57 points, 3 stars
Warning: Unavoidable major spoilers for The Vampire Diaries: The Return.
Damon’s death has changed the entire dynamic of the group. In her grief, Elena can’t stop dreaming of him and Stefan is jealous. There is a new demon in town, too. Elena just can’t catch a break, and why does she keep dreaming of Damon.
Phantom is the first of the books in The Vampire Diaries series that wasn’t fully written by L.J. Smith. From what I gather, Smith started writing it, but the publisher had a dispute with her over the ending, so they took her off the book and had a ghostwriter clean it up and edit it the way they wanted it.
Since Smith actually wrote the majority of this book, it still feels like a Vampire Diaries book. The characters feel the same, the events feel the same, the world feels the same. So what is different? In the The Return trilogy, things were a bit everywhere all at once. Smith tried to do a lot of things all at the same time. They were vying for the same air space. Phantom is very focused on just doing the one thing, really.
In some ways, Phantom is better written than The Return. It is just so much better focused. It didn’t jump randomly several times a chapter. The characters were consistent in what they were doing, there were no surprises at the last second because the author realised she needed something different. It was just plain easier to read.
However, it was also worse. All of the life was sucked out of it. It went from a reasonably unique, fun-filled, incredibly varied series to….generic paranormal young adult story. It just..I didn’t care. I don’t particularly enjoy young adult. It was filled some of the more aggressively annoying young adult tropes. It was basic. There was no…there just wasn’t any life in it anymore. There was nothing in it to make me feel like I was reading something I hadn’t read before.
The stories written by L.J. Smith were filled with mystery. It wasn’t just about young people doing young people things while living in a world where the supernatural existed. They didn’t assume that teenagers couldn’t handle adult-level problems. The previous books dealt with young adults dealing with problems that they shouldn’t have to deal with, but they’re the only options. The events and the people just weren’t “normal”.
Phantom is like the exact opposite of that. It is entirely self involved. It goes from “them” to “me”. The entire book was about basically dealing with their feelings. Seriously. They literally are fighting their feelings the entire book, that is all. I’ll give whoever dealt with this book credit. It is actually really well done subtle in the beginning. If you don’t have much reading experience you may find that this was actually really nice. However, I’ll give you the ending because I have to: they defeated the monster by voicing every one of their jealousies. No lie. I’m in awe.
A big part of the story was Elena trying to resume a normal life. At the end of the last book, she had her wing powers taken away, and all the memories of everyone changed so that they don’t know she died at all. I don’t know why every young adult series does this. “Oh, I just want to be normal!” All the darn time. It isn’t fun. It isn’t good. This is not what I liked the Vampire Diaries for. I liked it because Elena accepted that nothing is really normal anymore for them. She may not have liked it, but she accepted it, because the person that she loves more than anything cannot be human again. This just.. tried to overwrite all of that.
Plus, Damon. Jesus, this killed every hope I had for a true love trio. I read elsewhere that the publishers dropped Smith because she wouldn’t stop with the whole Damon and Elena plotline. So they made it known in no uncertain terms that Damon would not be with Elena. They brought him back, anyway, though. Of course they did. If you’re surprised by this, you shouldn’t be.
I know what the publishers are trying to do with Phantom with the way it ended. They took out most of what was in the book to make it a series instead of a collection of individual books. They don’t want to continue on with Smith’s plans, they just want to make it generic young adult fiction with vampires.