Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Moon Chapter 21 - Verdict

1. They’re led out of the sewers into a brightly-lit hall. “This hall seemed very benign after the gloom of the ghoulish stone sewers. Edward didn’t seem to agree with my assessment. He glowered darkly down the long hallway.”

He does that when Bella just insists on sticking to her own opinion. On the other hand, he does know what they’re about to face. And so does, Bella, come to think of it, since she’s been told in some considerable detail how powerful the Volturi are, and how they don’t put up with crap from anybody else in the vampire world. So yeah, once again Bella’s seeming like she doesn’t get much use out of her vaunted brain. In the end she does seem to get it, since “I cowered in the corner, cringing against Edward.”

2. They meet the Volturi’s receptionist, apparently. “I gawked in astonishment at the woman behind it…She would have been very pretty in any other company--but not here.” Because becoming a vampire makes you gorgeous yeah yeah yeah you’ve told us 10,011 times.

We learn the lady’s name is Gianna, and we soon meet another vampire, Alec, who “could have been Jane’s twin.” Which he is, but I’m still mystified by the way Steph throws all these characters at us like the specifics matter for anything. To give you an idea of just how populous the Meyerverse is, The Official Illustrated Guide is 543 pages long. Pages 84-401 are made up of Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-esque character profiles. I’m not even going to get into how many of those profiled characters actually receive appreciable attention in the books themselves, let alone which ones would’ve made for more interesting books. Like the cleaning lady from Breaking Dawn.

Although I will say that I instantly liked Alec a little for this. “Alec chuckled, and examined me as I clung to Edward’s side. ‘And this is the cause of all the trouble?’ he asked, skeptical.”

3. Felix (Felix?) calls dibs on Bella, but Alice cautions Edward not to do anything rash. I love how in an interview in The Official Illustrated Guide, Meyer said “Here you have Edward, someone who overthinks everything…” Which is totally demonstrated by how he’s forgone thinking through a problem at every single damn opportunity in this book. He abandoned Bella because he couldn’t think of a way to guarantee her safety (like maybe not forcing her to attend gatherings where everyone else is a vampire), and one sort of gets the feeling he didn’t even bother what with his overly dramatic tendencies. Hell, the Cullens had pulled up stakes and were gone within two days, kind of doubt a lot of time was spent thinking and discussing solutions. He immediately believed word that Bella was dead, and here he was about to throw good sense to the winds in a situation he couldn’t possibly fight his way out of because one guy said something he didn’t like until Alice stopped him.

“They exchanged a long glance, and I wished I could hear what she was telling him.” Because he’s reading her mind, get it? But you shouldn’t have to stop and think about the meaning of a sentence conveying something like two characters communicating something. Edward’s been gone for practically the entire book, and yeah I remember his mind-reading thing, and Bella might not be but I’m still getting used to him being around again. This is kind of jarring.

4. Then they enter into the meeting room of the Volturi themselves, and again we’re reminded of things like how vampires are sparkly and pretty and even the Cullens don’t compare. “He drifted forward, and the movement flowed with such surreal grace that I gawked, my mouth hanging open. Even Alice, whose every motion looked like dancing, could not compare.”

Unfortunately for the series this is also where it becomes really hard to take the Volturi seriously. The reason is the Volturi member who leads the interactions the most during Bella’s first meeting with them: Aro.

Now, from that picture you might think that Aro could either be a dangerous killer who projects a pleasant façade, or a mincing little sparkly pixie. I know which one you’re supposed to think, but throughout this he claps his hands and uses words like “delightful” and “wonderful” and is so endlessly fascinated with Bella (what else is new?) and does absolutely nothing to substantiate everything we’ve heard about how they’ll end you if you contravene their rules…I kept waiting for him to clap, laugh, throw his arms wide and exclaim “Simply maaaaaaaaaaaaahvelous!”

It all gets started with how he greets them: “ ‘And Alice and Bella, too!’ he rejoiced, clapping his thin hands together. ‘This is a happy surprise! Wonderful!’ ” And after confirming that Edward’s grateful they didn’t kill him, Aro adds “I love a happy ending.”

I’m sorry, but Aro comes across as a slightly effete but harmless eccentric, not the leader of the bloodthirsty enforcers of vampire law.

5. Also, there’s this.

Aro: “Your brother seemed to think you infallible, but apparently there was some mistake.”
Alice: “Oh, I’m far from infallible.”
Aro: “You’re too modest. I’ve seen some of your more amazing exploits, and I must admit I’ve never observed anything like your talent. Wonderful!”

Well I have, and I’m still waiting for a consistent description of her power and its limitations before I’m willing to declare myself impressed.

6. Aro reveals his special vampire power then. It’s a lot like Edward’s, “only I am limited in a way that he is not.” Edward has one up on the all-powerful vampire enforcers. Isn’t that great.

However, rather than hearing what a person’s thinking right at that moment, “Aro hears every thought your mind has ever had.” I’m not sure Meyer realizes how many that is, somewhere between “uncountable” and “don’t even bother.” According to The Official Illustrated Guide, Aro’s been around since roughly 1300 B.C. Wouldn’t he have enough trouble just keeping track of his own lifetime worth of thoughts and memories? Let alone those of anyone and everyone he touches? I don’t think Steph understands how daunting it is to process and retain a ton of information all at once, or how part of the reason your memory stops working so well as you get older is there’s so much stuff in your brain by then. And the people we’re talking about have ages ranging into centuries.

I admit that’s something that doesn’t usually bother me in other fiction involving vampires, but then that other fiction tends to downplay the godliness of vampires by a lot compared to Meyer’s work.

7. Speaking of annoying overemphasis, everybody turns to look at something, but “I was the slowest to turn.” Yes, you’re a worthless stupid slow human. We get it. Just like vampires are beautiful powerful perfect things.

It’s just the rest of the Volturi showing up, even though them having individual identities will largely be as pointless as most of other characters having identities too. If nothing else it confirms that these are the guys from Carlisle’s painting if you can remember a detail like that from the first book.

Oh, and as they enter Aro gushes some more: “ ‘Marcus, Caius, look!’ Aro crooned. “Bella is alive after all, and Alice is here with her! Isn’t that wonderful?’ ” Am I riding this bit too much that I think Meyer forgot to mention him giggling after he said that?

“Their lack of interest did not curb Aro’s enjoyment.” Just wait til you get to know her, guys. You’ll be even less interested.

8. Then in the course of a single page, Bella manages to confuse her opinion on vampires twice. First we have this: “Aro raised one black brow. I wondered how his papery skin did not crumple in the effort.” Because you’ve spent the entire book talking about how vampires are invincible and all-powerful and how you wanted to be one, mainly because of that? Mainly because that was the only way you'd feel worthy of someone like Edward?

Then at the bottom of 470 we have this: “The idea of any vampire needing a guard was faintly ridiculous to me.” Me too, with the way she’s been rhapsodizing about how nobody, not even an entire pack of werewolves, is a match for a single vampire. Which is it, Miss Swan?

9. And then, probably the most retarded if not the laziest thing in the entire book happens. We find out the power of one of the other Volturi (Marcus if you care): he can see the strength of people’s relationships. “He’s surprised by the intensity of ours,” Edward explains. “It takes quite a bit to surprise Marcus, I can assure you,” Aro adds. “I looked at Marcus’s dead face, and I believed that.”

Christ on a minibike, are you kidding me Meyer? You had to give one of the vampire enforcers the power to validate Bella and Edward’s relationship? As opposed to including it in the books? That the depth of this love has yet to be believably shown makes this particular declaration sound even more stupid and desperate than the usual “take our word for it” crap about the strength of Bella and Edward’s twu luv.

And seriously, the Volturi’s powers are supposed to be even more awesome than the Cullens’, and one of them is “see the strength of relationships”? Their reputation’s getting harder to buy all the time.

10. Aro thinks about how Edward reminds him so much of Carlisle, “only he was not so angry.”

“Carlisle outshines me in many other ways as well.” Somehow I get the feeling Carlisle didn’t sneak into Esme’s bedroom.

Aro praises Edward’s awesomeness in being able to resist the call of Bella’s blood (thank an inept author for that. But then, thank an inept author for everything in these books). He also finds it so terribly interesting that Bella’s immune to Edward’s way with minds. With her permission, he tries to work his own little mind-reading magic on Bella as well. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you it doesn’t work. It doesn’t even work when Dakota Fanning tries to use her power, which is to inflict agonizing pain with a look.

Maybe it’s time to stop lying about how awesome Bella is too? I mean, all this awesomeness is tiring, but so’s Bella’s whining when she obviously is pretty and the object of desire of so many people and worthy of the love of an immortal pretty boy. She hasn’t even had her innate ability amped up by being turned into a vampire yet, and already she’s immune to the abilities of supposedly the most threatening and powerful vampires in the world. Bella being incredibly awesome too would be kind of annoying, but at least it would be less annoying than her constant wallowing in images of worthlessness.

It was kind of satisfying to see Edward rushing to stop Dakota Fanning from using her power on Bella and getting his ass beat down, though.

11. Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, where the Volturi decide the idiots’ fate. Aro offers membership to Edward and Alice, citing the usefulness of their powers, then surprises everyone by doing the same to Bella. What makes her “a prospective talent so promising”? What would she add to their organization? The ability to have people fail to read her mind? Which is made out to be a pretty rare gift, hence their desire to keep Edward alive and add him to the fold? “Can you imagine the possibilities when she is one of us?” Tell you what, let the author imagine some and then I’ll tell you what I think.

“Join or die, is that it?” Edward rages. “I suspected as much when we were brought into this room. So much for your laws.” Bella goes on to think “He sounded irate, but there was something deliberate about his delivery--as if he’d chosen his words with care.” Is he trying to get them killed after all? Is this sour grapes over being turned down for suicide before? In any case I don’t really think he’s got a leg to stand on, since he was the one deliberately trying to break their laws with the intention of getting killed hardly twenty minutes ago.

No, it turns out Edward’s trying to make them acknowledge their hypocrisy; why does Bella have to die when they have humans within their support organization? Doesn’t that mean there are humans they trust with the secret of their existence?

Ah, but it’s not the same thing. “But when they are no longer useful to us, they will serve to sustain us. That is not your plan for this one. If she betrays our secrets, are you prepared to destroy her? I think not.” So Edward’s only awesome when we ignore anything and everything about his mental processes, then.

Bella weakly tries to protest she’d never do that, and there she is with thinking she’s automatically entitled to strangers’ trust again. Remember, these guys will (supposedly) kill you for breaking their secrecy. They’re probably about the last people who’d be conferring their trust to someone they don’t know.

12. The Volturi explain the three of them would be free to go if Bella was made a vampire, but still Edward drags his feet. “Would he rather die than change me?” Maybe he’s thinking about what life would be like if she really was as immortal and mobile as he was, but let’s try examine this in the context of the books. Not half an hour ago Edward tried to kill himself because he thought Bella was dead. Just living in a world without her is obviously not something he wants any part of. What’s he thinking of doing when she dies from whatever mortal affliction ultimately claims her? How else does he plan to protect her from the Volturi now that he’s been put in this situation? He does float an idea later, but it’s only for keeping Bella away from the Volturi and would seem to place his beloved family in a lot of unnecessary danger. Edward’s seeming really selfish for the male part of the greatest romantic couple ever.

13. Eventually the matter’s settled (with Aro cackling and proclaiming the state of affairs’ wonderfulness, natch) by the revelation, via his own mind-reading, that Alice has seen Bella becoming a vampire. She assures Aro that this vision will come to pass. I know it will too, to the extent that it’s really aggravating that Meyer drags it out as long as she does, but what about all that crap about her visions being so uncertain?

“Aro seemed convinced. Did he not realize how subjective Alice’s visions were? That she could make up her mind to transform me today, and then change it tomorrow?” Yeah, even if Alice was lying about the certainty of her powers, if Aro can see everything someone’s ever thought, as ridiculous as that is, couldn’t he tell if she’d made the decision to lie to him? Damn Meyer, if you’re going to go on and on about the characters’ powers, figure them out.

So yeah, based on the account of someone with sketchy ability to see the future, the ruthless enforcers of vampire law are letting them all go based on something one of them saw happening in the future.

14. The Volturi do assure our erstwhile heroes that they’ll be checking up on them. “To be sure that you follow through on your side. Were I you, I would not delay too long. We do not offer second chances.” Were I the author, I’d be concerned for the credibility of my main antagonists here. In the course of one chapter pretty much all potential menace these guys might have wielded has been swept away by the bombastic way Aro acts and how they’re letting a human they don’t trust leave with knowledge of vampires and where the head vampires live, even.

As they leave, Aro even gives the shirtless Edward a gray cloak. “Take this. You’re a little conspicuous.” And a huge cloak isn’t? And unstated but certainly the case, Edward looked like he just stepped out of a cloak ad in it.

15. And this stupid chapter still isn’t over. As they leave the Volturi’s little sanctum, a woman (one of the guards) named Heidi comes by. Really, this damn chapter’s dragged out for another page and a half just so we can meet another inconsequential character. Here’s a tip from a writer to any aspiring to that noble craft. Before you make up and introduce hundreds of characters, ask yourself this: what purpose does this character serve, and is that important enough to merit a complete identity? The answer won’t be yes as much as you probably think. At least if you're Stephenie Meyer.

Yeah, you should flesh out your characters, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But you don’t want to overload your reader with lots of characters who seem important but aren’t, either.

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