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Twilight Reviewed

October 3, 2008

So there’s been a lot of hype surrounding Stephenie [sic] Meyer’s book (and upcoming movie) Twilight.

My wife and daughter loved the book.

And I will probably have to see the movie. So I went ahead and read it.

Reviews I’ve read have been mixed.

There are of course all the rave reviews from people trying to promote the book.

There have also been a LOT of really bad reviews from regular folks who have read the book.

Kuri, over at To Try A New Sword On A Chance Wayfarer, is writing a brilliant chapter by chapter synopsis (he insists it’s not a review) entitled I’m Reading Twilight, So You Don’t Have To.

My own review will be somewhat mixed, I suspect. I’ll try to keep to a fairly painless bulletpoint format and zip you through it.

1. It’s a vampire book.

Perhaps when it first came out there was a little bit of suspense and build up where the reader doesn’t quite realized that going into the first seven chapters or so. However, now with all the hype, you know it’s going to be a vamp book going in, and that makes those seven chapters rather boring and predictable.

2. The protagonist is a teenage girl.

She is also the narrator. This is both good and bad. The writing style and primary concerns of the book are sophomoric and very much of a tenor consistent with the main character. I don’t think the author did this on purpose, but it works. The selfishness and self-absorbedness of the teenage vixen is well and thoroughly captured.

3. The *suspense* factor(ish).

I’ve heard complaints about the first person narrative ruining the suspense factor, because we then *know* the main character survives, but for me this is a null complaint. For one thing, main characters usually survive. We expect this and still get caught up in their perils and fear for them, etc. For another, it’s a vampire book. There are alternatives to death that can be just as bad and still leave the character fit to narrate. And finally, the author makes virtually no attempt at actually building suspense, so there is none to ruin in the first place.

4. Theme.

Another complaint I’ve heard is that the author is sending a whacked message to young girls. *Forget your own dreams and aspirations. So long as you get your man in the end you have succeeded.* Well, yeah, in this day and age, that message may be a little trite and certainly counter feminist, but if I can risk painting with a rather broad brush, the author was raised old-school Mormon. She got that party line with her mother’s milk.

5. Back to the fact that it’s a vampire book.

If you are expecting an Anne Rice style vamp book -erm- not so much. For one thing, all the vampires seem to be straight. For another, for all they can be vicious (we see very little of this) they are not at all Machiavellian. In fact, they’re damn near tame. We only see one vampire in the whole book who is really out there living the life, and though he is the main villain, he barely gets a cameo. The primary vampires are *good* vampires who feed on critters instead of people. It’s very tame for a vampire book. Which brings me to my next point.


Seriously, it’s a romance. Young adult, romance, so no sex scenes or anything, just a lot of adolescent awkward false starts.

To elaborate: in the horror genre the author’s job is to spend just enough time painting a picture designed to make you feel comfortable, normal . . . safe . . . and then *the weird thing* happens. The thing that makes it no longer normal or comfortable or safe. Then things get scary.

Contrariwise, in the fantasy genre, the other favorite haunt of the vamp, the otherworldliness is usually set forth up front and either mingles with normalcy or not at the authors whim. Twilight stays in normalville far too long and it’s main goal is to see that a young girl (mostly) gets her way despite being weaker, less experienced, and (generally) less clever than her foils.

A romance.

7. If it was a vampire book it would be connect-the-dots.

The *hints* tucked here and there in the first seven chapters, the one’s you are supposed to think back on once Edward’s vampire creds are revealed and smack your forehead and go *Ah! Of course, of course, vampire, how come I didn’t see it coming?* reminded me somewhat of hiding easter eggs for my baby nephews and nieces. You set them out in the open grass to be discovered. None of them are actually hidden.

So, if you’ve ever read even one vampire book before Twilight (or even scarffed down an episode or two of Buffy) you are going to see it coming a mile away. If you have NEVER read a vamp book in your life this one might manage to offer a little bit of surprise if you have also not read this review of the book or any other review of Twilight.

In the author’s defense, however, this is a young-adult book, written for teenagers who are a little less jaded and a little more willing to liberally apply the suspension-of-disbelief principle to their fiction. And most will probably never have read either a vampire novel or a book review prior to reading Twilight, so again, I suppose, it works.

8. Back to suspense.

Or the lack of suspense. There are some tense moments in the last chapters, but that is all they are – played out tension. Action. In a book featuring the undead – supernatural, unstoppable hunters – call me picky, but there should be some nail biting, WTF-is-gonna-happen-next suspense. But there just isn’t.

9. Language.

This one the author gets mostly right. Though our protagonist gets a bit flowery in her narrative, most of her dialog stays within the realm of the fairly brainy 17 year old girl she is supposed to be. Likewise, our main vamp is cultured and cocky and arrogant – much what you would expect from a hundred year old superman.

10. Character Development.

It’s pretty much of the *take-my-word-for-it* school of thought. We are told that the main character’s best friend is her mother, but the book starts with her leaving her mother behind and then mostly being annoyed with the woman for e-mailing her too much. Her father, who she goes to live with, is the town sheriff, but he regularly leaves his little girl home alone or in the company of strangers with little or no questioning about what she’s up to, taking her word at face value. The main character herself doesn’t evolve much and after the first page or so you really don’t get any surprises from her. Likewise, the only thing we really learn about her vampire love is that he is a vampire with a tendency to tantrums. He really doesn’t gain much depth either. His extended vampire family does get to grow and shine a bit beyond what you expect and theirs ends up making more sense than any of the other relationship in the book.

11. On Vampirism.

Another complaint I saw in a lot of the reader reviews was that the moral dilemma of vampirism was never really wrestled with. The protagonist wants to become a vampire to be with her love forever. She doesn’t care that she will crave blood (though a pinprick of blood makes her faint). She doesn’t care that she will become a murderous monster.

I have no complaint on this point and here’s why:

A. From the first she has no qualms about the predatorprey dichotomy of vampires vs humans. She recognizes it intellectually but doesn’t have a problem with it viscerally. So for her it never is a moral issue and ignoring that aspect is in character for our protagonist.

B. Her only real contact with vampires is with the critter munching kind that have sworn off eating humans. Her love is of that sort and I suspect she assumes she could be too.

C. In every vampire book ever published the lure is there. People craving the power and speed and oober speshulness of being a vampire. They want to live forever. They want to be *turned* – they beg for it (usually to the disgust or amusement of whatever vampire is within earshot of this request). Allpowerful immortality is not so far fetched a human desire and I don’t think many people would wrestle with it ahead of time, though they might come to regret it later.

12. Final Thoughts.

If my wife hadn’t sworn it ended well I would have given up on it in those early draggy chapters. But all told it was not such a bad read if you can read it for what it is: A romance novel set against a supernatural(ish) backdrop.

It was written for teenage girls and fans of young adult fiction, and that is the group to which it will best appeal.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2008 17:32

    “…a brilliant chapter by chapter synopsis…”

    Aw, shucks.

  2. October 3, 2008 19:32


  3. October 4, 2008 04:00

    Very nice. The line that keeps echoing in my head is “There are alternatives to death that can be just as bad and still leave the character fit to narrate”. All very well done.

    Being the out of touch trucker that I am (was?) I didn’t even realize the book and the movie had anything to do with one another until I read your “book report”. Really I didn’t know anything about the book other than the fact that some of the blogs I read were giving it two thumbs up.

    I did however see a trailer for the movie, and it looks interesting. Not super spectacular, but it grabbed my attention. A blockbuster this does not make. But still Hollywood has a way of blowing things out of proportion. Perhaps they’ve taken this fairly popular book and actually turned it into a blood thirsty movie we can all be proud of. ๐Ÿ˜›

    It could happen. ๐Ÿ˜

  4. October 4, 2008 04:58

    I’ve seen interviews with the director. I don’t think it’s going to be all that impressive gore-wise, though there should be a worthy fight scene or two.

    However, like Harry Potter, I think it’s going to be a money-raker as kids across the land drag their bemused parental units off to see it.

    I do NOT think it is going to have the charm or the staying power of the Potter franchise, but I think this first movie will be well attended in the first two weeks.

    Also, given the small time frame allotted to movies, the draggy/boring bits should all shake out into something a bit more streamlined.

  5. October 21, 2008 14:19

    On Points 2, 3 and 10:

    1st person narratives are never reliable – nor should they be. Anyone who’s ever watched The Usual Suspects understands that. The nitpick about suspense being taken out because she can’t have died – they need to read more books. It happens quite a bit inthe horror/fantasy genre. We have to take the narrator’s word for everything because we’re only getting the story from her side. I understand that from reading books like Odd Thomas – everything from the narrator’s point of view is skewed and romanticized. It’s one reason why I like to write my scenes (in the novels) multiple times from different perspectives. it adds depth, and how one person sees it, doesn’t alweays translate to others.

    On Point #4

    This is what teenage girls dream about. Sure they have desires of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but when they go to bed at night, they’re dreaming about that cute boy in 5th Period Algebra, the one with the great hair and crooked smile. It’s all about finding the right boy and living happily every after. It doesn’t matter how far women think they have come, they can’t break the Teen Girl Puppy-love Stage. It is a natural law! It is immutable.

    Have you seen this:

    This sums up why I can’t be bothered with Twilight.

  6. October 21, 2008 14:42


    That was awesome.

    Thank you.

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