The Good: Moments of perspective which are interesting
The Bad: Overpriced, Boring narrator, Dull story, Lack of empathy for protagonist.
The Basics: The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner is the latest novella in the Twilight Saga and a disappointment to those looking for a novel written from a vampire's perspective.
It might seem odd for one who has generally enjoyed the cinematic Twilight Saga that I have never read any of the books in the series. When I met the woman who would become my wife, she moved in with the complete collection, but I have a stack of books to read that I still wrestle with getting through. As well, I've found taking too much time to read contemporary literature distracts one when they are writing their own stuff. Still, on one of our days out, I found myself in a bookstore with my wife, reading The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner, which is a novella that tells a tangent story to Eclipse (the film is reviewed is available by clicking here!). Unfortunately, the novella did nothing for me and I felt cheated by the end and wished I had had the opportunity to spend the time reading . . . well, virtually anything else.
The truth is, part of the reason I have been on a graphic novel kick of late - besides my generic reason of having a Wonder Woman Year - is that the best graphic novels have the most interesting villains and they seem unafraid of perspective issues. What I mean by that is simple: the best graphic novels have villains who do whatever act gets them branded as villains for a reason that is remarkably close to what the heroes say they are fighting for. The best villains are empathetic and reading their perspective actually opens the reader's mind to an entirely different way of thinking.
I mention this as I consider The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner for the simple reason that Stephanie Meyer failed to do that in this book. Meyer has millions of fans worldwide and her Twilight Saga is going to be one of the international bestsellers of this decade without question. But whatever talent earned her those things, it is not evident in the writing of the first-person narrative The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner. This book is positively disappointing in that the protagonist never seems different enough or special enough to make one see why Meyer felt this story had to be told. That said, arguably my favorite part of the novella was Stephanie Meyer's foreword in which she discusses the energy and immediacy she had in wanting to tell Bree Tanner's story. Alas, that energy did not come out in the narrative.
Bree Tanner is a vampire in the Seattle area who try to avoid the chaos caused by other members of their brood, most notably the crazy Raoul. Raoul is reckless, playing in plain sight (throwing cars about and climbing up walls, flaunting his kills and the like) and Bree suspects that he is dangerous, so she goes off to hunt with Diego, a vampire turned a few months before her. They dine on the dregs of society as Riley has asked them to and they return to their nest to discover it has burned down. Bree, shaken by how Diego willingly shares kills with her and seems to like her, hides out with Diego and they share how they were turned. In the process, they discover they have been lied to about the things that can harm them, like sunlight.
Banding together, Bree and Diego find the rest of the nest and they begin to work together to unravel why Riley and their mysterious sire are raising an army of newborn vampires. This leads Bree to learn about Victoria and her plans to kill the Cullens, but before she can effectively flee, Riley begins to train the nest for combat. When Diego disappears, supposedly on a mission, Bree becomes suspicious and she tries to piece together what is truly going on before she has to do battle with the Cullens.
The plot of The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner is mediocre-at-best. There is a somewhat episodic feel to some of the scenes as they progress from one experience to the other, but by the time Diego falls out of the narrative, it is hard to care. As the title implies, Bree Tanner has a short life as a vampire, which readers of the novel Eclipse apparently know coming in. I felt cheated that the book did not start with Tanner being turned to give the reader a true sense of her full second life. Instead, she talks about being turned with Diego, but the immediacy and horror of becoming a vampire is not portrayed well in the book.
Indeed, reading the story of Bree Tanner is a weird study in how normal the vampires are. Bree was a street urchin, but even there her story is more tragic in a mundane, very human way than being a supernatural story. The elements that seem tragic all seem to come from before she was turned and are mentioned in a blase "these things happened" type way. She stole, ate garbage and traded for food with sex and her second life is far less explicit or troublesome to her. In this life, she "feeds," avoids others by sitting near Freaky Fred (who has the ability to repel others with his thoughts) and begins to develop a relationship with Diego.
And it's largely teen melodrama. There is no real sense of consequence to the life of Bree Tanner, so we don't truly care what happens to her when she begins training to kill the Cullens or when she considers running away. She had a tough life as a human and her life as a vampire is without zest or any real unique quality. Tanner is not repulsed by what she has become and she is not particularly thrilled by it either. The result is something of a waste of a life as a vampire.
That is the key element that Meyer fails to sell the reader on, at least those not so desperate for anything new in the Twilight Saga they will take whatever the author metes out. Because Tanner had a tough human life, why she has any sense of fear over the new life as a vampire is never presented in a convincing way. Tanner is afraid of Raoul and wants to avoid others, but why she doesn't up and leave Riley's den or even risk getting killed in the sunlight (when she believes it will kill her) is not explained or expressed. Instead, the three-month old vampire is part of the den and she's just going along with everything . . . like a teenager in a peer pressure situation.
Making a character into a vampire does not make them more interesting when they are not an interesting character to begin with.
That said, there's a somewhat pointless element to reviewing The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner: the fans of the Twilight Saga have already made it a bestseller and are unlikely to care about a laypersons view of this novella. But for serious readers who have not already invested in the universe of the Twilight Saga, The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner is a painfully simply written book (the average fifth grader and above ought to be able to understand the diction, if not the content) that supposedly tells a story from an inhuman perspective. But it never reaches into the mind of the Other well enough to convince mature readers that it has a story truly worth telling.
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Edward And Bella Hallmark ornament.
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.