Friday, February 5, 2010

The Twilight Saga: My Verdict

Yes, it's true.  I must confess that I actually checked out and read all four of the Twilight books.  Now, you might ask (as I sometimes ask myself): "Why would someone who refuses to read or see anything involving vampires, feels sick at the mention of blood, and is annoyed by teenage love stories read the Twilight books?" It's a good question.  So why did I?  Peer pressure.  I caved.  So many people I know were talking about the books and the movies, and I wanted to have an informed part of the conversation.  So I read them.  And the first thing I have to say after reading them is that I do not want to kill myself, wash my brain out with soap, or wish I had found some better way to waste my time.  Because these books are actually good.  Anyone who finds my reviews boring can stop reading now. If you'd like to know more, please feel free to continue. :)

The first book, Twilight, is a teenage love story with a twist: Boy meets girl, boy saves girl's life, they fall in love.  The twist, of course, is that while the girl (Bella) is a fairly ordinary human, the boy (Edward) is a vampire.  Oh no!  Have I said too much?  Honestly, if you don't know that, you need to get out more.  So Twilight continues and introduces Bella's family and friends and the Cullen family of "vegetarian" vampires who feed on animals instead of humans.  Bella's presence in a group of vampires, even if they are "good" vampires, leads to some fairly predictable conflicts, as well as some not-so-predictable ones.  There is some humor, exciting action, and great character development.  Despite all the teenage angst and the melodramatic love story, I decided the first book wasn't so bad, so I went on to the next: New Moon.

New Moon picks up right where Twilight picks off, and just as I was beginning to dread a whole book filled with, "Oh Edward, I love you so much, why can't I be a vampire too?" things took a very interesting and unexpected turn.  Heart-broken and half-crazed Bella now turns to her friend Jacob Black, who helps her repair a motorcycle.  They develop a very close friendship and just as Bella is beginning to hope that she might begin to enjoy life again, Jacob starts acting very strange.  It's only a matter of time before Bella discovers that Jake isn't totally human either, and that his family are the mortal enemies of Edward's family.  Before she can work out all of those difficulties, she's off to Italy to try to save Edward from certain death at the hands of the Volturi, the powerful "ruling family" of the Vampire world.  Things end pretty well, but now there's this whole Edward-Bella-Jacob thing to have to deal with...on to the third book: Eclipse.

Now we have several conflicts to deal with: Bella's "best friend" Jacob likes Bella, who loves Edward; vampires vs. werewolves (oops, did I say werewolves...?); and a crazy evil vampire, bent on vengeance, creating a nasty army to come take Bella out.  If you haven't figured it out, Bella is a sort of magnet for otherworldly, supernatural trouble.  After a whole book full of emotional roller coasters, danger, and action, some conflicts are resolved, while some become even more troublesome and painful.  At this point, it looks like there is no possible way to really resolve everything happily, which is why we have book four: Breaking Dawn.

Breaking Dawn is a LONG book.  It's actually three books in one: Books one and three are told like the rest of the series, in first-person by Bella, but in book two we get to hear from Jacob.  Each part is essentially its own story, but they all tie together into a very fascinating whole.  That's my best way to describe this book: absolutely fascinating and, for the most part, totally unexpected.  At the end of book two, I had to put the book down and just say, "Whoa."  It's really almost brilliant.  The last part is very good too, but I have to say I was mildly disappointed in the ending.  There is ultimately a final confrontation with the Volturi, in which there is a good chance that pretty much everyone will die, but I won't spoil that for anyone who hasn't read them and might possibly do so at some point.  I will just say that Stephenie Meyer did channel enough genius to resolve the conflicts in a way that was both surprising and satisfactory, just that the ending lacked a certain...something.  That's all.

In my opinion, the best thing about these books was the characters.  They are very well-developed, and almost seem like real people, despite the somewhat fantastic nature of the story.  I think the only exception is Edward.  I understand that the point of his character is to be absolutely perfect, but still, I like my heroes to have some flaws, and Edward simply doesn't.  Bella and Jacob are both much more "real," and for me, likable.  Of course, they're much more human, and Edward isn't, so maybe that is intentional.  I don't know.  But it's my review, and so my opinion stands.  I neither like nor dislike Edward.  Comment if you'd like.

The other great thing about these books is how well the story moves.  Every once in awhile it does get bogged down by its own weight, but for the most part, it's a good balance of romance, action, normal stuff, and even some humor.  In the meantime, we really get to know and understand the characters so that we actually care about what happens to them.  I was even able to get past my aversion for blood and vampires and enjoy the story, although I did have at least one fairly disturbing nightmare during the course of reading the series, and I seriously doubt I'll have anything to do with vampire-related material in the future.  I also have to say that I'm not sold on the genre of "paranormal romance," which is how I would classify these books.  Not really fantasy or horror, and definitely more than just romance, they sort of hover somewhere in between.  Twilight definitely feels more like a straight romance, while Breaking Dawn really seems to enter the world of fantasy, but none of it is totally one or the other.

A few final comments, and then I'll be done.  First of all, these books are remarkably "clean."  Considering the fact that they deal primarily with vampires, who are generally portrayed with large amounts of sex and grisly, bloody violence, there is actually very little of either in these books.  More blood than sex, but not terribly graphic.  There are a few scenes in Breaking Dawn that were a little hard for me to handle, but again, I am a total weakling when it comes to any mention of blood.  So if you were curious about those aspects of the story, perhaps I have helped to enlighten you.  Finally, I will say that while these books were good and I enjoyed them, I would not list them among the best I have read, and I'm not likely to ever read them again.  But I do recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good story and can tolerate a lot of romance.  They are worth the read.

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