(Warning - contains spoilers!)
Welcome to the first Red Hot Eyebrows co-review! It promises to be thrilling, especially since we have such different opinions about the book. But in order to have a thorough dialogue, we are going to need to talk about it openly, so if you haven't read Breaking Dawn yet and don't want us to give anything away, READ NO FURTHER!
Breaking Dawn opens a few days before Edward and Bella are to be married. Miraculously, nothing happens to postpone or interrupt the wedding and everything goes as planned. They spend an exotic honeymoon on a private island off the coast of Brazil, which is cut short when Bella discovers she is pregnant. And, as you would expect from a human-vampire union, this isn't any typical pregnancy. The fetus grows at an accelerated pace, and is so strong that it is hijacking all of Bella's nutrition and causing her intense pain when it moves -- even breaking bones. Bella refuses to abort the fetus, causing the first major conflict in the story since everyone who loves her believe that's the only way to save her life. Edward and Jacob develop something akin to friendship as they are united in their futile efforts to save her life. (In the process, Jacob has left his pack by claiming his birthright as the true Alpha). Bella gives birth violently and this act takes the last bit of mortal strength left in her. In order to save her life, Edward injects his venom into her heart and she begins the transformation process.
And that's just the first half.
The second half begins with Bella's transformation into a vampire. Through some supernatural quirk, she is able to exercise amazing self-control (funny how she couldn't do that as a human) and is able to make the transition to vampire quite smoothly. That's fortunate for the reader, since we didn't really want to see her through her newborn bloodlust stage anyway. There is still some concern about the baby, besides her horrible name. (Renesmee? Seriously??) And besides the fact that Jacob has imprinted on her. (Eww.) More worrisome still is the fact that Renesmee continues to grow and develop at a super fast pace, and no one is sure what the repercussions will be. But even that is overshadowed by the threat of the Volturi who, having been misinformed about the nature of this child, decide to come destroy her and the entire coven. This brings us to the final conflict in the book -- a showdown between the Cullens and the Volturi. Of course, Stephenie Meyer is nothing if not generous toward her main characters. They may suffer, but she works hard to provide happy endings for all, and Breaking Dawn is no different.
Caren: After the huge disappointment that was Eclipse, I had mixed feelings about reading Breaking Dawn. But after reading Stephenie Meyer's The Host and remembering the talent that made Twilight such a success, I began to get excited about the last installment in the saga. I was hoping for something fresh and unexpected, and in many ways that's what I got. I fully expected Meyer to postpone the wedding and/or Bella's transformation until the very end of the book, since I expected that those events would mark the end of the story. So I was very intrigued that she tackled them early on. And when Bella became pregnant, I thought, "Whoa. This is going a whole different direction than I expected." But I liked that direction. Meyer showed a lot of courage in bringing marriage and motherhood (arguably common and unromantic themes) into this story of vampires and werewolves without being afraid that it would derail the story. And it didn't. Maybe it's because I am a wife and a mother, but Bella had more of my sympathy in this book. She showed more maturity and understanding and seemed more like the Bella we first saw in Twilight. But that greater depth didn't make the book any less fun. There was still the suspense, the tension, and the uncertainty of "what next?" that kept me turning the pages. And while this conclusion wasn't the one I would have expected, it was still a satisfying resolution with enough freedom to know that the story would keep going beyond the last page.
Jenny: Here's my deal. Jacob got the shaft in this book. I honestly had hoped that Meyer would find him a worthy character to imprint on, not take the wimpy way out and have him imprint on Bella's baby. That was so icky and bizarre that it left me unsettled the rest of the book. Suddenly all those lovey-dovey feelings Bella and Jacob have had for each other is because they were destined to be in-laws?!
My other issue is that nothing is really sacrificed or earned for Bella's vampire-hood. She's an anomaly for newborn vampires with her self-control so she still gets to be around her family, she gets a miraculous baby, no more love triangle business, and a super-power to boot. Everything comes so easily. When the Volturi show up, she's able to use her powers perfectly, despite failing before (of course) and then when the bad guys leave without even a punch thrown, she lives happily forever after. It's just too easy. And I think I've pinpointed exactly why I despise how Meyer portrays Bella and her relationships with men, but I'll save that for later.
By the way, your comment about her self-control "funny how she couldn't do that as a human" seriously cracked me up. And Renesmee? Gag. So white trash.
Caren: I have mixed feelings about Jacob in this book. On the one hand, he gets demoted to a secondary character once he imprints on Renesmee, and only plays a shadowy role for the rest of the story. That doesn't seem like a very fair way for him to get his happily ever after. But on the other hand, I was so sick and tired of his obsession with Bella that I was kind of glad it happened just so he would shut up about it! I just wanted to shake him for most of his narrative and say, "Get over her! Move on with your life! Have a real relationship!" And I wanted to shake Bella and say, "You've made your choice! Start acting like the married woman you are and quit trying to have it both ways!" (Who else was cheering for Leah when she chewed Bella out?) After Jacob's conversation with Leah and wanting to have a choice in who he loves, I was hoping that he and Leah would develop a friendship that could turn into something else later down the road so we could see at least one relationship that wasn't predestined in this book. But I guess that would have been the more predictable route so kudos to Meyer for doing something so unexpected (even if it was a little unsettling).
This Bella/Jacob tension was one of the subplots that didn't really ring true for me. I felt like the love triangle had been resolved at the end of Eclipse. Bella made her choice. Jacob left to nurse his wounds and get over her. I had hoped that he was going to move on and was excited to see what developed for him in Breaking Dawn. Instead it seemed like Meyer changed her mind and made them go through this all over again so that she could take the story a different direction than she'd originally planned, and poor Jacob was no more than a means to an end.
I disagree that Bella didn't sacrifice anything for becoming a vampire. True, everything does work out perfectly for her. But after what she went through to give birth to Renesmee, I sort of felt like she earned the right to become a vampire and have everything go smoothly. She gave up everything that was hers to give -- her body, her life, her future with her Edward -- in order to give life to their child. Of all the times she's played the martyr, this was the only time it really had any meaning and nobility, and after such a sacrifice I think she earned it. Some things were a bit too contrived, though, like how easily things were resolved with Charlie. And I do wish the conflict with the Volturi had had a bit more pizazz. It was building nicely to an intense climax, and then it just deflated. But in spite of some of those too-good-to-be-true aspects, I really liked Bella as a vampire. It was an interesting perspective and I was glad to finally see her acting confident and strong and being the powerful heroine she should have been all along.
So, do share your feelings about Bella's relationships with men. I have a few things to say about that myself!
Jenny: After the forced kiss scene in Eclipse, I lost most of my devotion to Jacob. It was too creepy. Honestly though, how much worse is that than Edward's constant manipulation of Bella? But I really thought Meyer would have him make something happen with Leah and I was rooting for it. I was also getting really sick of Bella beaming every time Jacob walked into a room. She's married, for crying in the mud! I loved when he even said the same to her, but then again, he wasn't exactly walking away from her either. Ugh. It's like a bad soap opera.
I agree that Bella went through great suffering to have Renesmee. Yikes, writing her name makes me want to use initials instead. If I was carrying my half-vampire spawn o' love, I would want to protect her and make sure she made it safely into the world. And her pregnancy and labor were spectacularly awful. She gets points for going through that. I actually did like the fact that Edward made her a vampire to save her life, instead of just getting a bite on the neck on the honeymoon. It settled with me better. I never really wanted her to become one in the first place, but I was okay with those circumstances.
What I didn't like is how frail and dainty and powerless Bella is throughout the series and then, when she finally is a vampire, she's powerful. It irritated me. Why couldn't she have been a stronger person before she became a vampire? Everybody was always carrying her around, protecting her from everybody else and herself, making decisions for her, forcing her to put herself into harm's way to get any leverage in a situation. Then she's a vampire and boom! she can create forcefields and jump higher, control her appetite better than anybody, yadda yadda. Am I just a raging feminist if I wanted her to be stronger, take better care of herself, find healthier situations to be in?
She also has terrible taste in men. Notice how all these men, including the ones she's kissing, act more like father-figures than peers? And her actual father is a pretty poor one? Being carried around, told what to do, sitting on laps and patted on the head like a toddler is not my idea of romance. The only time she ever had a real friendship-based normal-for-a-teenager relationship was with Jacob in New Moon and then he turned into a turkey in Eclipse and ruined it. It's all just so unhealthy that it gets me riled up. I can suspend reality and recognize that this is just fiction, but it bugs me.
About halfway through Breaking Dawn, I set the book down and cleaned my bathrooms. I couldn't take more of Bella being a martyr, Jacob moping around, and Edward fretting anymore.
One more thing: part of what made these books so compelling for me was the action. Breaking Dawn had a shocking lack of action. The ending totally fell flat and I was bummed. I was really hoping for some fireworks with the Volturi especially with all the build-up, but I was denied. Maybe that soured my opinion.
Caren: I agree that the ending didn't live up to its potential. She could have done so much more with it. But other than that I didn't miss the action in the rest of the book because I was so caught up in the rest of the story. Bella's personal journey was significant and interesting enough that I didn't think the book was lacking anything. I actually think her inner strength was part of her character all along, she just buried it for some reason I can't figure out. In Twilight she was brave enough to accept Edward for what he was, and later faced James on her own to save her mother's life. In New Moon she showed courage by trying new and dangerous things as a way of breaking her promise to Edward. (Stupid, yes, and partially motivated by her desire to stay connected to him through her hallucinations -- but it also showed a certain amount of rebelliousness and individuality. ) It drove me crazy when she was weak and spineless in Eclipse, and I was glad when her true strength emerged in Breaking Dawn. Did she have to become a vampire to discover it? I don't think so. But then again, sometimes we only discover what we're really made of after facing major watershed moments in our lives, and she certainly had plenty of those in this book.
Does your irritation with Bella's previous weakness make you a raging feminist? Feminist yes, raging.....debatable. More importantly, is that a bad thing? Heck no! Stephenie Meyer could do with a bit more feminism raging in her characters, I think.
We all want someone who will take care of us, but I think Meyer pushed that dimension too far until it was sickening and misogynistic. That's an interesting thought about her boyfriends being father figures. I hadn't really thought of it that way before and that makes it even more disgusting. (Thanks a lot!) But it's always bothered me and another reason I liked Bella better as a vampire was that now she and Edward could have an equal relationship instead of this victim/savior thing they had going on.
As a side note, I did like their relationship in the beginning and was reminded why it was good for them to be together. There was a sweetness to the wedding and the honeymoon that was very satisfying. And I really like that Bella finally realized that marriage (and later, motherhood) were not the horrible scary things that she thought they were. She understands that the marriage commitment brings more depth to their intimate relationship than she expected. After all her stupidity in Eclipse with trying to get Edward to have sex with her, I wanted to applaud her for finally figuring that out. Good job for growing up, Bella!
One thing I did get tired of was the dishonesty. I understood why Bella kept her J. Jenks mission a secret from Edward. But why couldn't she tell the truth about her transformation process? Why can't she just say, "Holy cow, that was WAY worse than I expected! And the morphine totally screwed it all up. What a nightmare! But hey, don't take it personally. It's over now and look at what a babe I am!"? I mean, seriously, intentionally misleading him about it.....not a good way to start out your immortality together!
Jenny: I think being strong and being brave aren't necessarily the same thing. It was brave of her to be such a daredevil in New Moon, but it wasn't strong. Being strong would have meant she got over Edward and moved on with her life. Maybe I'm being nickpicky. I think part of the problem is that I just don't like Bella and I am stubborn about going back on my initial feelings about people. I've decided that even though I despise Bella as a human, I might like her as a vampire. More nerve, less spinelessness. Maybe she'll learn honesty over the millenia. Too bad the books are done. I take that back. I'm glad the books are done!
I'm running out of steam here. I think part of my overall dislike is that I'm not a fan of romances. I like romantic elements, but not romance as a genre and these books are most definitely romances. I got caught up in all the cool vampire/werewolf elements and did my best to ignore the melodrama, but it was just so fraught with it. Also, what was up with Jacob's section being in his voice, with the rest of the book being in Meyer's usual wordy prose? I loved that, especially the chapter headings. Hilarious. I would have loved more of that in the other books, or maybe doing that with Bella. We get her viewpoint, but not her voice. I stole that observation from my friend, Rachel, by the way.
Caren: What do you mean by "romances"? Do you mean romance as in a love story (like Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet)? Or do you mean romance as in capital "R" and sleazy pictures and literary porn? I do think these last two books had way more sensuality than is appropriate for a teenage audience, but I wouldn't go that far.
I disagree that Bella's narrative voice wasn't really her voice, but I agree that it's hard for Meyer to move out of that voice (as we saw in Eclipse when she told stories from Jasper and Rosalie's perspectives and there was no change in the voice or style). So I was pleased that she did Jacob's as convincingly as she did. And I'm so glad you mentioned his chapter titles! Too funny!
Jenny: I guess by romances I mean dramatic, drippy, pathetically inert female characters who are swept away by dashing men with cloudy pasts. If the Romance Spectrum ranges from Danielle Steele to Jane Austen, these books would fall somewhere mid-to-Steele for me.
Caren: Really? Danielle Steele? Yikes! I've never read any Danielle Steele (shoot me if I do, please), so maybe that's more accurate than I think. But ouch! That hurts!
Ultimately I think that each of these books gets more and more about the characters and less and less about the action, so if you're hanging on for the action you're bound to be disappointed. But I still like the characters even with their imperfections, so it was a satisfying ending for me.
Jenny: I don't have to have all action all the time, but she does include an awful lot of it in the other books and not in this one. I was just expecting it. Thanks for playing, Caren! I feel like I saw this book a bit better through your eyes, even if I still don't like it. Can't wait until next month!
Caren: It's been fun, Jenny! I can't wait to do this again!