Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eclipse Chapter 13 - Newborn

1. “Our venom is the only thing that leaves a scar,” Jasper explains of his own numerous collection of bite marks. What? If vampires break your bones or tear your flesh or rip off your limbs, that won’t leave a scar?

He goes on to explain that there are part of the vampire world where “the life span of the never-aging is measured in weeks, not centuries.” Not that we’ll ever really see that. He further explains that the more people there are around, the easier it is for vampires to feed off them unnoticed. “I shuddered at the image in my head, at the word feed. But Jasper wasn’t worried about frightening me, not overprotective like Edward always was. He went on without a pause.” It’d be nice if the books seemed to be less on Edward’s side about this.

“Not that the covens in the South care much for what the humans notice or not. It’s the Volturi that keep them in check. They are the only ones the southern covens fear. If not for the Volturi, the rest of us would be quickly exposed,” he says. Bella’s reaction? “I frowned at the way he pronounced the name--with respect, almost gratitude. The idea of the Volturi as the good guys in any sense was hard to accept.” Or for that matter, the Volturi as intimidating, or these books as having complex morality.

“The North is, by comparison, very civilized. Mostly we are nomads here who enjoy the day as well as the night, who allow humans to interact with us unsuspectingly--anonymity is important to us all.” Thought vampires living in permanent groups, let alone having permanent residences, let alone living in relatively close contact with humans, was super-rare. Would be hard to let humans interact with you if close contact set off every feeding instinct you had, which I thought was the reason the Cullens were so special; they were able to live among humans because they’d learned to resist that impulse. But then, this isn’t the first time I’m complaining about Meyer being unclear about the workings of her fantasy world.

2. Anyway, southern vampires. Very vicious. Fighting for territory. Only held in check by the Volturi.

Jasper explains how a vampire named Benito took on a much larger group of vampires in territory he wanted to control by creating a group of newborn vampires of his own. “Very young vampires are volatile, wild, and almost impossible to control.” So why would they kill the people he wanted to kill? “One newborn can be reasoned with, taught to restrain himself, but ten, fifteen together are a nightmare. They’ll turn on each other as easily as on the enemy you point them at.”

Why would you enlist newborn vampires to fight on your side? “They’re incredible powerful physically, for the first year or so, and if they’re allowed to bring strength to bear they can crush an older vampire with ease. But they are slaves to their instincts, and thus unpredictable. Usually, they have no skill at fighting, only muscle and ferocity. And in this case, overwhelming numbers.”

Anyway, “your histories blame a disease for the population slump.” I dunno, with the Cullens living so close to humans, and the story insisting on keeping the narrator as far from anything potentially exciting as possible, I never perceived much of a difference between the human and vampire worlds. There’s the Volturi, I guess, but humans have groups that keep them in line through fear of punishment too.

“The Volturi finally stepped in. The entire guard came together and sought out every newborn in the bottom half of North America.” Really? How many vampires were fighting for the Volturi? Have their numbers grown since then? I guess putting an entire vampire war might make them badass…if it ever really got to a comparison for how tough all these characters are relative to each other. Yeah the Volturi beat Edward around, but we’d only seen him be more impressive than awkward teenagers, not how he stacks up against his own kind. When he fought James, the villain was outnumbered five to one. "Here's these guys, they're scary" isn't a mark of good writing.

Meyer might have actually wanted to watch one of those martial arts movies she seems to look down on. She might have learned something about making and demonstrating a scale of power. As it is, we’re basically asked to take her word for all of this. It would make stuff like this carry more weight: “Jasper shuddered. I realized that I had never before seen him either afraid or horrified. This was a first.” Since we haven’t seen him be a badass, or the Volturi be badasses, then the fact that Jasper’s scared of them doesn’t add much to the experience.

3. Neither does the joke “there was a lot of bad blood.”

4. But to the point of this story. You’ve probably heard about how Jasper was a major in the Confederate Army and wished you were reading a book about that instead. If you guessed he lied about his age to be able to enlist, for God’s sake go read something less predictable.

If you also guessed that “I was promoted quickly through the ranks, over older, more experienced men” and “I was the youngest major in Texas, not even acknowledging my real age,” then you may know some of the warning signs of Mary Sues. Wish our author did.

Look, it’s one thing to be significant because they’re the characters who interact with the protagonist the most, but did all of them have to be super-capable, charismatic, beautiful people who could sell ice to Eskimos…before they ever got their attributes souped up by vampirism? Does this really serve any purpose besides fanning the author’s ego? You’d think so, based on later events, but…no, not really.

5. “I remember the night very clearly.” To make the telling of it more dramatic, you see.

One night he ran into three ladies. “They were, without question, the three most beautiful women I had ever seen.” Not to mention “ I knew they were not lost members of our party. I would have remembered seeing these three.” Because vampires being pretty is something you don’t know anything about yet, Bella. Or at the very least is something a simp like you never gets tired of talking about.

Also gotta love how Jasper says up until then he didn’t believe in “ghosts or any other such nonsense.” The way he says it, it’s like he still kind of doesn’t believe in the possibility of other supernatural creatures. Even though he’s a vampire, married to a vampire, and has an all-vampire family. And is a 15-minute drive from where werewolves live. I’m not saying that because vampires and werewolves exist, that proves all supernatural creatures exist. But doesn’t that at least make it possible? If the legends are to be believed, the Quileutes have werewolf powers because they used to have astral projection powers. What else could be out there? Am I the only one who’d be asking?

In any case, yes, they were vampires, and they converted him to serve in their newborn army against some other vampire faction. You know, calling them “newborns” isn’t making them any scarier either. As with the Quileute legend, there isn’t a whole lot worth mentioning in an article like this, but that shows Stephenie Meyer’s not necessarily a bad storyteller, she mainly needs to fix her idea of what merits the most attention and not have a protagonist whose main contribution to the story is facilitating everyone else’s actions by being there. And one who isn’t also insane and happy to be a victim, I suppose, but I digress.

6. Well there are a few things worth mentioning, like Jasper telling us their names were Maria, Nettie and Lucy because every single damn character in a Stephenie Meyer story needs to be identified.

A couple unclear bits like Jasper mentioning that in their little newborn unit “I was rewarded often, and that made me stronger.” Does that mean he was given carnal incentives by the beauties and thus was willing to work harder, or does it have something to do with vampiric powers? With Meyer I can never tell.

There was the time Jasper was put in charge of the other newborns “as if I were being promoted. It suited my nature exactly.” Gee, that sounds an awful lot like bragging. Not the Cullens as a whole come across as that modest, but based on what we see (and don’t see), Jasper’s about as believable a great military commander as Bella is an enthralling temptress.

“I pulled together an army of twenty-three in the end -- twenty-three unbelievably strong new vampires, organized and skilled as no others before.” Ya know, considering a lot of Breaking Dawn centers around how little even vampires know about parts of being a vampire, and the emphasis on secrecy and thus the presumed discouragement of noticeable inter-vampiric conflict, I find it unlikely Jasper would know that with any certainty. And if he can’t do that, then it doesn’t sound all that awesome.

7. Apparently, Jasper’s emotion control doesn’t just work outward, strong emotions kind of seep back into him, too. Eventually he walked away from all this fighting. “Yet I had to keep killing. What choice did I have?” Well, seeing as Carlisle got the whole “veggie vampire” thing started by just deciding not to take human life…

I know, Jasper says he was a killing machine for so long it’s been hard to learn to be something else, and that’s why he slipped and attacked Bella that time. But that goes back to all these things we’re told about, but almost never see. Like struggling to ignore the part of the vampire psyche that tells you to eat people, which we hardly ever see in action. When Bella becomes vampiric, she barely has to struggle with it either. They try to explain that away, but in the end it just seems like more “take my word for it” crap from an amateur writer.

In the end Jasper ran into Alice. “She was there -- expecting me, naturally.” Yeah, because of that power that’s as specific or non-specific as the author needs it to be. She’d seen Carlisle’s self-deprivation experiments and when they arrived at the Cullen household she “greets them all by name, knows everything about them, and wants to know which room she can move into.” It would be so funny, if not for the fact that it isn’t.

“Alice has made all the difference,” Jasper concludes. And that would be romantic, if not for how your significant other being the only thing holding you back from suicide was portrayed as being a good thing.

8. With the story out of the way, Jasper gives his expert military opinion on the situation and confirms that yes, he thinks someone’s raising an army of newborns for some nefarious purpose. “Whoever made them just set them loose.” What do you mean, whoever? You’re telling me you don’t suspect anyone, given the events of the last book and the proximity to your precious Forks?

“It will only get worse, and it won’t be much longer till the Volturi step in. Actually, I’m surprised they’ve let this go on so long.” Me too. They’re really kind of lame for the all-powerful enforcers of vampiric law, huh?

Edward chips in, “  ‘Does it occur to anyone else that the only possible threat in the area that would call for the creation of an army is…us?’ Jasper’s eyes narrowed; Carlisle’s widened, shocked.” They also mention the vampiric intruder in Bella’s room and his/her seeming knowledge of Alice’s blindspots. If Meyer had bothered to give some indication there truly exist important happenings in the vampire world that don’t have anything to do with our couple, and the Cullens having some involvement with them, then it might make sense to be mysterious about what’s going on. She hasn’t, and it doesn’t.

Edward tries to bring up some pointless crap about how the Volturi could be involved, because Aro wants him and Alice working for him. Because via their powers he’d have visions of the past and the future at his fingertips, and he’d like that so much he’d be willing to break the Volturi’s own rules to get it. “A double betrayal.” You probably already figured out it’s not them just like I did, so we need say no more about this part, except I’m still not worried about the Volturi.

9. They get around to thinking about calling in some of their vampire buddies, like the vaunted Alaskan coven. “Kate and Eleazar would be especially advantageous on our side.” They are after all “the closest friends the Cullens had in the vampire world, practically extended family.” I’m all for including interesting characters, but for fuck’s sake include them. These guys aren’t in this book, they’re hardly even in Breaking Dawn.

Why won’t the Alaskan vampires help them? Because one of them got to be buddy-buddy with Laurent (remember him?), and refuses to help unless the Cullens help her kill the Quileutes in revenge. I’m compelled to ask if this vampire who wants to avenge Laurent knows that he was killed because he was helping an evil vampire and was intent on killing Bella. Which at least in the books’ universe is a bad thing.

I bring it up because the book doesn’t address that, and from what ridiculously little we’ve been told about the Alaskan coven (pretty much all of which you just learned) you’d assume they’re like the Cullens in that they don’t believe in killing unless it’s absolutely necessary. Is this one vampire so important that the rest of the group won’t help their good buddies the Cullens if she says no? Because it wasn’t Tanya, who sounds like the leader, it was someone named Irina. Is her veto enough to get the entire group to deny their help? I might be able to find that out in the guidebook, but I shouldn't have to, so I won't.

The upshot is the Alaskan vampires aren’t coming.

10. Without the Alaskans as reinforcements, Jasper says that they can probably still win, but not without casualties. “I wanted to scream out loud as I grasped what Jasper meant. We would win, but we would lose. Someone wouldn’t survive. I looked around the room at their faces -- Jasper, Alice, Emmett, Rose, Esme, Carlise…Edward--the faces of my family.”

As I won’t shut up about, spouting this kind of crap is no substitute for letting us develop an attachment to the characters. We’ve only gotten the chance to know a little over half of the group (inasmuch as “obsessed with having a baby” is a personality). As I’ve probably implied, I can’t say that’s helped me worry about the possibility of losing them. Nor has the fact that the author’s shown herself to be kind of a wimp when it comes to creating real problems, let alone real menaces.

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