Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown and Co.
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Although the series this book begins has been touted by some as being the next Harry Potter, it weighs in rather shallowly. Quite honestly, I read it only because I read a review that I felt to be off-base, and I didn't want to criticize the reviewer's interpretation without having actually read the book in question myself.
Twilight is a teen romance with fantastic elements -- specifically, the male lead and his family are vampires. Thus Meyer can combine the appeal Edward's bad-boy riskiness with the wisdom and self-control that can come only from almost a century of life. She picks and chooses what elements of traditional vampire lore to use -- for instance, she keeps their super-sexy allure and their blood-lust, but tosses such things as sensitivity to sunlight, crosses, running water and the like.
I found particularly interesting that when Meyer first brings up the idea of vampires, she doesn't even use the v-word, instead choosing to present the idea through a Native American character who literally translates the term used in his own language, the "cold ones." This leads Bella, the female lead, on a cross-cultural Internet search through which she meets a large number of non-Western vampires whose menace is combined with various beneficial characteristics. Thus the idea of the vampire as a being that doesn't have to be a monster is planted firmly in the reader's mind alongside the more typical images such as Dracula of the super-sexy but deadly supernatural vampire menace.
However, beyond that Meyer really breaks no ground in literary vampire lore. She does provide a rather interesting rationale for how exactly the bite of a vampire can create new vampires in victims that are not killed outright, but it follows quite logically on the territory already covered amply by Anne Rice, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Kim Newman. In many ways Jacqueline Lichtenberg created a more plausible science fiction vampire with her luren, although those books never got the publicity they deserved and vanished without a trace.
Overall, the writing is very shallow -- I finished the entire 400+ page book while sitting at a rather boring meeting of a club that was electing officers. A lot of people have complained about the purple prose, but even more bothersome to me was the completely predictable movement of the plot, with the obligatory twists appearing at exactly the points where I expected them. Of course Bella will be in danger and Edward will be forced to rescue her, and thus reveal himself as other than an ordinary teen. And of course Bella will put herself in danger, and have to be rescued, and her curiosity will lead her to get Answers. At times it seemed almost as though it were put together on a Plot-o-matic machine and then typed up. At least with the Harry Potter books the twists were often surprising, and bits of information that seemed to mean one thing were quite logically revealed to mean something entirely different at a key turning point in the story.
Quite honestly, the only thing that the Twilight series has for it is the heroization of self-restraint, which is a serious departure from so much vampire literature which seems to revel in the sensual, to glamorize the indulgence of not only blood-lust, but sexual self-indulgence (Anne Rice is the worst offender in this regard). But here again, Jacqueline Lichtenberg has already done it better, with the struggles of the Simes, the vampire-analogs in her Sime~Gen universe, against the kill. In fact I kept wanting to use the Sime~Gen terms junct, disjunct and non-junct in describing the various kinds of vampires in Twilight, which actually distracted me from the story at hand several times.
Review posted January 4, 2009
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