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The short second life of Bree Tanner

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It’s a testament to just how addictive Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga is for fans that a short novella about a fleeting character in one of the books instantly goes to the top of the bestseller list.

Just as the title says, this is about the short second life Bree Tanner, a fifteen-year-old girl “turned” by villain Victoria as part of the newborn vampire army she creates to attack the Cullens and Bella.

Told in the first person, Bree is struggling to understand what her role is in the vampire group she’s found herself in. She doesn’t know her maker’s name (readers of course know it’s Victoria), and her world is one of aggression and violence as the undisciplined newborns regularly tear each other apart.

In this brutal environment, she befriends Diego, and together they try to separate the lies from the facts about what it means to be a vampire – and what their “leaders” have in store for them.

For me, just as interesting as the story, is the exercise by Stephenie Meyer of exploring the back story of a peripheral character.

Meyer openly admits she began to care for Bree once she started on the back story (which she started during the editing phase of Eclipse at the suggestion of her editor), and wished she’d given Bree a different ending.

It’s one of the reasons I think Meyer’s stories are held so closely to the hearts of readers: she loves her characters (especially narrative characters) and it comes through on every page. It’s just as much the case for Bree as it is for Bella.

It certainly works as an addition to the Twilight canon (and prompts a re-read of the corresponding chapters in Eclipse).

An interesting exercise would be to have someone who hasn’t read the Twilight books read it, and judge it on its merits … but anyone who hasn’t read the other four (or even the first three) is unlikely to be curious enough to pick it up.

I’m interested to hear from fans who’ve read the new release, and see what they think.

(By the way I love the cover.)

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Twilight series – the verdict

Originally posted on Great Stories, 18 September 2008

Given that the web is awash with reviews and comments about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, it seems almost superfluous for me to weigh in to the discussion.

However, I’ve spent more than 2,300 pages and the past three weeks working my way through the four books, so to not discuss them would seem a waste!

Now, I know people either love or hate this series, so I’ll say upfront I generally enjoyed the overall experience (and yes, I hear the ink-stained toe-poker howl in pain).

For me the first book, Twilight, remains the best from a tight storytelling perspective (perhaps not surprisingly, it is also the shortest). New Moon and Eclipse develop the mythology and progress the story arcs that all come together Breaking Dawn, the fourth book.

At the core of the series is the romance between teenage Bella and her impossibly attractive classmate Edward, who also happens to be a vampire. Edward and his “family” have chosen to abstain from biting and killing humans, but Bella’s blood is so appealing to Edward, that even though he loves her, he’s terrified he’ll kill her if he loses control.

Their relationship is one of restraint and longing, filling the pages with sexual tension. As the story progresses, particularly in the third book, the focus becomes on Bella’s growing desire to become a vampire, which Edward opposes.

Eclipse coverFor those who haven’t read the books (and yes, they still exist), I won’t spoil the twists that arrive in the final 754 page instalment. Some readers have complained the first three books are a little too much the same, but – regardless of any other criticism – there can be no such complaints with the fourth book.

It takes the story in a different direction and has more sex and violence than the other three books combined – but still falls a long way short of being a “horror” story. It also sets the scene for further stories (although Meyer has said she won’t write any more from Bella’s perspective).

I’ve read Meyer talk in interviews about how much she loves her characters and loves spending time with them, and my greatest criticism with these books is that she indulges that love more than she should – or needs to – from a narrative perspective.

Plot points are demonstrated more than once, because the author clearly loves how the characters interact on the page. I grew continually frustrated – particularly in the middle two books – when it was obvious a scene or chapter was simply reiterating something that was already well established (for example, that the werewolf Jacob was in love with Bella … and don’t get me started on that relationship. Never been a fan of romantic triangles, and this one really annoyed me – but it does resolve itself with a nice sense of irony in the end).

At nearly 800 pages, Breaking Dawn is longer than it needs to be, but, in fairness, an enormous amount happens plot-wise.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Bella and Edward’s relationship was a metaphor for sexual restraint, and while that symbolism continues through the bulk of the story, it takes a back seat to the growing mythology. (Although, maybe her desire to be a vampire is symbolic of the transformation after marriage…)

When Meyer set out to write these stories – inspired by a vivid dream – I doubt she imagined she’d sell the number of books she has, or spark the kind of rabid fans and critics who now populate blogland.

I think she’s a writer who loves her characters and loves writing them. Enough people are devouring the series to send a message she’s not alone in her affection.

I may not be willing to don a “I love Edward Cullen” badge, but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy large slabs of this story.

(See original post on Great stories for past comments)