Saturday, March 8, 2014

#BookReview: The Vampire Diaries, The Return: Midnight (Spoilers)

Previous Vampire Diaries series book reviews on this blog:

The Awakening 
The Return, Book 1: Nightfall
The Return, Book 2: Shadow Souls

Midnight (The Vampire Diaries: The Return, #3)Midnight by L.J. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last book in the Vampire Diaries series to be written by L.J. Smith herself - or at least it was until Kindle Worlds opened up the VD franchise to fan fiction writers. You can read here about how LJ Smith, hired by Alloy Entertainment to create the series in 1990 and then fired in 2011, used Kindle Worlds to flesh out her own vision. As I write this review, Smith's two newest "fanfic" entries in the series she created are #1 and #2 on Amazon's Kindle Worlds Young Adult bestsellers list.

I read the previous installment, Shadow Souls, two years ago in March 2012. In that volume, Elena and her friends rescued Stefan from prison in the Dark Dimensions. Stefan had hoped a magical rose would make him human again, but Damon became human instead, and wasn't at all happy about it.

The town of Fell's Church is still under attack from the demonic kitsune (fox spirit) siblings. As the clock counts down to the Last Midnight, the town's possessed children intend to carry out a terrible plot, which kitsune sister Misao hopes will restore her evil powers. But, as Matt, Meredith, and wise crone Miss Flowers discover, the kitsunes are acting as minions for an even greater, even more black-hearted entity. Smith has introduced more Japanese folklore into her tale, which is one of the things I love most about this series. She's kind of like J.K. Rowling's American cousin.

Shrine to Inari no Kami at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, with many kitsune statues. Public domain image by Ph0kin.
That black-hearted entity is Inari, the Shinto goddess of rice and mistress of all the fox spirits. Encyclopedia Mythica says that Inari is a shape-shifter, sometimes a god and sometimes a goddess. She has a springtime festival and is sometimes associated with the agricultural goddess Uga-no-Mitami and with Hinduism's Lakshmi. In Smith's tale, Inari has the largest starball - a repository of spiritual power - in the Dark Dimensions. Using the kitsune as her messengers, she intends to cause ritualistic destruction.

For further reading on the mythology of Inari:

"Goddess Inari" at Journeying to the Goddess
"Inari and Her Kitsune" at Goddess School 

Miss Flowers plays a more important role in this book than in any of the previous ones, using her benevolent witchcraft to its fullest extent. If you've only watched the TV show, you'll be unfamiliar with Miss Flowers, but you can think of her as the book version of Bonnie's Gran.

Damon, meanwhile, is determined to become a vampire again as quickly as he became human. To do so, he returns to the Dark Dimensions, unwillingly bringing Bonnie McCollough with him. Damon still has very strong feelings for Elena, but at the same time, he's drawn to the very innocent, almost child-like Bonnie.

At first I thought the red-haired woman on the cover was supposed to be Bonnie, who is described as a Scottish-American teen with curly, strawberry blonde hair. She doesn't resemble Kat Graham, the multiracial actress who plays Bonnie Bennett on the TV series - but then again, the TV character Dr. Meredith Fell bears little resemblance to the book series' olive-skinned Latina teen Meredith Sulez. Dr. Fell is played by Torrey DeVitto who, when the Meredith character first appeared in Season 3, was married to Paul Wesley, who plays Stefan. But then AGAIN, book character Tyler Smallwood is not described as Latino, while Michael Trevino who plays TV Tyler Lockwood is Mexican-American. The TV series is more ethnically diverse than the book, which is good. I favor adding diversity over subtracting it.

However, it turns out the woman on the cover isn't Bonnie but Idola, a Guardian of the Celestial Realms (a sort of embassy of heaven that exists in the Dark Dimensions). The Guardians spill some secrets in this volume, including the true revelation of how Elena's parents died. They also explain some of Elena's angelic qualities since she died as a vampire and came back as a specially-gifted human.

Bonnie gets herself into some serious trouble with a craving for a simple sugarplum - but Damon saves her. Stefan and Elena enter the Dark Dimension to join them, and they must work together with those left behind in Fell's Church to keep the Last Midnight from happening.

The story ends on a hopeful note, and it certainly doesn't read like the end to a series. Since I don't want to read the ghostwritten The Hunters books, I'll have to download the Kindle Worlds books and give them a chance. The two books that are currently out (The Vampire Diaries: Evensong: Paradise Lost (Kindle Worlds) and The Vampire Diaries: Evensong: The War of Roses (Kindle Worlds Novella)) are 2/3 of a story arc called Evensong. After she finishes that, the Daily Dot article linked at the top of this blog post says, Smith will write her "endgame," her version of how the series ends. That'll probably be another 3-book arc, at least. Fortunately, the e-books are only $1.99 apiece.

View all my reviews on Goodreads. I purchased this book with my own funds at The Dusty Bookshelf used bookstore in Manhattan, Kansas, and was not obligated in any way to review it. This review represents my own honest opinion.

I haven't been watching the Vampire Diaries TV series very closely for the past two seasons - or the spin-off series The Originals, despite my love of Rebekah - but I did watch on Thursday, May 6. SPOILER ALERT: It ended with Katerina Petrov, a.k.a. Katherine Pierce, apparently dead but unable to enter the afterlife through Bonnie. (Bonnie is the conduit between life and death now that she herself is back from the dead.) Some unseen supernatural force dragged her kicking and screaming backwards out of the church where Bonnie stood - perhaps she was dragged off the hell? Could this really be the end of TV-Katherine? We won't know until the series returns after a short hiatus on March 20th.

Enter to win Midsummer Night - Pagan Spirits Book 2 - from Goodreads through March 26th

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