Sunday, January 18, 2009

Breaking Dawn (book) by Stephenie Meyer

Although I'm sure I could summarize this book in a paragraph or two, I'm not going to. Therefore, this post has a lot of spoilers - if you don't like that sort of thing, either don't read the post or skip to the very end of it, where I've got all the read-alikes/watch-alikes.

Bella and Edward finally get married. Bella is thrilled when Jake turns up at her wedding, but, as usual, she manages to upset him - this time, by making it clear that she intends to have a proper honeymoon with her new husband. Jake is, of course, horrified and angry, since he expects that Edward won't be able to keep from killing Bella when the two of them have sex. Bella, in keeping with her general lack of survival instincts, is not worried about getting her throat ripped out on her wedding night.

The honeymoon actually goes rather well. Edward is deeply upset by all the bruises Bella collects after their first time together. Bella, on the other hand, enjoys sex with Edward enough that she's willing to put off being turned into a vampire for a while longer in order to keep having it. Things become rapidly less blissful, however, when Bella and Edward realize that she is pregnant.

At this point, Meyer does something unusual - she switches from Bella's viewpoint to Jake's (she did this once before, at the end of the previous book, I believe). Jake is convinced that Edward will soon be turning Bella into a vampire, and, when he hears that she's being confined due to "an illness," he's ready to go kill Edward. He's brought up short when he realizes that Bella really is sick - her pregnancy is killing her. Now Jake's Pack (specifically Sam, the Alpha) wants to kill Bella and the monstrosity that is her unborn child. Jake breaks free from the Pack and becomes an Alpha in his own right in order to defend Bella and the Cullens. Seth and Leah leave the Pack as well, in order to become part of Jake's new Pack (which he refuses to see as such). Quite a few people would happily give Bella an abortion in order to save her life (Edward and Jake, for instance), but Rosalie (who, if you remember from the previous book, had wanted a child when she was human) is more than willing to keep that from happening. Besides, Bella loves her baby - after all, doesn't she always love the things that stand a good chance of killing her?

Eventually, it's time for Bella to give birth, and it's awful. Bella's spine is broken, she spews blood, Edward chews through her stomach and womb in order to get the baby out (the womb is too tough for a normal birth - half-vampire baby, remember?), and then Edward injects Bella with his venom.

Around the time of the birth, Meyer switches back to Bella's viewpoint. Bella's not really aware of too much that's going on around her, since she's in so much pain from the birth and the venom. Once she snaps out of it, she does extremely well for a new vampire, exhibiting a remarkable amount of control. Eventually, it's agreed that it should be safe enough for her to see Renesmee (this is the horrible name Bella gave her baby girl). Jake's awfully protective of Renesmee, which confuses Bella, until she realizes that Jake has imprinted on the girl (who, by the way, is aging incredibly fast and was even born with teeth). Bella first reaction is anger, but she doesn't actually try to kill Jake until she finds out that he's nicknamed her Nessie ("You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?"). Even though there's nothing sexual in the feelings of a werewolf who's imprinted on a child, it still strikes me as a little icky, since someone will eventually have to explain to Renesme that Jake used to love her mother. Anyway, now that Jake has imprinted, all romantic tension between Bella and Jake is gone as though it never existed. For me, as a reader, this is both a relief and intensely disconcerting.

Once the personal stuff is dealt with, a life-and-death situation arises that soon involves vampires from just about every continent. The Volturi have been told about Renesmee and have wrongly assumed that she's a vampire child - vampire children have all the powers of adult vampires, plus a heavy dose of cuteness (no vampire can resist them and all want to protect them) and complete lack of control. The rule is that all vampire children and those who made and protected them must be killed. All the group needs is for the Volturi to pause long enough for it to be made clear the Renesmee is not a vampire child and doesn't pose a threat. To that end, Alice instructs the Cullens to gather as many vampire witnesses as possible and then mysteriously leaves with Jasper for parts unknown.

The Cullens gather up lots of vampires, so many that Meyer feels compelled to include what she calls a "Vampire Index" at the end of her book (since when are the Cullens the "Olympic Coven"?) - I'd like to add that this is not, in fact, an index, but rather a list, or, if you're feeling generous, a guide. Not that the "index" matters much, since most of the vampires don't do much to distinguish themselves from the rest, anyway. Although the vampires are supposedly only going to act as witnesses, everyone prepares for a fight anyway. Bella gets a little training in fighting and a lot of training in using her special gifts, which, it turns out, are more special than she realized - she can extend her gift so that others besides herself are protected from vampire powers.

When the Volturi finally arrive, it's less that exciting. They can't do much, since Bella's abilities stop the Volturi from hurting anyone (including the werewolves, who've joined the fight in order to protect Renesmee since Jake has imprinted on her), while allowing those on her side to use their powers against the Volturi. Renesmee gets a chance to use her abilities (she can project her memories into others' minds when she touches them) to convince the Volturi that she's not a vampire child. However, the Volturi have a strong motivation for continuing to fight - they'd like to collect a few more vampires with amazing abilities, and Bella and Edward are at the top of their list. Alice appears in the nick of time, with a grown-up half-vampire in tow, in order to prove that Bella won't grow up to be a danger. The Volturi, lacking a good excuse for continuing this fight in front of witnesses, leave.

As I mentioned in an earlier post for the this series, a student worker's enthusiasm for this series prompted me to continue reading it. Her favorite books, she told me, were the third and fourth ones. I had already read blogs that described this final book as horrifically, hilariously awful, so I was interested to see who I'd agree with, the bloggers or the student worker. Well, I'm sorry to say I'm a little more on the side of the bloggers here - what was Meyer thinking?

I could probably write for ages about this book, but, since my summary was so long, I'll try to limit myself. First, the jarring viewpoint switch, then the omigod sex/pregnancy/birth, then Renesmee, and finally the lackluster ending. Hmm, maybe I'm not limiting myself all that much.

The Jarring Viewpoint Switch: I already mentioned this - for some reason, Meyer decided, after three books worth of writing from Bella's perspective (minus the odd little bit at the end of the third book from Jake's perspective), to write a good-sized chunk of this book from Jake's perspective. While I usually like Jake, and I find his "voice" much easier to take than Bella's sometimes is, it was still an odd decision. Was this really necessary? The only thing extra this gave the readers was a peek into Jake's mind (which wasn't that hard to read, anyway), a better view of what Pack life is like (which, I admit, was nice), and not having to experience Bella's pregnancy. While it's great that readers didn't have to sit through a description of Bella's feelings and pain as the baby broke yet another one of her ribs, she could've gotten around this just as easily by condensing her description of the pregnancy (and thereby making the book, which is longer than it needed to be, much shorter).

The Omigod Sex/Pregnancy/Birth: Meyer was remarkably... vague in her description of Bella and Edward having sex. Actually, I don't think there was any description. Maybe she was worried about offending parents, but that seems odd when you consider that Bella looked like an accident victim after sex - I would think that those who'd be offended by descriptions of sex in a young adult book would be just as offended by massive bruising as a result of sex (and a horrific pregnancy, and a violent, bloody birth). The pregnancy, as I've said, is just horrible and painful to read about. I admit that the birth, though also horrible and extremely bloody, could have been much worse - Meyer went into so little detail about Edward's role (biting Bella's stomach and womb open) that I almost missed it.

Renesmee: When Meyer writes about the vampire children, she mentions that one of the things that made them so bad was that other vampires loved them so much and felt compelled to protect them. Was it only me that thought that Renesmee seemed awfully similar in this regard? Sure, she's not an out-of-control killer, but it creeped me out a little how many humans/werewolves/vampires instantly fell in love with her. The other thing that bothered me - her name. What was Meyer thinking??? Did the effort of thinking up so many names for new vampires drain her so much that she had to resort to the idiocy of Renesmee Carlie Cullen for Bella's baby? Yes, I know it's unlikely that Bella will ever have any more children (I won't say impossible, since Meyer already broke her own rules by allowing new-vampire Bella to have so much control - she never did explain that to my satisfaction), so she'll probably never have a chance to name any other children after her and Edward's parents, but did she have to smoosh all the names together like that? Carlie's not so bad, unless you think of how she came up with it (smooshing together Carlisle and Charlie), but Renesmee (Renee and Esme) is just awful.

The Lackluster Ending: The Volturi are terrible and powerful, and no one has ever been able to stand against them. They come to kill everyone and take anyone with interesting powers away, and when they get there they... bluster a bit and then leave? Huh? This is not what I expected, but Meyer seemed determined to have a Happy Ending at the expense of believability. Every loose end is tied up, and everyone who matters survives. The "Jake Problem" is solved when he imprints on Renesmee (by the end of the book, Bella is just fine with the whole thing), conveniently allowing him to still be a part of Bella's life (just forget that she ever thought she loved him - Bella's certainly forgotten). The Volturi are laughably easy to turn aside, especially because Alice has conveniently found another half-vampire to parade before them (Meyer's explanation for Alice's method for finding him also stretches the boundaries of believability). Everything is wrapped up nice and clean, and everyone is happy. Now, I like happy endings, but I also like them to feel like they've happened naturally. I can usually turn a blind eye to the occasional overly convenient detail, but Meyer is asking a bit much with this book.

Overall, while this book wasn't unreadable, I still say "What was Meyer thinking?" It had all the failings of the previous books, plus a whole bunch of new ones. I'm happy if this series got some teens to read who aren't generally readers (I know that the Harry Potter books did, but I'm not sure if the same phenomenon occurred with Meyer's books), but I'm sad that their rare exposure to reading had to be so awful. It's like talking to people who say they're anime fans only to discover that their idea of the height of anime brilliance is Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) by Yuu Watase; Ceres: Celestial Legend (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to by US fans as Ayashi no Ceres, its Japanese title. A long time ago, Ceres, a celestial maiden, came down from the heavens to bathe in a stream. She hung her hagoromo (robe) on a nearby tree, where it was stolen by a young man who forced her to become his wife. Since that time, Ceres has been trying to get her hagoromo back so that she can return to the heavens. In present day Japan, Aya Mikage, a descendent of Ceres, has turned 16, along with her twin brother. Aya's grandfather plans to kill her, since Aya's celestial blood can cause her to transform into Ceres, who is a danger to the Mikage family. However, Aya escapes. Can she learn to control Ceres and get her life back to something approaching normal? Those who'd like another supernatural love story with lots of action and drama might enjoy this series. As with Meyer's books, there's a love triangle (Aya's "nice guy" protector loves her, Aya loves the guy her grandfather is sending after her to kill her, Ceres might like Aya's protector, etc.).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Buffy used to be a popular cheerleader, until she discovered that she's the Slayer, the girl whose job it is to defeat the supernatural baddies intent on killing everything and taking over the world. She does her job with the help of her friends, her Watcher (her high school's librarian), and, eventually, a brooding vampire. Those who'd like something else with teenage vampire romance, werewolves and other creatures, and the occasional supernatural threat (including big, dramatic showdowns that tend to be less disappointing than the showdown with the Volturi) might like this series.
  • The Awakening (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Vampire Diaries series. Elena is a beautiful, popular high school girl who is intrigued by Stefan, a brooding and mysterious newcomer who is the only one to ever resist her. Damon is Stefan's sexy and dangerous brother, who, in order to get revenge against Stefan, is willing to take Elena from him by whatever means necessary. What Elena doesn't know at first is that both Stefan and Damon are vampires - by getting closer to them, she's involving herself, her friends, and her family in their dangerous world. Those who'd like another story involving high school romance, vampires, and a vampire character the heroine can't keep her eyes off of might like this book.
  • Interview with the Vampire (book) by Anne Rice - Louis tells the account of his transformation into a vampire by the charismatic vampire Lestat. The two seek out others of their kind and eventually turn a young girl into a vampire. Stylistically, Rice's books are different from Meyer's - if I'm remembering this correctly, I think they might also be slower paced. However, those who'd really like more books with vampires from all over the world may want to try Rice's Vampire Chronicles, beginning with this book. At the very least, Anne Rice has Egyptian, French, American, and Roman vampires (I stopped reading the series at Pandora, so it's likely her vampire population is even more varied now).

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