Thursday, April 5, 2007
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Release Date: Hardback – October, 2005/paperback – September, 2006
Series: the Twilight series
Position in Series: Book 1 of 3 to date
Main Characters: Bella Swan, Edward Cullen
Sequel Bait: Jacob Black, Alice Cullen
Bad Guys: vampires who rely on human blood for sustenance
When Bella Swan moves from her mother’s house in Phoenix, AZ to live with her father in Forks, WA, her life changes far more dramatically than she could have ever imagined. Sure, she’s going from one of the sunniest places on earth to one of the rainiest. She’s also moving from a large city to a town where everyone knows everyone else. And she’s got to adjust to living with a father she barely knows while trying to navigate the social landmines pervasive in attending a new high school.
What she never expects when she moves to Forks, however, is to fall deeply in love. At least, not with someone like Edward Cullen.
From the first time Bella and Edward lay eyes on each other, sparks fly between them. Bella cannot understand why Edward, whom she finds too beautiful to be real, seems to despise her so completely when she’s never done so much as say hello to him. For his part, Edward cannot put enough space between himself and Forks High School’s newest student. But when Edward keeps Bella from being crushed in a freak car accident, she’s stunned not only that he bothered to help her at all, but that he somehow possesses the super-human strength that enabled him to stop a ton of speeding metal and glass without being injured himself.
Being tenacious and so completely fascinated by Edward and his equally beautiful sisters and brothers, Rosalie, Alice, Emmett and Jasper, Bella sets out to learn the Cullen family’s secrets. She gets some help from Jacob Black, a young native American, when he shares some of his tribe’s folklore with her about the cold ones, the blood drinkers who once tormented the Quileute people. Putting two and two together, Bella figures out that the Cullen family is actually a pack of vampires, a fact that is confirmed by Edward himself when Bella confronts him with the truth.
Despite his extreme reservations, Edward and Bella begin spending more and more time together. Before she knows what has happened, Bella has fallen madly in love with Edward. From the moment he saw her, Edward had been fighting his own attraction to Bella, an attraction that included more than just romantic interest but an intense form of blood lust rarely experienced by the vampire kind. Even though he long ago swore never to drink human blood again, Edward doubts his abilities to control himself around Bella. Being with her is a constant struggle against every instinct he has, yet he can’t find himself able to stay away.
As Bella becomes more involved with the Cullen family, her safety becomes endangered not only from Edward, but from outside forces beyond his control. Before she knows it, she’s on the run from other vampires who see her simply as a challenging meal, and Edward might not be able to save her.
First, I must stress that although Twilight is labeled a young adult title, is shelved in the young adult section at the bookstore and library, and features a young adult heroine/narrator, the story itself transcends age. I’m many years past being a young adult, yet I enjoyed every word.
Twilight is written in first person, so from the very beginning, the reader feels an immediate closeness to Bella. She’s a very likeable heroine: she doesn’t mope or complain any more than the average teen about having to start again in a new school. She’s resigned to it sucking, so we don’t get pages and pages of self-pity.
Her reaction to Edward’s initial open hostility toward her morphs naturally from dismay and confusion to an almost obsessive need to understand this unusual boy. When she begins to suspect the truth about Edward’s true nature, I didn't find her reaction as nearly shocked enough, as one might expect to be learning that vampires exist right next door. Bella seemed to take it all in stride, accepting the truth without a whole lot of skepticism or denial. Nor does she worry overmuch what it means that she's fallen in love with a non-human being. However, author Meyer has set the pace such that by the time Edward admits that he’s a vampire, Bella has traveled too far down the emotional path to turn back. We as readers like him, so we don't mind if he's a vampire. Why should she?
As a hero, Edward is nearly perfect. He’s beautiful. He’s intelligent (who wouldn’t be after nearly a hundred years of living). He’s sensitive and intuitive yet enough of an alpha-male to keep from looking poncy. I myself fell head over heels for him, so I could hardly blame Bella for the same. If anything, Edward might ring a little too perfect. His main faults are actually not faults at all because they rise out of his wanting to protect Bella from himself. This gives him a pass for any of his initial jerk-like behaviour once Bella learns the facts of Edward’s situation. He often falls into the trap of having seemingly bad habits that actually make him a cool hero: driving too fast, being too protective of Bella, being a mysterious non-bloodsucking creatue of the night. Since, like I said, I fell in love with Edward, I wouldn't change much about him, however. He's a model romance hero, 100% pure fantasy.
Edward’s fear for Bella’s safety given his almost overwhelming desire for her particular blood fuels the majority of the conflict between the couple. However, I feel it was given the short shrift given how rich in promise such a premise is. In the beginning, Edward doesn’t even try to fight his urges, figuring he’d be best off to simply move away. However, as their relationship grows deeper, he speaks often of the danger she could be in if he lost control. That being said, I found that Edward’s ability to keep his cool ran counter to what he was saying. I think I would have been more convinced of the star-crossed lovers aspect of their relationship had it been harder for Edward to keep his…er...fangs off Bella. There is a scene or two where some innocent kissing leads to things that Edward fears will throw him off his game, but he seems to overcome his issues almost a little too easily. While he does tell her that he's not sure they will ever be able to become intimately familiar, he certainly seems fine with all the touching and closeness they share, with nary a clue that he struggles desperately to keep from taking a big bite.
Meyer does an amazing job evoking the setting of Forks. You can almost smell the rain and envision the dark greens and blues of the wet forests. Forks itself serves as a separate character, and once the reasons behind the Cullen family’s decision to settle in such a place become clear, you can’t imagine the story being set any place else.
Another strength Meyer demonstrates is her ability to put a new spin on the vampire myth. Most of the traditional lore is explained away with unique answers – such as why vampires cannot go out in the sun. Too, she imbues her creatures with the ability to choose whether or not they want to partake of human blood. In effect, vampires are divided into two classes. Those like the Cullens who have alternate means of getting sustenance are firmly in the good-guy camp, although there are very few of this sort. Vamps who still feed on human blood aren’t necessarily portrayed as purely evil, however they do serve as the villains of the story.
While Edward and Bella’s blossoming relationship makes up the bulk of the story, Meyer does throw in an external action plot that doesn’t begin until three-quarters of the way through the book. I found this addition to be wholly un-necessary. While it did serve to magnify the differences between Edward’s type of vampire and all of the other vampires out there, the whole scenario felt tacked on, as if Meyer’s publisher told her she needed more action to liven up the book, or, even worse, some kind of damsel-in-peril scenario to remind us all how much Edward loves Bella. The villain was menacing, to be sure, but his fascination with Bella in particular felt very contrived and forced.
I’d rather Meyer would have beefed up the inherent conflict between Bella and Edward. Given that Edward himself poses the greatest danger to Bella, much more could have been done with his struggle to stay away from her or to learn to manage his urges in such a way so that he could get closer to her.
Actually, Meyer has on her website an exercise she did in which she shows Edward and Bella's first interactions from Edward's point of view. It does much to demonstrate the amount of torment Edward went through, and it almost make me wonder if her choice to stay in Bella's first-person POV for the entirety of Twilight might not have short-changed the readers, denying them the crucial Edward-side of the story. If her website is to be believed, she has tentative plans to explore Edward's side of the story in a full-length book. I'll be first in line to buy it if she follows through.
There is one other nitpick I had with the story. Edward and his brothers and sisters are all students at Forks High School. Meyer's mythology follows the construct that vampires remain eternally stuck at the age they were when converted, thus Edward will always look like a seventeen-ish year old, as do his "siblings". Too, there is a need for the family to establish a cover that allows them to live in Forks without drawing undo attention to themselves, which means the young-looking members would need to be in school. However, I cannot imagine how insanely boring it would be for Edward - a boy who has gone through medical school twice - to sit through high-school level classes. I can't believe that the whole home-schooling option wouldn't be used as a reasonable sham to keep the Cullen kids out of such tedium. Then again, if such was the case, Edward and Bella never would have met. Even so, I couldn't get that overarching problem out of my head every time a scene set at school came up.
In the end, however, Twilight kept me turning pages like nothing else. The love that Bella and Edward share is one of those soul-mate kind of things, where even though she is only a teenager, you can’t imagine her with anyone else for the rest of her life. Thankfully, but the time I got around to reading it, the sequel, New Moon, had already been released, so I didn't have to wait to get more of their world. I'm eagerly tapping my fingers for the third book in the trilogy.
Rating: All Nighter
Series Status: Stellar first installment.