The Story: [from GoodReads]
To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, she has endured a tumultuous year of temptation, loss, and strife to reach the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or to pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fates of two tribes hangs. Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating and unfathomable, consequences.
My Take: At last! I’ve come to my final review in the Twilight saga, which, to be frank, has puzzled me in its level of popularity. Granted, these books are fluffy, light, and (dare I say?) fun reads at times. But ultimately I have always failed to see these books’ appeal as each of the novels has a loose plot (if any true plot at all) and a rather dull cast of leading characters.
[Before I go further, I want to state that there may be spoilers revealed here. So please continue reading with that in mind though I will do my best not to reveal anything too major.]
I can’t believe I’m saying this (so sit down if you’re not already) but I liked Bella a little more in this book because she actually becomes interesting. The novel opens with Bella and Edward’s wedding and honeymoon, both of which are romantic and respectful, not sappy or bawdy. However, after Bella experiences an unexpected (and rather quick) pregnancy, Edward has no choice but to turn her into a vampire. Of course, this means Bella is now gifted with enhanced/new abilities, which mercifully redeem her clumsiness.
Another point in her favor is that Bella becomes a protective mom and will do anything to keep her daughter, Renesmee, safe. This is a far cry from the childish, immature, compulsive Bella of the past as she is forced to grow up and think of others instead of herself. That doesn’t mean Bella is without faults as her adjustment to the vampire lifestyle is surprisingly struggle-free as she can master her newly-found “powers” with ease, which pushed my suspension of disbelief. (Maybe James’ bite in Twilight somehow made her able to adapt quickly? I don’t know but that’s my theory and I’m stickin’ to it.) But at least Bella was less annoying to me in this book, which was a good thing.
Speaking of changes, the narrative is also different as it’s split into two voices, Bella’s and Jacob’s, rather than have the story told solely from Bella’s point of view. That being said, while the change in voice was nice and Bella and Jacob had a distinctive sound to their respective voices, it seemed like an odd decision since no other such POV switches occur throughout the entire series. Personally, I didn’t feel it was necessary as most of Jacob’s portions were spent delving into angst and skulking, so I found myself skimming those.
Not to mention the whole imprinting scene where Jacob marks Renesmee to be his future sweetheart…while she is still a baby. I can get behind the whole mystical attraction thing, but being drawn to and, essentially, betrothing yourself – an older teen/young adult – to a baby?
My mental jury is still out on that one, so I’ll move on.
In terms of pacing, Breaking Dawn is a s-l-o-w book. I understand why it’s plotted the way that it is, moving from Bella’s wedding, to motherhood, to the events leading up to the ending, but almost 50% of the book is concentrated on Bella giving birth and adjusting to her lifestyle as both a vampire and a mom. These portions were interesting but far from riveting, hence this book could have been reduced to half its size.
The central point of conflict here (now that the love triangle drama is done with – thank goodness!) concerns Renesmee, who is half-Human and half-vampire (as she was conceived before Bella was changed). To be honest, I can’t see what the big hoopla was about. Granted, she is an anomaly but was she really worth the Volturi nearly starting a war over? Much like Victoria’s response to exact revenge upon Bella in Eclipse was a bit over-the-top, so is the build up here.
And, boy, does it fizzle out, which brings me to my biggest criticism of Breaking Dawn: it is simply too safe.
This problem occurs in some form in all four books with Breaking Dawn being the worst offender. Unlike the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games trilogy, both of which unabashedly place lead characters in dangerous, even deadly, situations and kill off major characters, the Twilight series does neither. Threats are resolved without any real sense of danger and all of the main characters make it out unscathed.
The last 30% or so of the novel builds up to what’s sure to be an epic battle among Bella’s newly adopted family, Jacob’s tribe, and the Volturi. The Cullens even go out of their way to summon help from various vampire covens around the globe. All in all, this promises to be one heck of a skirmish.
Call me weird for using this example, but it was kind of like the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where the film leads up to this “big” showdown between the Ninja Turtles and the evil Shredder ultimately comes down to Shredder facing off against the Turtles’ adoptive father/sensei Splinter. The stage is set for an epic battle between two martial arts masters…only for Shredder to take a rooftop tumble and end up in a dumpster.
In the same way, Breaking Dawn leads you on, thinking this huge, Lord of the Rings-sized battle is shaping up, only to conclude with dry exposition about how there is proof there is/was another child similar to Renesmee. That’s good enough for the Volturi, so they trek back to Italy. All’s well that ends well, right?
Not really. What was even the point of a good 30% to 40% of the novel if the controversy could be settled with rhetoric more befitting a courtroom drama? It was a let down, to say the least, and proves how far the story went to keep its characters safe. Yes, it’s admirable to see Bella protect her daughter and not act like a kid herself, but the ending was like a yanked rug out from under readers’ feet. The payoff doesn’t mesh with the build up, which created a massive disconnect with me, and it was quite possibly one of the biggest
moments for me in all of my reading experiences – and not in a good way.
My last criticism regarding this novel is, oddly enough, about its cover (the U.S./non-film tie-in version). Normally, covers are love-’em, like-’em, or leave-’em for me, but this one bears a special mention. Mainly because it makes little to no sense.
I know the “formal” explanation is that the white queen is Bella, who finally comes into her own (whatever that means) in this novel . But a chess image? Other than the color scheme, this doesn’t seem to fit with past covers at all, which tended to have a nature focus (aside from Eclipse, which depicted a red ribbon).
Likewise, the connection to chess, especially as far as these two pieces go, is odd.
In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece because she can move in any direction (rank, file, or diagonally) and can capture any single opponent piece in her way; but she’s not the most valuable piece (that would be the king). The red chess piece in the background is a pawn, the least valuable piece in that it is the most restricted in mobility and ability to capture (pawns can move one or two squares to start, then one square after that and can only attack on the forward diagonal).
Thus, when I try to apply the symbolism here to the characters, I feel befuddled. I get that Bella, as the lead, becomes powerful thanks to her transformation. I get that she becomes less of a protected character and more of a protector. But there’s the underlying aspect that the queen is not the most valuable piece, so does that mean that while Bella is powerful she’s somehow lacking in value? And who, or what, is the pawn? The pawn is red (rather than white), meaning it’s an opponent’s piece, so I presume this represents someone not aligned with Bella. But who could that be? If that’s meant to stand for Jacob, that’s kind of cold to call him a pawn as it implies he’s weak and expendable (though Bella did play him early on). If it’s the Volturi, I’m not sure they qualify as weak or expendable (though their inclusion here is certainly disposable). If the image is symbolic of Bella’s old life, that could work as she’s certainly in opposition to it now and she did cast it aside. But again, why a pawn? How does that symbolize her old life? Did Bella view herself as a pawn before, as in weak and powerless? Not to mention the queen here isn’t in an immediate position to capture the pawn, so this isn’t intended to be an image of combat. Furthermore, pawns can be promoted to the status of rook, knight, bishop, or queen if you can get them across the board to the opponent’s side. So is that what this elusive pawn is trying to do, get across the board and past Queen Bella so it can be promoted to a more powerful status?
Language – Essentially none, save for a few PG-level words that mainly come from Jacob’s mouth.
Violence – In terms of violence, this will easily be the diciest of the lot. While there are no massive combat sequences akin to Eclipse, Bella’s pregnancy and birthing are not sweet, gentle moments. As Renesmee grows inside of her, Bella’s body is literally broken and she dies during childbirth. Also, Bella does not actually birth Renesmee so much as Renesmee chews her way through Bella’s womb, which makes for a rather graphic, gory scene along with Bella’s reaction to drinking blood for the first time in order to appease her yet-unborn child. Bella, at first, tolerates it, which might be cringe-worthy to some readers, but later she vomits blood prior to going into labor. These are easily the goriest moments in the novels as a whole and aren’t for the faint of heart.
Sexual Content – Bella and Edward do consummate their marriage on their honeymoon but the scene cuts away before anything occurs. Not so much in a later scene between Bella and Edward where, in a secluded cabin, they literally shred each other’s clothes and tumble to the floor. While this scene isn’t graphically described, Bella does relay what she’s feeling at the moment but it’s more in terms of her emotional/mental state. Once more, I’d caution against giving this book in particular to the under-15 crowd due to its themes and content, though more so for its content this time around.
Overall, Breaking Dawn carries on the same anti-climactic tradition as its preceding novels. The leading characters are still relatively colorless though Bella, at least, grows up in this novel. The plot is a bit muddled and, worst of all, wraps up with a dud of a conclusion. While the epilogue is pleasant, the story leading up to it takes no risks nor allows Bella to truly know what it means to struggle or suffer (unless giving “birth” to a half-vampire kid counts, which I’m sure it does). In my mind, the Twilight saga tries to present a portrait of romance and love, and while it gets some elements right (such as oneness in marriage, selfless sacrifice for one’s family, and a willingness to care for one’s child before and after birth), it gets other aspects wrong, most of which I touched on in my other reviews.
In the end, I’m not sure how a die-hard fan would react to this book (as I am not a “Twi-hard”) and I suspect that it has a love-it or hate-it kind of response. But for casual readers, I sense you’ll be able to sleep at night as nothing here will keep you up mulling over its dramatic tension or deep philosophical moments.
For me, the Twilight saga is a bit like a bubblegum pop song – I don’t want to like it but I can’t deny that it’s catchy and has some enjoyable moments. But in the end it doesn’t have enough going on beneath the surface for me to want to tell the world about how good it is because, while it’s far from terrible, it’s also far from great.