The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is, essentially, a character study that Stephenie Meyer expanded into a novella. You may not have noticed, but Twilight fans get a little obsessed, so it's not terribly surprising that Meyer is adding to the existing four-book series in small bites (particularly as it looks as though the main quartet will stay a quartet). Any book that offers a glimpse of Bella and Edward is sure to sell. Admittedly, at least The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is telling a different story than the leaked-and-then-posted-online Edward POV re-write of Twilight would. Fans will know that Bree Tanner made one very short appearance in Eclipse, the third novel in the series. The vampire Victoria, desperate to have revenge on Bella and Edward for the killing of her mate James, created an "army" of newborn vampires so that she might strike out against Bella and the Cullen family. It consisted of twenty-or-so young vampires who were not well-controlled and if you've read Eclipse, then you'll know from the get-go that things don't end well for any of these young vampires, including Bree. It's not giving anything away to know this, and Meyer only wrote this to provide her readers with a closer look at a darker world of Meyer vampires and to let them enjoy another new, brief dip into the Twilight world.

Bree doesn't have much time to develop a personality that could be easily differentiated from any other nice-enough teenage girl dealing with a somewhat difficult situation. Her only true distinct characteristics seem to be a desire to stay out of sight and her tendency to read a great deal of books. Not even sixteen before she was turned, Bree had been living on the streets -- easy prey for those seeking lone individuals that could be conscripted into the newborn vampire army. She remembers little of her mortal life and instead, she provides us with eyes into a twisted and dangerous situation. Survival for Bree seems to depend on hiding in a corner, behind another vampire who has the ability to divert attention... or at least produce a zone around himself that makes others want to look away. Near-invisibility is not a bad thing, I suppose, for a vampire, and Bree tries to hide in the aura of this, reading books and waiting for her chance to leave the safe-house at night. She manages to find what she might be able to call a friend, a rare commodity in a place where losing limbs (don't worry, they apparently re-attach) is commonplace and lies form the foundation of their daytime prison. Since we know it will all end badly, the reader simply has to watch it all play out, seeing another side of the story and perhaps developing some deeper pity for creatures that Meyer evidently felt hadn't been properly examined.

For such a short piece, it's hard to really have any real character depth, but Meyer does have this magic ability to create girls who long to know and be known by quiet and beautiful boys. For Bree, this is Diego, a slightly older vampire (only by a few months in vampire life, but by two or three years as a mortal before being turned). They both consider themselves outsiders, unwilling to socialize with the other vampires who cannot think beyond their thirst for blood. Bree and Diego even find themselves questioning the rule that suggests they will turn to dust if they set foot outside in the sunlight. (Get ready for more sparkly vampires!) Naturally, they are considered "better" vampires than the others who are simply out of control and violent. The definition of "better" here still means Bree and Diego kill humans for their meals, it just also means that they think for themselves and are unwilling to let themselves be used as pawns in some revenge game once they get an inkling that something isn't right.

This is one of those books where those who read it are largely made up of true fans, so it's hard to go wrong as long as one doesn't over-promise a new look at the beloved lead characters. On the whole, I think fans will be pleased with this small new novella, though the glimpse of Bella and Edward is, indeed, limited to the end scene. Meyer seemed to go to a lot of trouble to emphasize that this novel is from the perspective of someone who doesn't know anything about Bella, Edward, and the Cullens... yet seems quite interested by them and so keeps track of them at the crucial moment (she does know her audience). Edward is referred to as "the redhead" at times, which surprised me and got a little annoying. I found it hard to develop any real connection to Bree beyond a small amount of sympathy for her situation -- after all, she seemed to have a sad life even before being turned and then was destined to have any small hope for improvement taken away. The Bree-Diego tragic romance is a given, along with the knowledge that they won't get to actually do anything about their attraction in chaste Meyer world. Readers will notice that the vampire with the gift to repel attention (described as quite handsome if one can manage to look at him) makes it out alive and thus gives Meyer some future potential to explore his past and future.

My cynicism about releasing such a short novella to capitalize on the Twilight craze is tempered by two things: (1) you can actually read this book for free on Stephenie Meyer's website for a short period of time and (2) the $1 donation to the American Red Cross is a kind of clever philanthropic move when it comes to a series about vampires. Thus, I find it hard to grumble too much about the situation. She does at least seem to appreciate her fans, which is important, as only real fans will enjoy this book. If you loved it, you'll appreciate the book. If the series annoyed you... well, then you probably won't bother with this either, unless your projected attitude of "this series sucks" is really masking your true feelings of "well, this series is entertaining, if extremely flawed" and you refuse to admit to the fact that you read the whole Edward rewrite on the Meyer website and already have plans to see Eclipse on opening weekend. Ahem. Not like that describes anyone here.

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