Bella Swan isn’t very excited about leaving Phoenix to live with her dad a tiny town on the Olympic peninsula. For one thing, it always rains up there. And there are less people in the entire high school than in her junior class back in Phoenix. But things quickly get exciting nonetheless, because she meets Edward Cullen, a mysterious and incredibly sexy guy at the new school. Edward is a vampire (duh), and just because he and his family have made the moral choice to feed on wildlife rather than humans doesn’t mean he doesn’t find Bella incredibly ‘attractive’ . . . on several levels. But Bella doesn’t care. She loooooooves him!
I’ll be up front: this book didn’t work for me. This is mostly because Bella has got to be one of the most stupid and selfish protagonists I have ever met. She doesn’t care that her boyfriend is a vampire. She doesn’t understand or sympathize with his constant struggle with the ‘temptation’ of being around her. In spite of his many warnings, she refuses to stay away from him. She ends up wanting him to bite her so she can be a vampire too and live with him forever, even though he insists that this is not exactly a brilliant idea (and he ought to know). Not to mention she runs around doing all sorts of ridiculously dangerous things without informing anyone, asking advice, or following advice when she does get it from people who know much better than her . . . but I suppose that’s traditional in adventure stories. Still, it seemed especially silly here, since some of her vampire friends have supernatural gifts which could have really helped her deal with some of the situations . . .
Thankfully Edward is a more interesting character; he actually ends up being the moral center of the book, since he is deeply conflicted. On the one hand, he wants to do the right thing — which, here, means not killing his girlfriend. But, you know, she’s so hot. As much as he knows he should leave her for her own sake, he can’t make himself do it. (And apparently his hundred years of life experience didn’t help him get over the angst of being 17. Imagine being 17 for all of eternity.) If I had been able to feel that the attraction between Edward and Bella was based on anything more than preternatural chemistry and physical desire, I would have thought their relationship was a bit more interesting. As it was, I got really tired of hearing about how unbelievably hot Edward was, and how great it felt to make out with him. That really gets boring after awhile. (However, it could have been worse — at least they refrain from sex.) Edward at least cares strongly about keeping Bella safe (though not enough to leave her alone); Bella only cares about being around Edward because he’s sooooo hot.
Maybe Bella is more realistic a character than I’d like to think — probably a lot of real-life seventeen year olds are just as shallow and superficial and stupid as she is — and Edward is tolerably well-drawn, but their relationship just didn’t work for me . . . probably because the book depicts it from Bella’s point of view. The writing in general was tolerable but completely lacking in style or power. The vampire aspect of the book was less morally problematic than it often can be — in fact, vampires who exhibit self-control and eventually conquer their murderous ‘instincts’ make for an intriguing concept. But I’m not quite sure how much the author expects the reader to sympathize with Bella’s desire to have Edward ‘feed’ on her so they can be together forever (not to mention her ridiculous stupidity in other areas). I certainly did not. Of course, by the time she expressed that desire, I had already wanted to smack her good and hard for some time, so it didn’t exactly surprise me.
It’s worth noting that any analysis of the characters and morality of this book is limited by the fact that it is the first in a trilogy. However, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the second and third books will improve much upon the original premises.