book and there were a lot of interesting and captivating moments, it just doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of what the other books in the series have established.