A month of frothy reading, for a change. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series fell into my hands, and, having heard about its phenomenal success in the adolescent market, I was curious about it. I expected to skim the first book and then lose interest, but I landed up devouring all four tomes in quick succession.
I use ‘devouring’ purposefully: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn (Atom) chronicle the adventures of Isabella Swan, an ungracious American teenager who goes to live with her father in the rainy town of Forks on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. There she meets and is inexplicably drawn to the beautiful, strange and cold Cullen family, particularly 17-year-old Edward. He has actually been 17 for decades – ever since he was found at the point of death and changed into a vampire by the kindly head of the vampire family, who doubles as the town doctor.
All the Cullens are immortal, which poses a terrible problem for Isabella, who falls wildly in love with Edward and dreads outgrowing him. She lusts after his chilly body, and he lusts after her warm red blood, which only serves to heighten the sexual tension, because of course they dare not risk a physical relationship.
There’s the added complication of Jacob Black, Bella’s childhood friend, who is also in love with her. Jacob lives on the Indian reservation and is descended from a regal line of shape-shifters, who take on the form of wolves when their lands are threatened by vampires.
Deadly enemies are thus pitted against each other, and Bella plays a pivotal role in resolving ancient feuds and ultimately uniting humans, vampires and werewolves in an unexpected way.
It’s all impossibly far-fetched of course, and vampire purists pour scorn on the liberties Meyer takes with their lore. But these are civilised vampires; they have disciplined themselves to be ‘vegetarian’ in that they hunt animals rather than humans. You can’t push your luck, mind you; Edward has to use all his strength to be with Bella without sinking his teeth into her tender throat.
There’s a lot that’s annoying: far too much mashing of fleshy and marble lips; endless ‘snickering’, ‘chuckling’ and other simpering descriptions of mood; too many references to Edward’s russet hair, liquid amber eyes and god-like physique. It’s hard to understand what he sees in Bella. She’s grumpy and sloppy and her teenage angst, while probably fairly accurate, is tiresome.
On the other hand, the story zips along, and you find yourself drawn into it, hooked by the conflict each character endures, and intrigued by the well-crafted plot. Meyer manages to sustain the pace throughout all four novels, building to the grand and inevitable show-down between the Cullen clan and the Volturi, the power-hungry mafia of the vampire world. Good triumphs over evil and harmony is restored – for another century or two, at least.
Loyalty, morality, responsibility and forgiveness are dominant themes of the books. There’s enough excitement and titillation to hold the hormonal young reader, and enough rollicking fantasy to sweeten the real-life drama of difficult relationships, which many will relate to. Yes, there are things to criticise, but teens could do a lot worse than immerse themselves in this series. It’s fun.
Sphinx by TS Learner (Sphere)
I’m a sucker for ancient Egypt, but this formulaic thriller disappointed. Archaeologist Isabella Warnock dies in the attempt to retrieve an astrarium, a mysterious device that has extraordinary power – the parting of the Red Sea is presented as just one of its minor accomplishments. It’s up to Isabella’s grieving husband, Oliver, to protect the priceless treasure from the requisite band of ruthless baddies who desperately want to control it. Oliver is subjected to all kinds of ordeals before he is able to restore the magical machine to its rightful resting place.
The plot has serious weaknesses: Oliver, hiding above the barber shop, happens to look out of the window just at the moment that a woman resembling his wife walks by. He decides to follow her and is led into an elaborate ambush in the Alexandria catacombs. What are the chances! And at the end of the story, when our hero is on his last legs, he goes back into some caves to bury not one, two but three corpses, before relaxing with a well-earned drink. Where does he bury them? What does he use? His bare hands? I ask you. Give this one a miss.