So we finally have a new Twilight novel to enjoy – sorry, novella – right before the launch of the Eclipse movie and no doubt intended to increase the ground-swell of fans waiting for the third film. Not that any increased publicity should be necessary; as discussed in those other reviews of mine Eclipse was the outright best volume of the Twilight saga.
Set within the same time-line as Eclipse, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (which for reasons of word-count will be abbreviated to SSLBT from here on) follows newborn Bree as she struggles through the thirst to understand the world she has arrived in and her place within it. Who is her siren -voiced creator and why can't she see her face? Why has she been told sunlight is dangerous when she knows this is not the case? Who among the newborns can she call friend?
This is not a nice tidy safe publicity stunt from Meyer, make no mistake about that. The two great gaping risks involved in publishing this book are right there in the synopsis. Firstly, everyone who has ever read Eclipse knows exactly where Bree will end up by the novella's conclusion, so the creation of suspense was always going to be a challenge. The second, and for me the more important? Eclipse was an amazing vampire flick, to my mind Meyer's best work, and returning to the same time-line with what can be best described as a deleted scene cannot be a half-hearted effort if Meyer values her fan-base. The question on mine and everyone else's mind is this: can SSLBT reach the level of Eclipse in less than 200 pages?
Like Twilight, it is easy to see where Meyer's writing exercise begins and ends. A good quarter of this novella, and regrettably the first quarter, is so-far-so-standard “let's run around in a newborn's head” fair and I was deeply afraid it would go no further. As any film-fan knows, deleted scenes only work if they add to the theatre release and most are a long way from doing so. Surely if Meyer had thought this was such a brilliant addition to Eclipse it would be right there in the original edition?
Fortunately, Meyer did not disappoint on this brief but exquisite outing. As in Breaking Dawn the non-Bella perspective is extremely refreshing and allows the exploration of a character far more complicated and flawed then our regular heroine. Free from any need to hide Bree's final destination, Meyer instead focuses on creating a bond between reader and narrator, an intention she admits in her introduction to be extremely cruel. The more you are touched by Bree Tanner the more you want to read on, and the more you read on the closer you get to those final tragic moments.
And you will be close to Bree, because she is the most downtrodden, wounded, broken character of any of Meyer's novels. Unlike Bella she is not just vulnerable, she is safely in the territory of a victim, abused by all around her. In Eclipse, Bella looked at Bree as a possible future for herself, but the tables are truly turned in SSLBT. Bree is the anti-Bella. The love that gave Edward and Bella strength provides a hook for others to manipulate Bree with tragic consequences. She is the Cullen that never was, a hair's breadth away from being one of our heroes but never quite escaping her circumstances. Meyer, trapped by the events of Eclipse, cannot rescue Bree and that is all to the book's strength. This novella has the dark end that The Host lacked and suffered for.
There are still flaws I'm afraid. The biggest is Meyer's tangible love for her character that stops her from describing the less heroic acts of Bree Tanner. Instead of challenging the reader by showing both sides of her heroine, Meyer makes it simply too easy to forget that Bree has killed and continues to do so throughout the novella and I felt that was a shame. The novella also takes a while to get going, pretty much par for course with Twilight novels but the criticism stands all the same. But in truth neither issue is going to spoil the rapturous enjoyment Twilight fans are going to get from this titbit courtesy of their favourite vampire novelist.
SSLBT is a brilliant edition to the saga, polished and professional and short enough to devour in one sitting. I was pleasantly surprised to find it on a level with Eclipse and devout Twilight fans will adore its every word. Those of you not already on this particular crazy band-wagon could do worse than to make SSLBT your initiation although it's safe to say a few plot points will be spoiled. Still, this is a bitter-sweet pleasure as SSLBT stands a considerable distance from that which we are all waiting for: a new, exciting, well-written, full-length Meyer novel. If you are a fan this novella will scratch an itch, but I suspect scratching will only make the wait worse.