Bianca's Reviews > The Return: Nightfall

The Return by L.J. Smith
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Sep 18, 11

Read in June, 2010

I know LJ Smith can do better than this, because she has done better before, and this is probably the lowest point in her writing career, by far. If she were a poorer author, I would expect it of her and excuse it all away, but she's not, and so I can't find any excuses in me. She's better than this. She really, truly is.

The book takes place a mere week after the original four. This was big mistake #1, because the original books DO have the dates in them, dating book 5 instantly to the summer of 1992, and yet everyone suddenly has a smart phone with video call capabilities, digital cameras, and personal computers. This is just one of the many gaping plot holes and inconsistencies in this book that shows just how much love and care the publishers gave it before throwing it out into the world. Did they even remember they'd just re-released 4 other books and should probably check for continuity when editing this one? I'm thinking no.

The remaining big problems with this book? The plot and the characterization. NOBODY escapes this book unscathed. It would seem that Damon the enigmatic bad boy, once you're actually in his head, is just a vain and simpering frat boy who smiles at nothing in particular and thinks Bonnie's breasts are disappointingly small. Furthermore, it would seem that all he really wants is to weep at Elena's feet and beg for forgiveness. Sure, redeeming the bad boy is the fantasy of many a teenage girl (and adult woman!), but I don't think that's quite what we had in mind, Ms. Smith. As for the others? Well, Matt's all right (although Damon can't seem to remember his name, leading me to believe he suffered some severe brain damage in the fight with Klaus). Everyone else, not so much. They're like tragic caricatures of themselves, especially poor Caroline. In an effort to find a segueway villain, LJ Smith destroys any and all character development from Caroline to crowbar the new villains in through her. I'll get to Elena in a moment. Let's talk about these new villains.

As others have mentioned, it seems like LJ Smith has been cooped up in the house with every season of Sailor Moon for the past 10 years. The villains are kitsune twins, who look like Pokemon and act like Team Rocket, spout stereotypical Japanese words, and seem to generally fail at being anything other than vaguely annoying and really attractive, in that Hot Topic color-scheme sort of way. There are suddenly random Japanese families in Fell's Church who, of course, randomly provide clues. If I didn't know LJ Smith better, I'd suspect her of some cultural racism because these characters border on parodies of Japanese people and folklore, but I know her better than that, and suspect that this is completely accidental on her part. Lastly, Elena's healing and flying powers (oh yeah, did I mention she has wings?) all have thematic names, which she yells out as she's executing them. Wings of Purification!

Did I forget to mention the angry sentient trees from the angry Old Wood that has suddenly appeared in Fell's Church as though it's been there all along? And giant invisible insects made of jell-o that seem to be causing a rash of possessions in Fell's Church? Because that's all I'm going to say about those.

This brings me back to Elena. The poor girl has taken a real character beating here. Firstly, she wakes up the next morning after the end of book 4 acting like a mute child. She can't talk (or apparently think), her eyes are purple, and she floats around naked like a firefly. She makes out with everybody to recognize them because prairie dogs do it (don't ask me, I don't understand either), but there's nothing sexual in it, except that everyone freaks out and distracts Stefan when she does it to Matt, which... doesn't that make it sexual? Anyway, let's not dwell too long on that. Elena can't wear any of her clothing because she sees the tragic sweat shop laborers who worked on it if she does, so they have to find her sweat shop-free clothing. This isn't the first time LJS has had a message for us, but it is the least subtle time, and it was very grating. Yes, sweat shops are bad, but can we get back to the vampires now? Elena has a similar Tinkerbell moment near the end where she hears magical spirits giving her moral advice on the nature of just combat, and everyone believes in her so that she can gain the power to fly. It's really bizarre, and all of these preachy Elena moments come off like an uncomfortable talk your parents might give you about Bad Things In The World Today.

Speaking of vampires, the vampires really take a back seat here. If you've come for the vampires, don't bother unless you'd like to stay for the kitsune, angels, and angry trees. And weeping Damon begging for forgiveness. There's maybe one vampire scene, two or three if you count vaguely vampiric displays of bloodletting.

I could keep going about the bad - no, REALLY - but I'll end on the good. There are a few scenes, and tiny little moments, in this book that made me smile, little hints of the LJ Smith I know and love. I think there were other scenes that COULD have been good, had they been placed into a different context. LJ Smith has also since released two stories on her website, one bad (Damon/Bonnie, which started out promising and then headed back into Nightfall territory) and one incredible (Matt/Elena, a prequel of sorts), which gives me hope. Maybe this is just one really bad book, one really ridiculous blip on the radar, and this too shall pass. Maybe the LJ Smith I love really is still in there, working hard to make Shadow Souls a success.
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