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Before I could get my eager hands on Shadow Souls -- the newest installment of L.J. Smith's popular Vampire Diaries series -- I appeased myself by reading some of the early reviews on Amazon. I was shocked and concerned by the large number of one-star ratings.
Of course, it didn't stop me from judging for myself, and I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed Shadow Souls. In fact, it's probably my favorite of the series to date.
In this second volume of the Diaries reprise, heroine Elena is on a road trip to hell - literally. She's on a desperate search and rescue operation to save her vampire boyfriend, Stefan, from the Shi no Shi, a magical and horrible prison in a hell dimension. She's accompanied by Damon -- Stefan's bad-boy vampire brother -- and Matt, her loyal ex-boyfriend, as they flee Falls Church and the demons and kitsune that have taken over the town. The trio loses Matt and picks up best girlfriends Bonnie and Meredith along the way, but that's basically inconsequential: Damon and Elena are the stars of this show.
Even though Elena's quest is ultimately to reunite her with (boring, vanilla) Stefan, she and Damon sizzle across the country, and then all over the hell dimension. The chemistry between the characters is great, although Elena's easy back-and-forth definitely incited a few eye-rolls from me along the way. Damon just keeps getting better and better as a character. He's had a tremendous arc of growth over this series, and in my opinion, is kind of the quintessential "male vampire love interest." I would have stopped reading this series if he wasn't a part of it.
The plot is great -- I think the series benefits from getting the characters out of their little hometown. New characters, such as the mysterious Sage, and a bigger part for supporting characters from other books like the kind witch Mrs. Flowers, also help infuse some new life to the story.
I've read a lot of criticism about the series being unrecognizable from the earlier books. I'd agree: in many ways, it's better. Less high school drama and teen angst, and more world-building? Yes, please! L.J. Smith took note of the current trends in YA fiction and made smart, strategic adjustments to a formula that needed to be freshened up. I think it was a smart move. And after the cliffhanger ending presented, I absolutely can't wait for the final chapter in Midnight.