Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn, the concluding novel in the Twilight saga, begins on a high note.  Victoria and her newborn army have been defeated, and it looks as if the love story between the human and the vampire can finally have a happy ending.   
 As the book opens, Edward and Bella are preparing for their approaching wedding, which proves to be perfectly ideal, mostly thanks to the coordination efforts of the enthusiastic Alice.
During the reception, Edward and Bella discover they have a surprise wedding guest.  The Quileute wolf and Bella’s ‘former’ best friend, Jacob, has returned home after his long self-imposed exile from La Push.  When Edward gives Bella and Jacob time for them to talk alone, it seems as if they can part on good terms, until Bella lets slip the compromise she’d made with Edward prior to getting married, about how Edward had agreed to make love to her while she was still human.  Jacob becomes enraged by this knowledge and has to be dragged of by some of his packmates, who had been lurking nearby just in case Jacob started to loose his composure.  Bella and Edward are both deeply shaken by the nearly-disastrous confrontation, but they manage to push it aside and enjoy the rest of their day.
After the wedding, Edward brings Bella to Isle Esme, a private island located off the coast of Brazil, which Carlisle had given to Esme as an anniversary present, presumably a long time ago.  It is here that Edward and Bella consummate their relationship for the first time.  Bella wakes up the morning after to find Edward in super-ultra-angst mode.  It turns out that Edward’s lovemaking had left Bella’s body extremely bruised.  Being true to his nature, Edward declares that he refuses to continue risking hurting Bella like that, and that he won’t make love to her again until after she’s changed.  Despite this promise, Bella eventually wears him down, leading to their discovery that is safe for them to have sex, because Edward now knows what to expect beforehand and can better channel his vampire strength.
Meanwhile, Bella has been experiencing a series of strange dreams, which had begun almost immediately after their arrival on Isle Esme.  In addition, her appetite starts to increase, with a strong preference for eggs.  Things cumulate when Bella begins getting sick to her stomach.  At first, she blames her upset stomach on food poisoning, as some chicken she cooked for herself tasted ‘off,’ but after her second bought of sickness, Bella tries to look for some Pepto-Bismol in her first aid kit and discovers an unopened box of tampons.  Upon finding the tampons, she realizes her period is five days late, and when she starts examining her stomach, she even finds that there is a definite bump growing there.
Now this is obviously a very big deal.  For starters, even though she’s only been sexually active for about two weeks, Bella’s body is already displaying the symptoms of pregnancy, such as food cravings and morning sickness.  Plus, she’s even started sporting a baby bump.  Anyone who has taken Sex Ed in school can tell you that normal human pregnancies just don’t develop that quickly.  In addition, the child growing inside Bella is half vampire, and there is no telling how Bella’s body will be able to handle carrying a child with that particular parentage.  Out of fear for Bella’s safety, Edward makes arrangements for an immediate return to Forks, where Carlisle will be waiting to have the pregnancy terminated.  However, Bella is deeply opposed to this plan.  Despite her earlier insistence that she wasn’t interested in being a mother, she develops an instant love for the half-vampire growing inside her.  In desperation, she secretly calls Edward’s sister, Rosalie, for help.  Rosalie had always dreamed of having children, but was robbed of that possibility on the night Carlisle had found her close to death.  For that reason, Bella knows that Rosalie will be willing to help her protect the child.
At this point, the story shifts gears, and we now see things progress through Jacob’s eyes.  Ever since the wedding, Jacob has been waiting for Edward and Bella to return, convinced that Bella will either return as a vampire, which would terminate the treaty between the Quileute wolves and the Cullens, or she would not have survived the honeymoon.  When  he receives news that they have returned, and that Bella is supposedly in quarantine at the Cullens’ place after being infected with a rare South American disease, he immediately heads over to confront them, believing that the whole disease story is a cover-up for Bella returning to Forks as a newborn vampire.  Upon arriving at the Cullens’ place, however, he finds that the disease story was indeed a cover-up, but instead of being a newborn vampire, Bella is already heavily pregnant.  When Jacob returns to La Push and informs the rest of the Quileute wolf pack about Bella’s unexpected pregnancy, the pack’s Alpha, Sam, decides that the half-vampire child poses too great a risk and has to be eliminated, even if it means killing Bella in the process.
Upon hearing Sam’s plans, Jacob balks.  Despite his earlier eagerness to take the Cullens out, he now understands that he didn’t truly want to kill them, and he certainly doesn’t want to harm Bella.  However, with Sam being the Alpha, he is unable to defy the command to fight with the rest of the pack, until he willingly embraces his birthright.  Back in Eclipse, we learned that Jacob was supposed to be the pack’s Alpha, since he was the direct descendant of Ephraim Black, the Alpha from the last Quileute wolf pack and the one who originally made the treaty with the Cullen clan.  However, at the time, Jacob had refused to step up, and allowed Sam to assume the role.  But now, Jacob willingly accepts his Alpha status, and is no longer bound to Sam’s authority.  Upon being freed from Sam’s leadership, Jacob sets off alone to warn the Cullens about what Sam is planning to do, being joined immediately by Seth, the young Quileute wolf who had worked alongside Edward in Eclipse to take out Victoria and Riley, and thus formed a friendship-of-sorts with the vampire.  From here on in, Jacob and Seth form a second Quileute wolf pack, which Seth’s sister, Leah, eventually joins out of her desire to get away from Sam, whom she still harbors feelings for despite the fact that he imprinted on someone else.  Throughout the second portion of the book, Jacob’s pack continues to stand guard over the Cullens’ place, waiting to see if Sam will send his pack to attack the Cullen clan after all. 
Meanwhile, Bella’s pregnancy continues to progress, and it is constantly shown that the rapidly growing child is much too strong for Bella’s human body to handle, as every movement the unborn child makes causes Bella to feel pain, with some movements even resulting in bruises forming on Bella’s skin.  Things start to take a positive turn, however, when Edward discovers that he is able to hear the baby’s thoughts.  Not only does this discovery help vanquish all of Edward’s previous fears and misgivings about the nature of the child growing inside Bella, it also indicates that the baby might be developed enough to survive outside the womb.  As a result, Edward makes plans to have Carlisle help deliver the baby once the Cullen clan’s patriarch returns with more donated blood for Bella.  (It was discovered earlier that, due to the baby being half-vampire, Bella could maintain her strength through her unusual pregnancy by drinking the blood Carlisle was able to borrow from the hospital’s donated blood supply.)  Before Carlisle can return, a sudden move on Bella’s part results in the placenta detaching, forcing Rosalie to perform an emergency C-section to save the baby, with Edward taking over when the smell of exposed blood becomes too much for her to handle.  In the end, Edward successfully delivers the baby, which is revealed to be a girl who is promptly named Renesmee.  However, the physical stress of the delivery proves to be too much for Bella’s mortal body, and her heart suddenly stops beating almost immediately after she glimpses Renesmee for the first time.  While Jacob begins performing CPR to get her heart beating again, Edward goes to work at getting enough venom into Bella’s bloodstream to begin her transformation into a vampire, even going so far as to injecting some straight into her heart.  While Jacob looses hope and decides that Bella is well and truly gone, Edward refuses to accept this and continues to focus all his efforts into ensuring Bella’s heart keeps beating throughout the transition, even if it means forcing it to do so manually.  His efforts eventually prove to be successful, as Bella’s heart suddenly begins beating on its own again, making it possible for the vampire venom to spread throughout her body and begin the transformation process.
            The story now returns to Bella’s POV, just in time for readers to experience her first forty-eight hours as a newborn vampire.  Much to the Cullens’s surprise, Bella, thanks to how she was well-informed and prepared for vampire life beforehand, proves to have good control over her emotions and instincts, even though newborns are usually known for being extremely volatile.  Throughout these forty-eight hours, Bella is able to discover she now has everything she wanted and more.  She can now be with Edward forever, and they also have Renesmee, the daughter that they never thought was possible.  In addition, she is even able to keep her best friend, Jacob, in her life, due to the fact that Jacob involuntarily imprinted on Renesmee while Bella was in transition (something that both Edward and Bella are thoroughly irritated by.)   However, even though it appears that Bella and Edward can finally have their happily ever after, there is still a dark cloud over their lives.  Renesmee is still growing at an unnaturally fast rate, and at one point, it’s stated that she grew two whole inches in a single day.  This unsettling fact leaves the Cullens and Jacob with understandable fears about what the future will hold for the rapidly-growing Renesmee.  They decide to head off to Brazil, where there are legends of half-vampire children like Renesmee, hoping that they will find some much-needed answers.  Unfortunately, before they can leave, Irina, an old friend of the Cullens and a member of the only other known group of vegetarian vampires, decides to pay the Cullens a visit.  On her way to the Cullen clan’s home, she catches a glimpse of Renesmee hunting alongside Jacob and Bella and mistakes the half-vampire girl for an Immortal Child.
            Now, Immortal Children, which is a term for babies or small children who are changed into vampires, are strictly forbidden in the vampire world, and the creation of one means an instant death sentence for both the Immortal Child and the creator.  Since Irina and her two sisters, Kate and Tanya, were forced to watch their own mother and creator being executed for creating an Immortal Child centuries ago, Irina is a purist when it comes to that particular law.  As a result, she heads straight to Italy to inform the Volturi that the Cullens have ‘broken’ the law and created a forbidden Immortal Child.  The Cullens, who are pre-warned of this because of Alice’s visions, know that the only chance they have of surviving this accusation is by calling on all of their friends and acquaintances in the vampire world to stand as witnesses that Renesmee is not what the Volturi think she is.  But even then, there is the chance that it won’t be enough.  Seeing as how Breaking Dawn Part 2 is still in theaters at the time of this post, I’m not going to discuss the ending for those who don’t already know how it ends (even though I don’t see how you can really call yourself a Twilight fan if you only watch the movies and haven’t even attempted to read the books by now), particularly since I know people who hate spoilers.  Even that friend of mine who first introduced me to the Twilight saga, who was mentioned in my review of the first book; if she reads a book or sees a movie before I do, she refuses to tell me anything about what happens.  She won’t even tell me if it’s going to be raining in the next chapter/scene.
            Now, even though there are numerous mixed feelings about this book, even among the people who were already fans of the Twilight saga, I have to say that Breaking Dawn is probably my favorite book in the entire series.  Thus, I’m going to start out by discussing some things I’ve seen fans complain about.  First off, there is quite a stink about how Edward could even father a child, since he is technically not even alive and lacks the necessary ability to produce sperm and such.  When it comes to these people, I wonder why they are getting technical about vampires.  Like I said back in my Twilight review, vampires are fictional creatures, and you can make them do whatever you want as long as they still drink blood.  And besides, the entire saga is, when you think about it, a modern day fairy tale story.  If you’re going to get technical about every little detail in a fairy tale, why not start asking how the wolf could communicate with humans in Little Red Riding Hood, or how it is at all possible that the princess could feel a stupid little pea under all those mattresses, or how Cinderella managed to obtain a fairy godmother, or even why a family of bears would want to eat porridge?
            On the other hand, if people still insist on harping on that fact that male vampires can father children while female vamps are barren, I personally ascribe to what I call the Groundhog Day theory to explain it.  I’m sure that, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few decades, you’ve at least heard of the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.  In that movie, Murray’s character, Phil, experienced the same day over and over again.  Now, what if the main character in that movie was a woman?  Generally speaking, since she was experiencing the same day repeatedly, she probably wouldn’t be progressing in regards to her menstrual cycle, would she?  In other words, if she wasn’t menstruating on her first time around on the day that keeps repeating, she probably wouldn’t be menstruating at all until the day stopped repeating.  Men, on the other hand, unless I misread the biology textbooks, can produce sperm anytime, anywhere.  Thus, it can probably help if you utilize the Groundhog Day theory in regards to the TwiVamps.
            Secondly, there is quite an uproar about Jacob imprinting on Renesmee.  I’ve seen quite a few people accusing Stephenie Meyer of promoting child grooming and stuff like that.  Where I’m standing, it’s clear that these people aren’t really grasping the concept of imprinting.  It is stated more that once that there is nothing at all romantic about Jacob’s feelings for Renesmee at this point.  (And as Jacob states, there is no way Edward would have let him live if that was the case.)  As it stands, Jacob is only concerned about keeping Renesmee safe and happy, and I’m sure that if you ask around, you’d find that those are exactly the feelings that loving parents would have for their child, or a good brother would for his younger sibling.  And yes, it is possible that Jacob and Renesmee could one day end up in a romantic relationship, but until that day comes, Jacob will simply be something between Renesmee’s closest friend and devoted older brother.  As for the infamous issue about how disgusting it is that Jacob was in love with Bella and then imprints on her daughter?  Well, I might be alone in this, but I personally feel that Jacob was never really in love with Bella.  To be honest, I tend to think that the imprinting impulse is so strong, Jacob was being unknowingly drawn to Renesmee before she was even conceived.  Since neither Jacob nor Bella could know that Renesmee’s existence was even possible prior to Bella’s pregnancy in Breaking Dawn, Jacob reasonably misread the signs.  I’m sure others will disagree with me about that, but that’s how I interpreted the whole issue.
            I also have to address the issue of some people claiming the Twilight saga is anti-feminist because of Bella doing all the cooking and cleaning when she’s living with Charlie, how she doesn’t go to college and get a career, ends up being a wife and mother, etc.  Well, maybe my knowledge of history is flawed, but I thought the whole feminist movement happened because women wanted a choice.  In those days, if you were a woman, you couldn’t vote or hold a political office, and you didn’t have many options outside of becoming a mousy little housewife and being subservient to your husband.  The feminist movement came about because the women of those days wanted to be allowed to choose the course of their lives instead of having their futures chosen for them since birth.   Perhaps I’m wrong, but isn’t that what Bella does again and again in the books?  She CHOOSES to become a vampire, she CHOOSES to build a life with Edward, and she CHOOSES to not terminate her pregnancy, even when the people around her are trying to tell her otherwise.  So how is that anti-feminist?  It’s like people are saying a woman is anti-feminist if she chooses to be a stay-at-home mom instead of becoming a big CEO or accepting a respected position in a law firm.
            One last thing some people complain about is how the book ends.  Like I said before, I won’t give anything away to anyone who doesn’t already know how Breaking Dawn ends, in honor of the above-mentioned friend.  But I will say that some readers seem to feel cheated by the ending.  If any of those people are reading this, I ask you to look at the cover of Breaking Dawn.  It’s a chessboard, right?  Well, isn’t chess essentially a battle of wits?  Try to keep that in mind when you reread the ending.  It might help you feel less cheated.
            I do have a few very small complaints about this book.  The first of these complaints is the sudden absence of the meadow.  Throughout the Twilight saga, there was a small, almost magical, meadow located in the woods surrounding Forks.  It was initially the site where Edward and Bella put an end to their metaphorical dance and officially confessed their love for one another.  That meadow continues to play a part in the next two books and becomes Edward and Bella’s secret spot.  At the end of Eclipse, Edward even refers to the place as their meadow.  I’m a bit put off by the fact that Edward and Bella don’t even mention that meadow in Breaking Dawn.  Did their new cottage wipe all memory of the meadow from their minds or something?  (Although, from what I’ve seen from the movie trailers for Breaking Dawn Part 2, they at least remember the meadow in the movie version, so I guess that counts for something.)
            Apart from the meadow issue, I had one other minor grievance, and even though I know it’s not completely Stephenie Meyer’s fault and it wouldn’t have made much sense otherwise, I still feel a bit cheated.  I am talking about Garrett, one of the nomad vampires that come to Forks to aid the Cullens in proving that Renesmee is not an Immortal Child.  I can’t help feeling slightly irritated that we didn’t meet him until almost the very end of the Twilight saga, because I cannot see how anyone would not be able to like Garrett, particularly when he presents his speech during the battle with the Volturi in the last few chapters.  To be honest, he’s quite possibly my favorite vampire outside of the Cullen clan, and I wish we were allowed to see more of him.
            Breaking Dawn also puts the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) in regards to the Volturi’s true nature.  When they first appeared in the saga, they were portrayed as the necessary evil charged with making sure the vampires of the world kept their existence a secret from the humans.  In Eclipse, those honorable motives are put into question with the possibility that they might have an underlying agenda.  This time around, the Cullens and their allies are able to gather enough evidence to leave them with proof that the Volturi leaders, particularly Aro, are only concerned with maintaining their position of power, and whenever they feel that a certain coven might eventually threaten their power, they will go out of their way to find a reason to accuse that coven of breaking Vampire Law in some way, which will give the Volturi the excuse to eliminate the perceived threat.  (This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the Twilight saga so much.  We got the love story between Edward and Bella, a secret and elaborately-constructed world hidden within our own, and a vampire government that presents a beneficial front to the common folk when its true nature is actually corrupted and crooked.  Combine those three elements into one saga, and I’m sold.)
            On that note, I conclude this review and Twilight month.  I hope you enjoyed my explanation about why I liked the book series, and my attempts at addressing the typical complaints about Twilight that many haters seem to bring up.  Don’t get me wrong, people are free to dislike Twilight.  It simply gets tiring to see people complaining about the same things over and over again, and never seeing any original reasons for the hate. (Sometimes, I can’t help wondering if people only hate the franchise so much because it’s considered cool to bash Twilight.)   And thank you for visiting Tome and Flick corner.

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