As summer fades and Earth spins into the darkness of winter, stories of vampires, werewolves, and deadly danger for star-crossed love seem somehow more believable. Dwelling as it does on the dark side of fantasy, the best-selling Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series is a natural for the season of the supernatural.
In the series opener, Twilight, Isabella (Bella) Swan moves to the small, rain-ridden town of Forks, Washington, to give her newly remarried mother, Renee, some space. Her dad, a loving but strangely disengaged figure absorbed in his job as police chief, leaves Bella mostly on her own as she begins her senior year at Forks High. Although Bella is befriended by a few classmates, she is interested only in a strikingly handsome but seemingly hostile student, Edward Cullen, with whom she is assigned as lab partner in her biology class. Despite his apparent attempt to remain distant, Bella and Edward are unerringly drawn to each other with an unnatural fascination.
As Edward's resistance wanes, the two begin to spend time together at school, and their attraction grows into what appears to be overwhelming love. Slowly, Bella draws out the truth that Edward is a member of a coven of vampires created by his "father," local surgeon Carlisle Cullen, who rescues dying humans by transforming them into immortals and who, unlike others of their kind, satisfy their bloodlust by killing only wild animals. Inexplicably attractive to vampires, Bella is readily accepted by Edward's family, but she is thus isolated from her father and friends by her knowledge of Edward's true nature. Bella is especially troubled by the stories of her Native American friend Jacob, whose tribal legend tells of mythical man-wolves whose war with vampires ended in a boundary pact generations before.
While on an idyllic forest outing the with Cullens, an encounter with a dangerous coven of murderous vampires from outside the territory threatens to Bella's life, and soon she realizes that she is being stalked by their tracker, James. Despite Edward's attempts to protect her, Bella is eventually trapped and attacked by James, whom Edward destroys and whose fatal bite is reversed by Edward's quick action. Bella and Edward manage a plausible cover story for Bella's injuries, and the book ends with Edward and Bella, their love renewed, dancing at the Forks High prom.
The second book in the series, New Moon begins as Bella is reluctantly preparing to celebrate her eighteenth birthday at a lavish party at the Cullen's planned by Edward's "sister" Alice. Bella particularly dislikes the thought of growing older than Edward, who is a perpetual seventeen, but goes along with the festivities until, in her usual klutzy manner, she gets a messy cut on her finger. Jasper, Edward's older "brother," cannot control his response at the sight of her blood, and although the scene is resolved amicably, Edward realizes that her association with him leaves Bella is in constant danger. Edward immediately leaves Forks, telling Bella only that he had decided she is not good for him.
Bella is devastated by Edward's seeming rejection and falls into a deep depression. Gradually, though, she forms an easy relationship with Jacob, the laid-back Quileute son of her father's best friend. Jacob, however, seems strangely preoccupied at times, and finally reveals to Bella that some young men of his tribe, in apparent response to danger from the James' coven of vampires, seem to be shape shifting into the werewolves told of by their tribal ancestors. Then, hiking in the forest, Bella is saved from attack by one of James' coven only by the sudden appearance of five huge wolves who destroy the vampire while Bella escapes. Reluctantly, Bella comes to understand that Jacob, too, is one of these shape-shifting werewolves.
Despairing of ever seeing Edward again and aware that James' blood-lusting mate may attack at any time, Bella is herself drawn into risky behavior with Jacob, deciding to try cliff-diving with the daredevil young Quileutes. Recklessly deciding to jump from the cliffs alone, Bella is near death when rescued by Jacob.
Bella then learns from Edward's clairvoyant "sister," Alice, that Edward left her only because he realized he was a danger to her life and to any hope for future mortal happiness. Rejecting existence without her, he has gone to Rome to request that the Volturi, a vampire family of Mafia-like status, end his existence. Alice and Bella follow and manage to free Edward by promising the Volturi that Bella will soon be transformed into a member of the Cullen coven. New Moon ends with Bella and Edward returning to Forks and a reluctant promise from Bella that she will avoid Jacob and his friends, the sworn enemies of vampires, and marry Edward after their graduation.
The latest book in the series, Eclipse opens with Bella's and Edward's imminent high school graduation. Bella is becoming troubled at the fast approach of her promised marriage to Edward and her transformation from a mortal woman to an immortal vampire. Torn by her desire to be with Edward always and her connections to her parents and her very real bond with her friend Jacob, Bella is also beginning to fear the actual transformation itself, especially the pain and the "newborn" phase of overwhelming bloodthirstiness, as well as the final loss of any expectation of having children and growing older with her family.
As Bella deals with these feelings, she and Edward learn that the unexplained murders which have gone on for some time are the work of a group of new vampires, whose lust for human blood has led to serial killings in nearby Seattle. Edward and Bella eventually learn that the new vampires are the creation of James' vengeful mate Victoria, who is leading their bloody sweep closer and closer to Forks. As Edward realizes that Bella cannot give up her bond with Jacob, the Cullen coven and the shape-changing Quileute werewolf pack are drawn into a curious alliance against their mutual enemy. When the eventual showdown occurs, Victoria's coven is finally overcome and destroyed. However, Bella is dismayed and repulsed by the horrible blood lust of the "newborn" vampires and frightened to know that she may experience the same evil urge for years after her transformation. She now recognizes fully that this transformation may, as Edward fears, indeed mean the irrevocable loss of her own soul.
Still, Bella sees no other future for herself. Unable to imagine life without Edward and fearing the retribution of the Volturis if she does not keep her promise, she makes a heart-wrenching break with Jacob and accepts Edward's grandmother's ring and her troth with Edward.
With overtones of Romeo and Juliet, the "demon lovers" of folklore, Dr. Faust, and occasional humorous flashes of Superman and Lois Lane, Meyer's saga of Bella and Edward achieves a certain compelling and sensually graceful prose as it tells a convoluted tale of unnatural but enduring love.
A fourth book, already titled Breaking Dawn, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2008 and will doubtless open immediately with best-seller status.
For more information about the next book, see Meyer's website, which dishes the goodies about the forthcoming book and another book, tentatively titled Midnight Sun. For information about the movie of Twilight, now in the pre-production stage, take a look at the Forks, Washington, (yes, it's a real place) local newspaper, which recently reported on the September 13 "Twilight Day," celebrating Bella's fictional birthday.
Bet Forks, Washington, will have a lot of Bella and Edward lookalikes at their local Halloween parties!
Labels: Fantasy Fiction (Grades 8-12), Romance