Okay, so the four stars is generous - this is a quality-two, maaaaaybe two and a half, but my enjoyment was a solid four. Oh, L.J. Smith, never stop being so crazy! I mean, this book is almost comics-canon-esque in how it attempts to reconcile a book written today picking up a week after the plotline of the book written ten-ish years ago! The miraculous discovery of cell phones, which appear and disappear when plotually convenient! The slight name-dropping of shoes and bags and clothes so that we know these people are "with it"! D'awwww.
This book is ambitious, moreso than I think what Smith has attempted before, and I think it partially succeeds. It's pretty clear that this book is setting up a new take on the Vampire Diaries (wow, there's an awkward abbreviation) universe, especially with the SPN Pilot episode "we've got work to do"-style ending. She's setting up a caper! On the run! Or something.
This book feels like a hybrid of the early nineties Smith (the classic Vampire Diaries, Secret Circle, etc) with the new swathe of young adult horror novels (Cassie Clare, Holly Black, etc). I feel like Smith is retconning a lot of world-building onto her universe to make it wider and more complex (a la the new skool stuff), and it's handled relatively deftly, but it still feels, you know. Retconned. (See also: Damon's abuse of the Italian language. And have I mentioned the cell phone hilarity? Because the cell phones are hilarious.)
I will admit to missing the smaller world, a little bit. It was part of the original books' charm - that here was this crazy stuff happening in a relatively contained universe. Still, that doesn't leave you many options of where to go next. Let's hear it for expanding that universe, even if the Sunnydale = Fell's Church jokes are nigh on irresistible.
Also, I hope we get more than just kitsune in the next novel. Let's hear it for Smith and her already-almost-more-diverse-than-Supernatural use of multiple cultures' mythologies, but if we don't get more kinds of Big Bad, then the whole Japanese mythology is going to feel very slapped-on-because-convenient, as opposed to first-in-a-wider-world-of-things-that-go-bump-in-the-dark.
As for the characters, I felt a little shortchanged on the humans, and Stefan was in full-on Edward Cullen mode. "My little lovely love"? Are you kidding
me? I still love Bonnie and Damon interacting, and the author's bias is hugely evident yet again: everyone
is more interesting around Damon than Stefan. There's more to work with, rather than just noble and self-sacrificing and In Love With Elena.
Elena-with-her-mind-back grows on me. She's got more depth than I remember, and her Bella-esque devotion to Stefan is balanced by, you know, actual personality and skills. Elena-as-a-spirit-childe was mostly just amusing, but that assessment is wildly biased by her - ahahahaha, it still makes me laugh just thinking
about it - Go-Go Gadget Wings of Plot Devices. Wings of Redemption
(or whatever)? Seriously
? Whoever said that wingfic was gonna be the next young adult trend is dead on.
I found Matt annoying, and I miss his mancrush on Stefan. Meredith and Bonnie were present but felt kind of irrelevant for much of the book. If we lose Meredith and Bonnie and up our Matt quotient in the next book? I will likely lose interest very, very quickly.
I remain, in a very seventh-grade-lingering sort of way, intrigued by Damon. Once again Smith fails to sell me on him actually being eeeeeevil, which makes the tension of will-he-won't-he (disembowel, crush, betray, etc) so much less, but I really liked the setup for the tension with does-he-or-doesn't-he-remember his whole Wings of Redemption experience.
So, yeah. An uneven effort but still a guilty pleasure favorite set of characters, and count me in for book two.