Well, Twilight’s finally behind me, and even though I’ve made no mystery about my disinterest in vampires in general, I should probably do something to cleanse my palette, and maybe do something to kinda sorta acknowledge Halloween around here. Maybe with a vampire who has numerical proof of his badassery.
In many respects, Vault of the Vampire’s a storm of cliches. You’re a brave adventurer on a quest up to the remote, forbidding castle of the local tyrannical overlord, Reiner Heydrich. Who happens to be one of that most powerful example of the undead, and who for all the tiny development he gets might as well be Dracula. And you’d better be quick about it, before he decides to snack on the latest nubile example of the female species he’s hauled up there. It doesn’t really help that it was written by Keith Martin, who had a few interesting ideas but was never any great shakes as an author of interactive fiction.
That aside, it’s a surprisingly effective little adventure. It’d be suicide to just go waltzing into Reiner’s crypt without first loading yourself to the gills with all the magic weapons and clues you can find. Obviously. Because here’s a vampire who actually will squish your head with ease if you show up insufficiently prepared.
For one thing, it introduces a good psychological element to the search for the best weapons. That being a Faith score, which is a measure of your faith in your cause that allows you to resist fear, mind control, and in some cases even make the forces of evil think twice about starting a fight with you. It’s nice that sometimes you need fo find out if it’s something your character can stand up to, instead of just deciding that you can. Granted none of the tests are against thing as senses-shattering as you’d see in, say, the aptly-named Beneath Nightmare Castle, but it’s kind of interesting to see even somebody daring enough to face a vampire in his lair face something that can strike fear in them.
For that matter, the denizens of the castle are a pretty memorable bunch for these kinds of books, and I don’t just mean the ones who try to kill you on sight. Not that Reiner’s house doesn’t have some interesting defenders, the Thassalosses and living tigerskin rug in particular, but there are friends to be found there. Not everybody who can help you is necessarily motivated out of the goodness of their hearts, though, and with some of them you definitely have to ask yourself if what you’re hoping to get out of it is worth what they might ask. Like say Reiner’s obviously evil but upwardly mobile sister, and his hardworking but underappreciated in-house scholar.
And while I was hardly ever impressed by Keith Martin’s abilities as a writer, the interior illustrations were done by Martin McKenna, easily one of the finest artists ever to put ink to paper in the name of Fighting Fantasy. His atmospheric artwork does a lot to elevate this book, or really any book his work shows up in.
Without contributing factors like these, Vault of the Vampire could’ve easily become just another semi-mindless dungeon crawl with a simplistic goal. However, its relative simplicity is also one of the book’s strengths in light of some of the other books in the series. That is, ones with interesting settings but tons of little secrets that must be discovered. Failing to do so resulting in the player plodding along for a while, thinking they’re making progress, only to encounter an unavoidable death somewhere down the line. See, for example, Creature of Havoc, or to a lesser extent Martin’s own Night Dragon, which is far more scavenger hunt-y than this book. That simple lack of complexity can be a nice break knowing it exists elsewhere in the same series. Here your objectives are pretty clear (get all of Siegfried’s magic weapons, use them to save the girl), as opposed to your average book in the series from Games Workshop!Steve Jackson (here’s your goal. If you don’t find the one, completely arbitrary true path to victory, you’re dead. Have fun!).
Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, Steve wrote some of the best books to carry the Fighting Fantasy label.
But…let nobody dispute they had lots of unforgiving trial-and-error gameplay.
Unfortunately, also let no one dispute that the second outing with the major characters from Vault of the Vampire was not nearly as successful.
Which is a shame, because the author was obviously trying to be a lot more epic this time around. You see, Reiner wasn’t really dead. Even in the sense that he was a vampire. Apparently anticipating that some brave hero might stake him, he had his vital essences preserved so he could be brought back to life should the need arise. You’re tasked with bopping around the countryside, trying to find the secrets that enabled his resurrection, and the means to get around them and kill him again. And not waste too much time doing it.
Yeah. Apparently inspired by his own Night Dragon (where the longer you take to assemble all the magic weapons, the stronger your already pants-darkeningly powerful final enemy becomes), you have a stat called Blood. Whenever you find anything useful in re-killing the vampire, it goes up. Any time you spend any amount of time not turning up results, you lose them. The number affects how strong Reiner is during your final battle.
Certainly the author tries to be scarier this time around, and McKenna was back providing the illustrations again. The monsters are more ghoulish than before, the atmosphere’s a little more oppressive, and the author tries to evoke a little nostalgia for the previous book, like when you see a tigerskin rug and he makes a point that it doesn’t come to life and attack you.
But it’s just not that good, and seeing the same characters in the exact same contexts in a different, larger-scale setting doesn’t work. Because despite being larger and more complicated, the familiar characters had been scaled back. Siegfried is only a ghost who shows up to tell you where to get the best weapon, Katarina jumps out and attacks you after your fight with Reiner because…that’s what she did in the first book. Even though there's been nary a mention of her in this book until after you've beaten Reiner and she springs out for a sudden last battle. And that’s not even addressing the poor design, with several choices leading to the wrong paragraph, and a particularly glaring oversight where you need gold to lodge at an inn where you can find some very important items, but the only way you’d get there is by losing all your gold.
Still more coherent than the plot to Twilight…
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Maybe to finally close the book (literally) we can go off on some of the lessons we’ve learned. Aspiring authors and overenthusiastic fans alike, take note.
Don’t make characters invincible just because you can.
Once upon a time, there was a show called Samurai Jack, about a samurai warrior who tries to defeat a being of pure evil but during their battle is thrown into a future where the evil being’s already taken over the world. As the theme song informs us, he’s “gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack,” in order to keep this dystopian world from coming about.
While I thought the show suffered some for giving the character a goal he can never achieve or it would automatically end the show, it made for some pretty good viewing. And before it came out, the creator pointed out in behind-the-scenes stuff how you could look at the hero and see the bad guys getting their licks in sometimes too, with all the cuts, bleeding and torn clothing. “Weaknesses make the character stronger,” he said.
Meyer probably heard that herself somewhere, but lacked the wherewithal to do anything with it. Thing is, if you give your characters weaknesses but never work those weaknesses into the story, they don’t count. And no, New Moon, the one time we see a vampire lose their cool, doesn’t count either because once that’s over still nothing’s been done to account for that happening in the future. Perhaps because it never happens again.
After reading all those books, I can only come to the conclusion that Meyer was talking solely about how her vampires are more ridiculously powerful than other people's, and it had nothing to do with the characters' morality or how they decide to use their powers, or even the story purposes of giving characters great abilities, but bothering to give them obstacles that are still challenging.
This just makes it even worse with how Meyer has all these characters with all these awesome abilities, and appears to have them just so they can have them. There’s really no reason for the Cullens to be vampires instead of just incredibly pretty and rich, other than because it means they’ll stay the way they are forever. Edward hardly ever uses his awesome abilities for anything except stalking Bella and sneaking into her room without her dad knowing.
Would you watch a show or read a comic about Superman staying home and watching TV, and think that was cool? One that takes itself as seriously as Twilight does?
So basically it seemed like Meyer wrote awesomely-powerful beings as her main cast, then couldn’t think (or couldn’t bear to write) anything about them putting those powers to interesting use. Why have them have powers if that’s what you’re going to do? The way she writes it she’s basically saying “My characters are so much more awesome than you and your friends and everybody else’s characters. They’re so awesome they don’t have to prove it.”
Work for that happy ending.
I don’t care what you say Meyer, you aren’t writing for babies. Your heroes get raped, break the law, have sex and dismember people multiple times. If this were a TV show it would air after ten. You’re writing for an old enough audience that your characters need to be seen expending some amount of effort to receive their reward.
The main character doesn’t have to move heaven and Earth to deserve a satisfying end to their experience. But they need to do something. Take for example Luke Skywalker. He’s one of the first guys I and many people think of when they imagine heroes and characters willing to fight the good fight.
But for all the hardships he endures, all the skills and discipline he gains in his fight against the Empire and his graduation to Jedi Knight, how much does he really contribute to the happy ending in Return of the Jedi? He doesn’t kill the bad guy or destroy the villains’ doomsday weapon. Darth Vader and Lando did those.
Yet, he did something pretty big and something he’d been hoping to do for a long time, which was to redeem his father. By refusing to choose evil, he reminded Darth Vader that once he was a good guy too, and helped him become a good guy again. He can go on to help fight the remnants of the Empire and restore the Jedi order knowing bad people can change.
Nobody earned anything in the Twilight series, it just came to them magically, especially in Bella’s case. When the Cullens fought James they had him ridiculously outnumbered, and when Edward killed Victoria he was fighting some vague idea of a person who’d never gotten the chance to show how badass they were. When some amount of effort is demonstrated to achieve a goal, like running to stop Edward from exposing himself, it’s usually something that never would’ve become a problem in the first place if the cast had two brain cells to rub together.
This goes hand-in-hand with making your threats real. I’ve seen fans say critics of the books were stupid for complaining that the vampires aren’t scary enough because Twilight isn’t horror, it’s romance. Which would make sense if not for how every single book had supernatural creatures locked in deadly combat (or with threat of same hanging over their heads) because of wanting to kill the narrator for one reason or another. It may not be in its usual genre, but it’s the only thing driving what passes for a plot in these books. You still gotta make that work, if you’re going to use it as often as Meyer does.
If you’re going to say something, know what the hell you’re talking about.
Some years ago I was in one of those Half-Price Books stores and was going through a rack of surplus computer games when I found one about a bar where time travelers and aliens are as likely to walk in for looking for a beer as anybody. It was about going on a bunch of different little adventures, each of which explored something about the human condition.
That game was of course Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, based on the short story anthology and its various sequels and spinoffs. I’d rather you read these yourself than I try to explain them to you, but basically they’re stories of the fantastic which are both very humorous and very poignant. The bar seems to be some kind of magnet for people in need of help, and the stories into their conditions and how the patrons help them out really show you that Robinson knows what he’s talking about.
Another thing it has that would’ve helped Twilight out immensely is being willing to call out even characters we’re supposed to like as being dumb and childish. And in the main Callahan's story where that shows up, it also has the characters explore the reasons to look down on the human race. But those reasons are because of what huge assholes we can be, not because we're not as good as a species the author made up (whose physical superiority only amplified their ability to be complete shitheads, so I'm not sure what Steph was even trying to say).
I don’t need to say Stephenie Meyer has no idea how to write a sympathetic character in the first place, let alone how to write intelligently on matters psychological or strategic. Or comparing her drivel to the classics. Oh sure, she writes a perfectly believable set of angst-ridden, self-righteous teenagers, but most of them aren’t supposed to be.
A corollary to this is “have someone whose opinion you trust, who isn’t afraid to tell you something you did sucks.” There are lots of ways to become an expert at something. Study. Practice. But learning from your mistakes in the area is one of the best.
Choose a focus.
I’m going to pick kind of an odd example here, which is the book Ready Player One. It’s about people hunting for a huge cash prize inside of a giant online role-playing game. And I’m probably going to offend somebody by saying the focus really wasn’t on the plot or the obstacles the main characters overcame.
That’s because the plot’s about a bunch of spunky underdogs standing up to two-dimensionally evil corporate bullies. That’s the same plot as Ernest Goes to Camp. And the tests to advance in the search are things you can’t realize that well with just the written word, because they’re things like beating old videogames and reciting the lines from a geek movie. Sure, Art3mis was an interesting character, but I still think the romance subplot feels tacked on.
But that’s okay, because the plot was mainly an excuse to wallow in 80’s pop culture anyway. That was its focus. The setting was simply a handy means of doing so.
(Just for the record, Raideen doesn’t “clutch” its “signature golden bow.” It’s built right into the arm. Yes, that bugged me. And yes, that only proves I’m the kind of person the book was written for)
It’s hard to say what the focus is in Meyer’s work, because she doesn’t seem to actually focus on anything. The romantic scenes are lifeless and it’s not until right up at the very end that Eddie and Bella actually seem to be enjoying their relationship at all. And the vampires coming to kill them can’t be the focus, because all that stuff happens as far away from Bella as it’s possible to get. When we finally have a confrontation with the Volturi, these most terrifying of opponents are driven away by logic below the kind you’d see on a high school debate team.
If you think you’re writing about a scary, paranormal side of the world we know, read some Dresden Files or watch some Garo and think again.
I’ve used that series as an example so many times, there’s no need for more examples now.
If you’re unable or unwilling to show things central to your premise, your premise is broken. End of story.
In closing, I wish to beg the forgiveness of Spider Robinson, Jim Butcher, Genndy Tartakovsky, Ernest Cline and anyone else whose work I ever mentioned in the same thought as Twilight (even George Lucas. At least the early stuff). Even though it’s almost guaranteed to be because I was saying why it was better.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Breaking Down Chapter 39 - All Tension Was Annihilated If You Read The Table of Contents. No, I Won't Let That Go
1. “So it was a combination of things there at the end, but what it really boiled down to was…Bella.” See, she was special all along. She just couldn’t see it herself. By the way, Bella’s uncomfortable with everybody thinking of her as the one who really saved the day. So yeah. No character growth at all.
2. There’s some space devoted to the backup vampires leaving. “I was sure we would see them again--Benjamin and Tia, at least,” and “The Denalis were the last to leave, Garrett with them--as he would be from now on, I was fairly sure,” and “Try to find Alistair and tell him what happened. I’d hate to think of him hiding under a rock for the next decade,” and “And how can we fail, when I will it otherwise?”
They sure added a lot, didn’t they? A lot of things that would’ve made way better books than these.
As for the Volturi, Edward tells us, “They’ve been seriously shaken; their confidence is shattered. But yes, I’m sure they’ll recover from the blow someday. And then…I imagine they’ll try to pick us off separately.”
Siobhan, whoever that, is sure Alice will give them plenty of warning, “And we’ll gather again. Perhaps the time will come when our world is ready to be free of the Volturi altogether.” Unless they were to think of that and start with Alice, which she wouldn’t be able to see because that future would definitely involve Nessie and Jacob. In fact we can pretty much forget about Alice’s power forever now.
I’m just sayin’.
That Stephenie Meyer has no concept of strategy.
And back up a little. Remember Edward’s statement that only criminals think of the Volturi as villains? I know we found out they’re corrupt, but really, are they cruel overlords of an unduly oppressed vampkind or what? I’m suffering from a serious lack of context here, thanks to our almost total lack of exposure to the world of vampirism.
I’ll pursue that point further, but first let’s make sure everybody’s on the same page about something. Vampires really haven’t come across as particularly monstrous or scary in these books, but that’s mainly because the ones we see all the time are the Cullens. Who are made out to be an aberration from their kind in most respects.
However, from what I gather, most other vampires have a much more traditional mindset, and a sense of innate superiority because of their vastly greater strength, speed, toughness and sensory abilities than their prey. Who they can hide among easily enough if the Cullens’ example is to be believed, which it obviously is. And the Sword of Damocles the Volturi represent is supposedly the only thing keeping these creatures of the sparkle from getting unruly.
Suppose the Volturi were taken down. What then? Without the threat of the Volturi’s wrath hanging over them, would there be anything in particular to keep vampires from getting bolder? To keep the ambitious among them from being ambitious? Despite Aro’s acknowledgement of the deadliness of modern weaponry, none of the other vampires in these books seem smart enough to acknowledge that humans could be a danger to them.
The Volturi’s biggest (read: only) abuse of their power I’ve heard about is occasionally wiping out a group that has somebody with a power they want. Which presumably helps them maintain order among the superhuman bloodthirsty predator population better. No system’s perfect, but what exactly is being proposed that would be a better than the Volturi? As for the Cullens, they’re friends with plenty of other vampires, whose support they were depending on to make it through this debacle, who feed the same way they always have, on people. Don’t try to say the Volturi are wiping out innocent lives with the way they absorb vampires with useful powers. The Cullens are wiping out innocent lives in order to save their own even with their philosophy of a human-free diet.
And like the Cullens never abuse their power. steff plz
I’m sorry to keep bringing this up, but again I refer to the Dresden Files. In one book our hero wipes out an entire species of vampires (one of three known). Just like that, every single of them’s gone. Their very condition dooms them to becoming bloodthirsty power mongers or killers, so that must be a good thing, right? In some ways, yes, but…their influence also kept a number of other supernatural baddies in check. Now that they’re gone, a turf war’s broken out between those other factions eager to seize control of parts of the vampires’ former power base.
Would someone step up and try to maintain some semblance of order among the world’s vampires if the Volturi were removed from the equation? Would it be the noble Cullens? The ones who consistently failed to lift a damn finger until they were directly threatened? Who immediately decided that they would call in all their vampire friends just to talk things over with the Volturi? Would they govern arrogant predators with hugs and their philosophy of an animal diet? Hell, even most of the friends who showed up to help them against the Volturi don’t agree with them on that, and the Cullens were fine making their hunting easier by lending them cars.
I posted an interview quote from the author saying she doesn’t see the world as full of negatives, but allow me to ask, what world? The story works so damn hard to make sure it stays confined to nice safe Forks, where the only vampires around are the nice safe Cullens. Are most vampires decent folk who don’t need the Volturi looking over their sparkly shoulders? I don’t know, because evidently that would’ve been too unpleasant for the author to show us, or something. Even though all accounts point to most vampires being assholes.
I ask again, are the Volturi an evil regime that must be overthrown? Or are they actually something holding something worse back? Which will probably be harder for them now since the vampires they brought to witness the obliteration of the Cullens will no doubt carry word far and wide of how the entire Volturi got their asses kicked at a stupid debate and left feeling like idiots.
Just saying if some vampire somewhere decides they’re not afraid of the Volturi anymore after this and they decide to go to war over some territory they want and innocent people (vampiric and otherwise) are caught in the crossfire, that will be on the Cullens. Specifically on fncking Bella and her fncking kid.
Are the Volturi just bad, because they threatened to kill Bella and her kid? Wouldn’t surprise me.
On the other hand, I might just be assuming things about how complex Meyer meant to make issues of morality in her books. After reading this RwV post a while back, I’m firmly convinced Steph put a lot of extra content into finished drafts for no other reason than to drive up the word count. Wouldn’t surprise me if this was all black and white in her mind after all.
3. Edward continues to relate the awesomeness of his wife. Specifically about how Aro was terrified by the power of Bella’s power which they’d never encountered before, and she can’t accept that someone like Aro could possibly have been scared of her. It’s almost cute how Meyer keeps up the assurances like the Volturi ever inspired awe and those last chapters weren’t just the last couple nails in the coffin.
“When will you ever see yourself clearly?” So yeah. No character growth at all.
4. A bit more about Children of the Moon, or actual werewolves, who the Volturi hunted almost to extinction. They’re a lot more like what you’d expect than vampires, except no silver bullets. “[T]hat was just another one of those myths to make humans feel like they had a sporting chance.” You know, I’m sort of reminded of Linkara’s review about superheroes after the end of the world, where he goes off on bad writers who can’t see any depth to a super-powered character’s identity beyond their powers. Humans don’t have any, and Meyer seems to think that makes them worthless. She has said she’s anti-human.
Bella: “And you never mentioned this because…?”
Edward: “It never came up.”
If these books had shown any ability to be self-deprecating BEFORE the very end of the entire series, that could’ve worked.
But they didn’t, and shoving this “Children of the Moon” crap in at the last minute should serve to sum up the entire experience of reading this series. Steph created a world with vampires, werewolves, and magical spirit powers. What did she think was the best use of that world and the possibilities all that represented? Surrounding her avatar with hot guys and other fawning admirers.
The Children of the Moon are like the strength-of-relationships vampire. In the larger world of Twilight, they undoubtedly served an interesting role. Within the confines of Bella’s extraordinarily limited and boring exposure to the supernatural world we actually get to read about, they feel like nothing more than cheap ass pulls Meyer came up with to prove a point.
The narration’s not removed from the action by the author’s chosen perspective, but because the author always chooses to remove the narrator from the action.
But I’m almost done, and way too tired to expect anything from her anymore.
5. Then things swing back to something that had to do with the actual plot, which is Bella’s indignation at Alice and Jasper up and running out on them. “I’ve been a wreck for weeks.” Maybe that actually is abnormal for Bella, but since the books only focus on the parts where she’s a nervous wreck over one thing or another…that’s more the norm than the happy times.
Alice tells her part of it is Bella never would’ve been able to fake not knowing what they were doing if she knew, and it really is well past time somebody got away with telling her she sucks. Although the bigger reason is that they didn’t have time; to get what they needed and get back before the Volturi killed everyone they had to set out right away. Because they had to somehow use Alice’s power to track down something she couldn’t see with it (how did that work, anyway? Then again, why the hell am I hoping for an answer to that?).
Bella tries to apologize. “I know it was rough for you, too.” Yeah, Alice had to go off and do something, not just stand in a group and focus on the word “elastic.” Alice calls her “the superhero of the day.” Following that, “Everyone else laughed now,” like it’s the end of a lame kids’ cartoon.
6. Bella notices how the other halfbreed’s staring at her daughter, fixating a little on how “He couldn’t be oblivious to the fact that Nessie was the only female of his kind that wasn’t his half-sister.” That he knows about. And because I guess in Bella’s mind that automatically means he’s interested in her. After all this, her worldview’s as two-dimensional as ever. So yeah. No character growth at all.
“I didn’t think this idea had occurred to Jacob yet. I kind of hoped it wouldn’t soon. I’d had enough fighting to last me a while.” Oh, haw haw haw haw! Hee ho ho haw HAW haw haw…People were mad at the ending of this book because after all that buildup there was no fighting at all, just a couple chapters of limp debating leading up to a flawless resolution anyone could see coming. And it sounds like Meyer doesn’t even realize what an anticlimax it was. Oh. My. God. At least I’m going out on this laughing.
7. “I looked at Edward and felt for a moment like I could read his mind. I could see he felt exactly the same way. Ready for some peace.” That was hard to figure out, huh?
8. Jacob can apparently turn off his obsession with Nessie as he goes home to sleep under his own roof while the Bella and Edward take their kid back to theirs. “I guess things are going to be kind of boring now, aren’t they?” Whaddaya mean “now,” Jake?
As if reading my mind, Meyer follows that up with “I shifted my weight carefully so that Nessie was never jostled…I was deeply grateful to see her getting a sound sleep. So much weight had been on her tiny shoulders.” Oh yeah, I could have drowned in all the tension. And Nessie really seemed worried about how it would turn out. Almost over, almost over, almost over…
9. Oh, do you care about why J. Jenks seemed so nervous about dealing with the Cullen family? Because Jasper thought it would be better to intimidate him. Bella tells him that maybe it’d be nicer to not terrorize the fragile humans. Besides, J. Jenks probably knows that unscrupulous rich people have ways to keep his mouth shut that are plenty effective without having anything to do with being undead predators anyway. She doesn’t say that part, but if this book had any brains it would realize that anyway.
And contrast this with the Bella who never batted an eye about all the people the guest vampires killed in the name of being full to defend her kid, and all of the people Edward killed when he told her his life stories, which she brushed right off as well. And all the people she claimed were her friends but who were completely ignored whenever Jacob and Edward were available. Meyer's totally pulling this out of her ass to make Bella seem as sympathetic as possible hoping it'll be how we remember her.
10. “I was sick of being under a deadline, and I just wanted to take my time.” Oh lord, if all this standing around talking’s what she’s like under a deadline, maybe it’s for the best we’re not around to see what it’s like when nothing’s happening.
11. Edward mentions how impressed he is with Jacob, and it’s got nothing to do with his willingness to stand up to the Volturi. Rather, that Jacob never once thought about the halfbreed’s delivery of the information of how quickly Nessie’s going to reach boning age. Oh yeah, totally for young readers. Come on, what else could he have been talking about when he mentioned her lupine boyfriend and how soon she’ll be a physical adult?
More about the dhampyr, how seeing Bella and Edward has changed his entire perspective on life. “Oh, he wasn’t staring at her -- he was staring at you.” See, in Edward, he sees “…what his father should have been.” An overemotional stalker? Look, even if he’s not breaking into Bella’s bedroom anymore because it’s his bedroom now, he still casually invades the privacy of everyone around him. Seriously, Bella learned how to control her power as a result of this. Is there any reason Edward couldn’t learn to control his? No, because being able to do that’s romantic or some shit. Just wait.
As for Bella, the halfbreed’s seen that someone lived through the experience of having a half-vampire kid. Because Bella has a healthy relationship with the spawn that nearly killed her (if such a thing exists in this universe), he’s started to think that maybe he’s not inherently evil for killing his mom through the birthing process. Oh, thank God the very last of the faceless characters smooshed into this book got a new outlook on life! And as always Bella changes everything without doing anything. What a damn Sue.
12. “I smiled for Nauel’s happiness and then thought that today belonged to happiness.” My, how…poetic?
“Though Irina’s sacrifice was a dark shadow against the white light, keeping the moment from perfection, the joy was impossible to deny.” Irina made a bad call against the biggest bad guys and died for it. What kind of “sacrifice” am I meant to be seeing? On the other hand, yeah, who cares about her dying? In Bella’s case it almost sounds like she’s pushing it aside so nothing’ll distract her from le sexy time.
“Tomorrow I would go see my father.” She’s lost nothing, given up nothing, did next to nothing, and not grown a bit. Boy she’s earned every bit of her happy ending.
“Suddenly, I was sure that I wouldn’t find him there alone. I hadn’t been as observant as I might have in the last few weeks,” The last few weeks? “but in this moment it was like I’d known all along. Sue would be with Charlie--the werewolves’ mom with the vampire’s dad--and he wouldn’t be alone anymore. I smiled widely at this new insight.” I thought they weren’t real werewolves. Anyway, are Charlie and Sue supposed to be dating? More to the point, am I supposed to be happy for that when Sue’s just another of the books’ names that it thinks is a character? These books’ idea of character development is lazier than sticking satanic horns on someone so we’ll know he’s the bad guy. At least that implies some minimal amount of effort.
“But most significant in this tidal wave of happiness was the surest fact of all: I was with Edward. Forever.” Yay.
“As a general rule, I didn’t pull away. Okay, it was more than a general rule. This was a first.” Before you get excited, still no character growth. Let me tell you why.
13. It’s because Bella’s learned to do one more thing with her shield. That is, she can stretch it far enough outward that it doesn’t cover her anymore, allowing Edward to invade even her mind, and see their romantic moments through her eyes. I can’t imagine why he seems excited about this. I was doing that the whole time, and it’s exactly why I hate these books. Maybe he’s marveling at assurance that she’s really as shallow as he is.
They start comparing how much they love each other again like it’s a contest, but it’s finally not obnoxious because you can finally tell they’re being playful about it. Is this the only way they can have a tender moment? When there are no problems on the horizon, no matter how commonplace? There’s being focused on the problem, and then there’s just being a deer in the headlights.
Bella can’t actually hold her shield out to let Edward read her mind if anything’s distracting her, like Edward kissing her. But they gush over having forever to get good at it, and settle into “this small but perfect piece of our forever.”
…and the people of Sniddler’s Gulch lived happily ever after, because they really weren’t very smart.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Chapter 36 - Showdown (for Nothing)
* The Volturi show up “with pageantry--slowly, with the pace of the invincible.”
Fooled you, didn’t I? That’s not from the book, that’s from the summary of this chapter in the guidebook. How pretentious can you get??
* “ ‘The redcoats are coming, the redcoats are coming,’ Garrett muttered mysteriously to himself.” Mysteriously how? They’re being raided by the supposedly tyrannical authorities, right? And Garrett’s an immortal vampire, with the implication given even in the light character focus he gets that he was around in Colonial America. Even if it’s a dumb thing to say as it suggests absolutely nothing’s happened to make a lasting impression on him in the centuries since then.
* Then, we get several mentions of just how numerous the various factions are.
“I couldn’t help counting. There were thirty-two of them. Even if you did not count the two drifting, waifish black-cloaked figures in the very book, who I took to be the wives.”
“There were just nineteen of us who would fight, then seven more to watch as we were destroyed. Even counting the ten wolves, they had us.” Who are the seven? Does that figure include or not include the Cullens? Look, if the author’s going to get that many characters in one place, she can figure this out and tell me.
Some other vampires show up too. “It was clear that this motley, disorganized horde--more than forty vampires altogether--was the Volturi’s own kind of witness.”
“I spared only a fraction of a second to note that there were more than ten wolves, to recognize the wolves I knew and the ones I’d never seen before. There were sixteen of them space evenly around us, seventeen total, counting Jacob.”
“We were going to lose.” Which is why you’re bothering to bury us up to our necks in all this detail of numbers.
I realize Steph wanted to impress us with the numbers gathered for this conflict. But one, it isn’t a conflict. They already said there won’t be any fighting and we already know the Cullens win. And two, it’s not impressive. It reads like an especially inane fourth grade story problem, with how it keeps stopping and modifying the numbers of one side or the other.
* “We didn’t have a prayer. Even if we could somehow neutralize the Volturi’s advantages, they could still bury us in bodies. Even if we killed Demetri, Jacob would not be able to outrun them.” So all that stuff about planning an escape for him and Nessie? Totally pointless! Thanks for wasting all that space, Steph.
* Edward informs his wife, “They have many layers of strategy in place. If Irina’s accusation had somehow proven to be false, they were committed to find another reason to take offense…We could still attempt to defend against their other contrived charges, but first they have to stop, to hear the truth about Renesmee. Which they have no intention of doing.”
Basically meaning there’s no reason whatsoever the book shouldn’t be over already. The Cullens have no hope of winning or escaping a fight with these guys, and the Volturi don’t plan on giving them the chance to explain themselves that they’re banking on. And which the Volturi should have dozens of ways to dismiss anyway, especially considering what their real reasons are for staging all this.
* Anyway, some of those werewolves Bella doesn’t recognize? “With so many vampires encamped in the neighborhood, a werewolf population explosion was inevitable.” The number of vampires increases the frequency of the wolf trait emerging? I can see the logic behind that, yeah, but it doesn’t really make “magic” sense. Rarely does supernatural power work that orderly unless someone’s making an effort to guide it and make sure it is. And as with vampire powers, other than the ability to change into giant wolves nobody seems to understand the ins and outs of their abilities that well. Which just makes it seem even less like it should be so nice and neat.
On the other hand, I’m used to fantasy authors who don’t set things in a supernatural world then leave supernatural matters as vague as possible to always leave themselves a back door.
* Seeing so many new wolves, Bella realizes most of them most be kids or something, and all of them are there, because “If any of the wolves stood with us, the Volturi would be sure to search out the rest. They had gambled their entire species on this stand.…Abruptly, I was furious.”
Species? I dunno, that seems a bit grandiose since none of them would’ve even known about their werewolf abilities if not for vampires in the area. I’d say let’s thank the Cullens for that one, but why not also say thank Bella for spawning the kid that got them into this mess in the first place.
As for Bella’s rage, Bella’s so pissed at the Volturi “I was so maddened I could have danced around the pyre where they roasted alive.” It says loads about these books’ ability to draw you in when I heard that and the only think I was thinking was I wondered what vampires dancing is supposed to look like, what with how their normal movements are graceful enough to be dancing.
* “The bodies of the Volturi’s witnesses leaned toward us…” The bodies of the Volturi’s witnesses?! Are you kucking fidding me, Meyer??!
* Amongst the Volturi Bella thinks she sees another “shield” like herself. “I wondered, as Eleazar had, if she would be able to repel me.” What exactly would the point be of two shields hitting each other? This isn’t exactly the story of the spear that can pierce anything and the shield that can stop anything we’re talking about.
“But I would not waste my life trying to get to Caius or Aro. I had more vital targets.” You’ve already said either everyone’s going to walk away or only a few are going to, and they’re going to be wearing new cloaks when they do. I realize she’s mad now and she’s entertaining thoughts of violence because of it. Still, I’m not seeing much of an improvement over old Bella if she’s basically deciding which members it would hurt the Volturi to lose most if all the characters we’ve been following wouldn’t have a chance of escaping anyway. At least, not if I’m sure Meyer’s not the kind of author who would be willing to do that and then make Nessie the new character. And I’m sure she’s not that kind of author.
* The Volturi do hesitate for a minute, and Edward relays they’re trying to pick out “key targets--me, of course, you, Eleazar, and Tanya.”
True Edward can pick up their thoughts and Eleazar can identify vampires’ powers, but they have no super-normal means of relaying that information to anybody. Edward can only receive, not project. Would anybody be able to hear him over the din of battle, and would he even be able to tell people what the Volturi have planned next while he’s fighting for his life? As for Eleazar (and Edward too, really), everybody seems to know the Volturi plan of attack and the abilities of their key members already anyway, so he’s pretty redundant by now.
As galling as it is, I can think of reasons why they’d target Bella and Tanya, the former because of her shielding ability of which they’re aware of at least minimally (and probably that she’s the center of the universe, too). Tanya because she’s had exposure to this execution of vampire kids thing, and because killing her would be demoralizing to the rest of the Alaskans at the very least.
* Carlisle takes advantage of that lull and the idiotic debate begins in earnest.
Don’t get me wrong, okay? A debate between fictional creatures about the natures of their lives, their place in the world and their interactions with others of their kind could be interesting to read. There are at least two criteria that would be need to be observed to make it effective, however.
Number one, it would have to tie back to the species in general or at least specific groups within them. Not somebody’s god damned baby. I don’t care if Nessie’s the starchild destined to bring balance to the universe (which she isn’t). That’d be both massively Sue-y and moronic, but that it’s massively Sue-y to have her at the center of all this is bad enough.
Number two, it would have to be written by someone other than Stephenie Meyer. This is not up for negotiation. She’s amply demonstrated she’s not up for something this advanced, no matter what age group she claims to be writing for.
* Carlisle says, as I have, that no laws have been broken because no laws exist covering them. He also stresses, “She is not an immortal. She is not a vampire.” Which doesn’t excuse Nessie in the slightest because it still means she’s a bearer of forbidden knowledge and the enforcers of that knowledge are literally a stone’s throw away.
Aro goes along with Carlisle’s reasoning, though (strike number one for this being a battle won by wit), and decides the important thing is that “the witness” needs to be questioned for possibly giving them a bum steer. He calls Irina over and indicates Nessie with “one clawed finger”. That doesn’t sound breathtakingly beautiful. She admits that’s probably not a vampire child, since Nessie’s bigger than last time.
Aro insists on using his power on Edward, which, as Bella helpfully points out to us (strike two for thinking your readers are morons who need this explained), he’ll immediately have access to the entire group’s knowledge thanks to Edward’s telepathy. As wonderboy goes forward, “I heard a low whimper form behind me--Esme’s terror breaking through.” Too little, too late, Steph.
* Finally realizing she wants to use her power to protect her oh-so-eternally wonderful spouse too, Bella stretches out her shield “ten times my best distance” completely by reflex. We don’t need to see every detail of every training exercise, but yeah, it’s aggravating when someone’s a savant at something just because the plot says so. Again, even Kamen Rider Kabuto had to practice to be that good.
Oh, and nobody can see this power except for her. Impenetrable, easy to use and unnoticeable. How great.
Then it hits her that she shouldn’t shield Edward as he does this, because it’ll just make the Volturi suspicious and put everyone in even more danger. Idiot.
“Edward’s chin came up arrogantly, and he held his hand out to Aro as if he were conferring a great honor.” You did it again, Steph. You failed to notice when you were writing a character the same way as always.
* Bella rattles off the things Aro’s sucking out of her husband’s brain, and is especially upset about “every kiss, every touch between Edward and me…All of that was Aro’s too.” Good, see how Eddie likes having his most intimate thoughts laid bare before an arrogant asshole.
“Demetri hard and lean as the blade of a sword. Felix hulking and menacing as an iron-spiked cudgel.” Interesting tact, trying to make them seem scary by comparing them both to weapons, but it ends up sounding like she came up with those comparisons to make herself sound terribly, terribly literate and not because she actually has the slightest idea what she’s talking about. It’s just…the kind of reading she expresses an interest in seems unlikely to have much in the way of waxing poetic on medieval weaponry.
Okay, I admit I’m not familiar with a lot of the books Bella claims to read or Meyer tries to work themes from into her own books. Again, I say her target audience of adolescents is even less likely than I am to be familiar with them. And of the references I do catch, Meyer herself seems to be the least familiar with them of all.
(The comparison to A Midsummer Night’s Dream still reigns supreme because of the ingeniously idiotic way Bella describes it, but the The Merchant of Venice comparison to this part’s a very close second)
Steph, that you can’t take a pound of flesh without taking blood too’s a loophole. You’ve sworn you won’t try to kill somebody you hate, but you won’t try to stop somebody else from trying to kill the person you hate, that’s a loophole. Dealing with something you’ve never dealt with before…that’s not a loophole, that’s a whole different scenario.
* Bella in turn asks Emmett and Jacob to go to this little pow-wow too. “Emmett, because he would be dying to go. Jacob, because he wouldn’t be able to bear being left behind.” Again, the failure of the books to draw me in because when I read that last sentence all I was thinking about was how the wolves were mistaken for bears once upon a time.
* Felix comments to Bella that “Immortality suits you.” Would you cut it out already, Steph?
No, she won’t, because Aro says the same thing. “In truth, young Bella, immortality does become you most extraordinarily. It is as if you were designed for this life.” Oh, see? He’s saying exactly the same thing she did about how she was meant for vampirism. That just confirms it, right? Or maybe she’s too monomaniacal to have ever considered anything else. Or maybe that in addition to us having a lazy author.
But she’s still not done. He mentions the pendant he gave her and which she thought to wear for the massacre. “I thought it might complement your new face, and so it does.”
Excuse me, but is there a basis for this, or is he just being polite? I mean, Aro’s about the oldest vampire in the world. Going by the guidebook he was born “Around 1300 B.C.” He’s the primary leader of what passes for vampire government. He’s in the business of finding and surrounding himself with the best vampires the supernatural world he polices has to offer. And being beautiful is just something that comes with the territory. He isn’t jaded to it at all by now?
* Jane hisses in displeasure at Aro’s praise of Bella. Seems we have a vampire Lauren here. “Hmm. It seemed Jane wasn’t happy about the fact that Aro had given me a present.” I had some pretty tempting targets before, but strike three for daring to say this is all about wits when Bella hits us in the face with a reiteration of something we just saw for ourselves.
And Meyer’s STILL not done having Aro fawn over her avatar. Aro sees Nessie next, and, after admitting she does indeed appear to be what they claim, says “But she’s exquisite. So like you and Edward.” Guess if you’re about to end a stupid series, you might as well as go full-throttle at the end.
* Seeing Jacob and the other wolves’ loyalty to defending Nessie, Aro thinks about whether he might be able to make use of them. Edward picks up on this and tells him they have human minds and use their powers to protect “human life.”
All I feel like saying on this account is Meyer talks about how good she feels about herself writing characters who make the choice not to be murderous monsters when normally they would be, yet the vampires she claims to have the most fun writing are the ones still in touch with their roots. Like Jasper.
* On that note, Aro admits it would be hard for him to get along with the Quileutes because “ ‘We none of us can entirely control our subconscious desires.’ Edward grimaced. ‘I do know how that is.’ ”
Well I don’t. And Bella doesn’t. Because you couldn’t think of anything better to do with all your space than to drool over somebody who doesn’t exist, Steph.
* Sam gets indignant about Aro’s intentions for him and his buddies, and Felix and Demetri get ready to attack. Aro quickly calls them off, because the author can’t actually write fighting.
Although I will give her some small props for him calling Sam “your furry protector,” since there’s no way in hell Edward and Bella are more credible fighters than a giant wolf.
Chapter 37 - We’re Less Able To Believe In Them, But More Able To Kill Them
* “Renesmee grabbed the end of [Jacob’s] tail as we retreated; she held it like a leash, forcing him to stay with us.”
How apt, really. Not only has Jacob basically devolved into Nessie’s overgrown pet because of imprinting but…ever since Edward said he was sorry for pulling Bella’s distributor cap off, that’s what he’s become to Bella. His only jobs have been to cave to her demands, and to cuddle and fuck her and heap her with praise and extravagant gifts. He can’t even stand up to Jacob anymore unless he’s backing up Bella when she’s mad at him.
Nice romance there, Steph.
* “We reached our family at the same time that the dark cloaks surrounded Aro.”
Meyer, you sound like your beautiful, hair-trigger-insane vampires are being menaced by empty garments. Is that really how you want the climax to your entire series to go down?
* One of the other leaders, Caius, whose only job in the series is to grouse at Aro being such a quirky, laissez-faire kind of vampire and not the ruthless tyrant he oughta be, asks why they’re not just tearing everybody’s heads off like they planned. Aro answers that Nessie’s what her family claims, that’s why. “See how many witnesses stand ready to give evidence that they have seen this miraculous child grow and mature in just the short time they’ve known her.” Mature! I’m sorry, that one word destroys that entire statement.
* “I glanced at the angry mob, too, and saw immediately that the description no longer applied. The frenzy for action had turned to confusion.”
(It’s still stupid because the core of their argument is still “your rules technically don’t cover this so you have to let us go.” If that doesn’t work for ten-year-olds on their parents, why should it work on these super-awesome vampires who are superior to humans in every way?)
The point of it all is they’re using the Volturi’s own assurance of their superiority against them. Meaning that, whether the Cullens intended this or not, vampiric arrogance is being acknowledged as a weakness. A bad thing that can be used against them. And yet, in spite of this way of thinking which seems inherent in becoming a meyerpire, which constricts them into never relying on anything but the things that come naturally as a vampire, we’re to believe nobody and nothing can threaten them. I’ll build on that more below.
* Also, let’s remember the Volturi brought around forty other vampires to witness the Cullens’ execution, to make sure word gets back to the entire supernatural community. Which confuses me, because the way they were portrayed in Eclipse (not showing up until the party was over) as well as the sidebar quote from the guidebook implies their connection to world outside their walls isn’t very good for the role they’ve appointed themselves. Even the author says somebody would have to do something huge to get their attention in the first place, and even if it was something big enough to be getting national news coverage, their response time is pretty poor.
For them to be an effective watchdog group, they’d have to be able to notice threats and react to them a hell of a lot faster than we see them do. Even if I'm going to acknowledge the reason they didn't react faster in Eclipse, if a vampire knew the Volturi were after him, it would be so easy for him to get the last laugh by showing off his ZOMG unforgettable sparkles in front of a human audience and destroying their entire operation in ten seconds. They might eventually track him down, but the damage would already be done.
Hell, Edward tried that. Right on the Volturi’s fncking doorstep. The only reason it didn’t work was his girlfriend and sister stopped him, and they never would’ve known in time if not for one of them being clairvoyant. Kind of slow on the draw, these awesome vampire enforcers.
Later Aro even mentions that nowadays humans have weapons that make them a threat to vampires (not which ones, but I personally like to imagine Kamen Rider suits. Hmmm, suddenly I think I know what direction Kamen Rider Tarock needs to head in), making the task of policing their secrecy all the more important. I have no idea how this is supposed to work.
* But let’s pretend they’re an effective deterrent. Remember what they deter: letting normal people know vampires exist. It’s their only rule that has any impact on the story. Again, I’m compelled to think of the Dresden Files, where there’s a vast supernatural world with its denizens among us, but there’s no elaborate masquerade to hide it. There doesn’t need to be, because people are so good at rationalizing away things they don’t want to think about. There’s an entire branch of the Chicago PD (“Special Investigations”) that handles cases with supernatural elements, but their reports always blame things on mundane causes because their superiors don’t want to hear the murderer was really a vampire or troll or fairy (you laugh…). More than once Harry tells us they should be novelists, they write so much fiction.
Then again, that relies on the monsters actually being scary like they're supposed to be, not no-downsides superhero/models which is how Meyer actually wrote them. Which is consistent with how this is hers and her fans' fantasy, but inconsistent with how they're still supposed to be considered dangerous creatures of the night.
* Actually, one other thing. “Is it wrong of me to admire a woman who can take a hit? Take it with as much fortitude as anyone alive, and stand up again with the fire still in her eyes?”
No, Harry, it’s not. And I envy you right now.
* Bella pontificates of the workings of her shield again, and makes the unfortunate decision to think of stretching it out as being like elastic. It makes sense as a simile, sure, but it doesn’t sound cool or dramatic or whatever. It doesn’t sound like Bella’s making an effort to nullify the super-powerful, super-scary Volturi. If anything it kind of sounds like Bella’s protecting the others by giving the Volturi a wedgie.
People underneath the shield show up as points of light (Edward’s the brightest of course, though whether that’s due to familiarity or his own radiant inner goodness, I didn’t catch. Or particularly care by this point).
Also, the way it interfaces with the Quileute mind-link thing really has me rolling my eyes. If the alpha’s underneath her little mental umbrella (hey, if she’s going to use stupid imagery why shouldn’t I?), then the entire pack is shielded too whether the rest of them are or not. How does it work like that? Why is her shield so ridiculously powerful that covering one guy trickles down through the network of the entire pack? Actually, I already know the answer to that last one.
* Caius tries to point out that the Cullens are befriending werewolves, which is against another Volturi rule. Again Aro continues to drink the kool aid that because he didn’t know such a thing existed, it’s okay to just stand there and marvel. Specifically because the Quileutes aren’t proper werewolves (Edward has to point out to Caius that it’s the middle of the day, yet they’re transformed. So Caius is a moron. See that thing shrinking into the distance? That’s the Volturi’s menace).
No, the wolf thing’s just a coincidence because that’s the animal the chief’s spirit took over. They could’ve just as easily been bears or birds or snakes or beetles. That’s a handy little development considering they’re still vampires’ natural enemies. None of this wolf shapechanger stuff would’ve ever come to light if not for all the vampires living fifteen minutes away.
* “They are creatures of our supernatural world, brother,” sayeth Aro. “Perhaps even more dependent on secrecy than we are; they can hardly expose us.” No. Damn it Steph, you stop right there and explain yourself. Why can’t the Quileutes expose the Volturi?
Because it would mean exposing themselves, too? Gee, they’re all here despite knowing that if a fight breaks out, they’re all dead. That sounds like putting duty before self if ever I heard it. And presumably it’s all genuine since anybody who doesn’t want to listen to Sam can go join Jacob’s pack now, and he’d never abuse his authority like that.
If it were to make life difficult for a bunch of evil vampires they can’t take on their own, they seem like people who’d do that even if it made life difficult for themselves. And since Aro absorbed Edward’s thoughts and supposedly everyone else’s but Bella’s just now, he would probably know that about them.
* Caius gets indignant at Aro for wanting to have a defensible accusation before they attack. Almost as if “the coming slaughter was so much more essential to Caius than an untarnished reputation.”
Again, wouldn’t the Volturi be more effective if they had a reputation of zero tolerance and merciless retribution toward anyone who broke their laws? Granted the premise of this argument to save the Cullens’ sparkly hides wouldn’t work then, but meyerpires are portrayed as mostly being a bunch of arrogant shits who only understand that might makes right. The only thing keeping them from being even worse is the thought that the Volturi will come after them for stepping out of line.
* Anyway, Aro calls Irina over, and points out in front of the entire group that she was there to spy on the Cullens because she wanted revenge because they wouldn’t agree to kill the Quileutes. Because she was at them for killing Laurent, who’d morphed from a reasonable-seeming guy into a twitchy murderous scumbag by the time we saw him again. And we’re to believe the Alaskans were having a positive effect on him??
Aro even insists that everyone call the Quileutes “shape-shifters,” not “werewolves.” Damn it Steph, there’s less than forty pages to go. It’s way too late to throw half your mythos into an uproar like that. Not unless this solves some great mystery of the Quileutes we’ve been wondering about this whole time, which we haven’t.
* Caius tells her if she wants to lodge a complaint about the Cullens’ backing the Quileutes, now’s the time, and almost looks like he’s getting off on it. “Maybe Caius didn’t understand real families--relationships based on love rather than just the love of power. Maybe he overestimated the potency of vengeance.”
Maybe the author had no idea how to actually write about that, and hoped that saying so enough times would count too.
* Basically Irina wipes the Cullens’ sparkly asses, saying she was wrong and there’s no vampire kid here for them to kill, and “the Cullens are innocent, and you have no reason to still be here.” Because it’s not like there’s anything here that totally changes the way they understand their own condition and the unseen world they inhabit.
Meyer, what the hell is wrong with your brain? This is like finding out vampires are real and having no reaction other than mild amusement. Bella isn’t indicative of her species. People would have a reaction to something that just totally twists their perception of reality askew like that.
Hell, you and your publishers were so puffed up about the biblical allusions in the first book, about eating the apple and never looking at anything the same way again. Bella didn’t think twice, and she didn’t bat an eye at the vampirism. Because the only thing on her mind was how unbelievably handsome Edward is.
And she got annoyed when Quileute legends started turning out to be true. Okay, finding out vampires can have babies isn’t a totally earth-shattering discovery, but it annihilates something they had always just assumed was true and presents a lot of questions. And they should just go, because it’s not something they’re already familiar with??
I guess, since she adds “There was no crime. There’s no valid reason for you to continue you.”
* As Irina admits she was in error, and Aro whips out a “strange metal object, carved and ornate,” which signals the other Volturi to kill her.
Now, obviously it didn’t bother me to lose a barely-extant background character. Since Irina’s only involvement in the plot consisted of being petty and mean to Bella*, I doubt even the fans were sorry to see her go. It doesn’t help that like everyone who makes life difficult for Bella (ha ha), that Meyer was apparently uncomfortable having anyone like that around long enough to let them become anything more than a walking blob of aggravation.
* (since the newborn army she refused to help fight was coming specifically for Bella, last book counts too)
What gets me, though, is Bella’s sparse description. She can tell Aro’s little toy was a “strange metal object, carved and ornate.” And nothing else? Even with her super vampire senses?
* Everyone’s all aghast. “In that second I understood that Caius had never underestimated the ties of a true family. This was the ploy. He had not wanted Irina’s complained; he had wanted her defiance. His excuse to destroy her, to ignite the violence that filled the air like a thick, combustible mist. He had thrown a match.”
Your flat, unestablished characters undermine the very ties you’re playing up here, Steph. The psychology and strategy you assure us is so involving.
Edward grabs Tanya before she can attack and tries to call her down, but all he tells her is “Don’t give him what he wants!” He doesn’t explain what Caius was doing and give the witnesses who are already doubting the Volturi’s purity of intent more reason to do so.
Carlisle gets involved too. “Vengeance doesn’t help her now. Irina wouldn’t want you to waste your lives this way.” Really? Because I don’t know that at all. Unless I misunderstood her coming to “spy” on the Cullens, which implies she came to find some way to get back at them for not avenging Laurent. Who, once again, had changed into somebody who didn’t deserve avenging before his discombobulation.
* But seriously, the witnesses. “The lightning-fast destruction of Irina had shaken them all. What had been her crime?” Why bring it up when Bella’s next thought is that this has in fact only dug them in deeper? “Without the immediate attack that Caius had counted on to distract from his rash act, the Volturi witnesses were left questioning exactly what was going on here. Aro glanced back swiftly while I watched, his face betraying him with one flash of vexation. His need for an audience had backfired badly.”
Not that any of this need be conveyed by actually talking about how the witnesses are starting to seem restless and uncertain. The two quotes up there are right next to each other.
* “Aro was obviously concerned with keeping his white hat, as the Romanians had put it. But I didn’t believe that the Volturi would leave us in peace just to save their reputation. After they finished with us, surely they would slaughter their witnesses for that purpose.”
Better yet, why not just not bring an audience in the first place?
“I felt a strange, sudden pity for the mass of the strangers the Volturi had brought to watch us die. Demetri would hunt them until they were extinct, too.”
Which presumes none of them will have any chance to fulfill the purpose they came to serve in the first place and tell people what the Volturi got up to out in Forks. Will Demetri track down the vampires they tell? And the vampires they tell?
“For Jacob and Renesmee, for Alice and Jasper, for Alistair, and for these strangers who had not know what today would cost them, Demetri had to die.”
Shut up, Steph! That last category includes everyone in your books. For Alistair! It even includes Demetri. How do I know he’s an asshole who deserves to die? From what I understand, the Volturi collect vampires they want by emotionally deadening them to their previous buddies, and then using vampire powers to have the Volturi replace those people in their minds. Innocent victims, anyone?
* Aro pauses to confer with a few of the Cullens’ witnesses. “While Caius had blundered through useless accusations and injudicious attempts to trigger the fight, Aro must have been coming up with a more effective strategy.” You have no idea what strategies are, Steph. Let alone what strategies should be to a 3000-year-old criminal mastermind.
Specifically he asks the leader of the Egyptians what’s going on, and if he thinks they should leave Nessie be. “I see no danger in the child. She learns even more swiftly than she grows.” But how does she lean in what she does with what she learns, moron? Does she know the difference between right and wrong? Does she understand the wisdom of restraint? Based on what little I’ve seen Nessie seems to be growing up to be haughty, bossy and possessive (can’t imagine where she gets it…). A quintessential meyerpire, to be sure, but I don’t see how it proves she’s no threat to their security.
* Anyway, the Egyptian leader declares that now his duty to witness is done, and he grabs his girlfriend and takes off. Why do I suddenly like this shell of a character a lot more?
Aro moves on to somebody named Siobhan, and again Meyer’s ability to draw me in. Does she even know how you pronounce that (it’s she-vaughn, in case you care)? She does assure Aro that “Renesmee understands the limitations. She’s no danger to humans--she blends in better than we do.” Ah, there we go again with the blind assurances. Because otherwise Meyer would’ve had to waste time on coming up with a reason for the great and elite Cullens to pay a visit to town and show how nobody pays Bella’s “niece” any mind, or something.
* Aro points out, however, that just because Nessie isn’t in fact a vampire doesn’t mean she isn’t a danger to their rules. “How ironic it is that as the humans advance, as their faith in science grows and controls their world, the more free we are from discovery.” Uh, why? How would real vampires not be of scientific curiosity? How does their invisibility increase as our ability to examine and understand the unknown increases? Why did the Cullens even bother with a charade of humanity, paper-thin as it was, if that was true?
And I know she mocks testosterone-fueled action movies so she probably doesn’t see many of them, but I’ve seen more than one where the government finds out about some kind of superhuman being, and immediately starts thinking of studying it in order to find ways to weaponize it. But no, a super-fast, super-strong, nearly indestructible and yet quick-healing condition…nobody would be interested in having soldiers and secret agents like that.
Yes, I talked about how the cops in the Dresden Files fictionalize their accounts out of their superiors’ belief of ignorance is bliss. The difference is the very existence of a special wing of the police department is at least a tacit acknowledgement. Not to mention how vampirism in those books (in any of several flavors) is never portrayed as being totally awesome with no downsides, as it is almost without fail in these books. I more than half suspect the reason the Volturi want to keep vampires a secret is to avoid reactions like Bella’s.
(Before anybody calls me a hypocrite for my Dresden Files examples, the big reason it works in DF is because of something it has and Twilight only thinks it has. Uncomfortable compromises, well-intentioned people doing bad things, strained relationships between allies, lasting consequences, "we won but at what cost," the Dresden Files had that kind of stuff. If Stephenie Meyer honestly thought she was writing a fictional world with a terrifying hidden side like that, well, she was wrong.
Twilight swings so much more toward happy happy total victory, Suspense Lite [less filling] I was surprised when some chapters ended without Bella or Edward breaking the fourth wall and reiterating the lesson we learned today for the kids at home a la He-Man. It doesn't really get to get away with explaining things via humanity's willful ignorance of the unpleasant. The only reason meyerpires stay undetected is because herr derr hoominz r teh suxx0rz. I like Charlie that much more for wanting to only hear the bare minimum of Meyer's idiotic world beyond the veil of ignorance.
Seriously, Meyer's idea of vampires blending in is pathetic, something I've literally being complaining about since day one of this project. All they DO is attract attention to themselves. It's only because she never thought to include it that Seattle wasn't swarming with guys in dark suits and shiny sunglasses after the newborns' killing spree.)
* “Yet, as we become ever more uninhibited by their disbelief in the supernatural, they become strong enough in their technologies that, if they would, they could actually posted a threat to us, even destroy some of us.” There you have it.
“For thousands and thousands of years, our secrecy has been more a matter of convenience, of ease, than of actual safety. This last raw, angry century has given birth to weapons of such power that they endanger even immortals. Now our status as mere myth in truth protects us from these weak creatures we hunt.”
Horse shit, Meyer. Your word that people only see through their façade if the truth is thrown in their faces like a dead fish is the only thing that protects them from discovery. If you haven’t already, read through this sometime. The evil vampires from Eclipse kill so many people in such a short amount of time there’s no way in hell a state of emergency hasn’t been declared. And I’ve been over the Cullens’ pathetic attempts to blend in many a time. The only reason your human characters are so dumb is you’re so bad at what you do.
And to nitpick a bit, “thousands and thousands of years”? Isn’t he the oldest among them at a little over three thousand? Is three really enough to merit “<somethings> and <somethings>”?
* Garrett, goes off on the Volturi now, making a speech directed at their witnesses. Two of them he knows, Makenna, and Charles. I’ll get to the speech itself, but “Charles”? With as many teeny-tiny characters as these books have, I guess some name overlap was probably inevitable. But that’s where you going to let it happen, Steph? The main character’s father? Not one of her hangers-on at school we barely even remember?
Hell, according to the guidebook Esme’s first husband was named Charles.
* “These ancient ones did not come here for justice as they told you. We suspected as much, and now it has been proved. They came, misled, but with a valid excuse for their action. Witness now as they seek flimsy excuses to continue their true mission. Witness them struggle to find a justification for their true purpose--to destroy this family here.”
“I have witnessed the bonds within this family--I say family and not coven.” Well until I have, I’m going to keep calling you deluded. Anyway, blah blah blah the Cullens are the most awesome people in the history of awesome, even among a species as inherently awesome as vampires. The reason they’re so awesome is because of the luv that binds them together, and the Volturi are afraid of that. For some reason.
Am I really hearing this? That they should witness something totally unprecedented in their known history, then leave acting as if they never saw it? Without ascertaining at all that she’s a threat or not? No, Garrett, I don’t think that’s how it works. And even taking into account what I’ve seen of her before now, it’s not like I know Nessie would never expose vampires. Hell, her “personal history” from the guidebook only talks about what she is, not who she is. Maybe because there’s practically nothing to talk about.
* By the way, here’s the official description of Nessie’s power:
That just says she shows her thoughts. It does nothing to confirm or deny whether she can lie with it. I’d like to draw your attention to the climax of New Moon. You remember Bella running balls-out through Volterra (you’re welcome for that mental image) to stop Edward from stepping into the sun to expose himself to a crowd of tourists (and that one). If Alice had done it, he would’ve heard “Bella’s alive!” and thought it was only a trick to shake his conviction. Because you can lie with your thoughts.
Aro knows you can do that; he knows every thought you’ve ever had when he touches you, and he touched Alice after she told Bella that. I don’t know that nobody was doing that when Aro picked up on their thoughts via Edward (as, after all, Edward can only pick up surface thoughts and his ability can be fooled as I just said). Or that Nessie wasn’t doing that when she shared her thoughts with all her family’s witnesses.
* And read that description again. It doesn’t say anything about whether Nessie has any control over when it happens. Does she mind-meld with someone every time she makes unimpeded physical contact with them? If she were to walk down a crowded street and accidentally rub skin with someone while thinking about going hunting with her boyfriend, would they know about it?
Remember, no one can get through Bella’s shield just like no defense can keep Nessie’s power out, and Bella recently learned she can project her power. What if Nessie’s power can do that too? She already seems like she can’t control it. Think about the kind of threat she’d be to vampiric secrecy if suddenly her thoughts invaded every mind in a five hundred-foot radius. It seems like Nessie’s got none of her mom’s emo crap to hold back the full scope of her abilities. And because vampires as a species are too fractious to have much in the way of longstanding groups, the understanding of how their specialized powers manifest and what good ways to study them might be seem pretty murky.
So, disregarding how “nice” or not Nessie and her family are, why does it never enter the equation that Nessie is perhaps the biggest threat to vampire secrecy ever just because of what she can do? The early books were all about Edward warning Bella to stay away from him because of bad things he might, potentially, do to her. Now that kind of logic’s being ignored because…Nessie’s a beautiful child?
* Also, as heartfelt as Garrett’s tirade against tyranny was probably meant to be, let’s be clear on something. At the end of the book he’s apparently fallen for one of the Alaskan vampires, who share the Cullens’ dietary habits, and goes off with them. However, when we’re introduced to him on page 610, he’s described as having “eager ruby eyes.” Meaning that at least at the time, he still ate humans. Meaning he was one of the vampires borrowing Edward’s cars to go murder somebody so his sparkly tummy wouldn’t be growling at him before the meeting. Meaning he’s almost definitely assured of his power and sees humans as meals on legs, because Meyer seems unable to write a human-subsisting vampire who isn’t. Meaning he hardly comes across like a credible advocate of basic human rights, what with how little attention his development’s given. Particularly if he changes his mind in the interests of icy marble pussy.
Don’t try to make me like this guy. Like all of them, he’s there because he’s friends with the Cullens, and if that’s so there’s no way in hell he doesn’t know they refrain from killing people in the name of nourishment. He knows there’s an alternative that works. He chose to ignore it. And with all the coupling up in these books and how the only person not to be interested in that’s treated like a bitter old harpy, he doesn’t appear to change his mind because it’s easier on his conscience so much as because it’ll get him a hot girlfriend. I know I said I’m not sad when fake faceless masses die, but that doesn’t change the fact that a character commits an appalling act by murdering someone without regret. He sounds like a big fat hypocrite.
* Finally, that pile of cowflop Garrett spews is what really cements that things are starting to swing away from the Volturi, so this more than anything is the “wits and strategy” the cover art’s referring to. My pasty white ass.
“But some of us wondered if Carlisle having truth on his side would be enough to stop the so-called justice.” What truth?! The only thing that’s been proven is Nessie isn’t in fact a true vampire. I’m all for flawed characters, but these guys are just stupid. I honestly think Meyer has no idea that “show don’t tell” is a thing.
Everybody loves Nessie. Why? I don’t know. Because everybody loves Bella, so everybody should love her kid too, right?
* Aro notes that Garrett’s “Still a patriot, I see.” Now, that evidently does mean something specific to a group from the American Revolution when Garret was a human. But is the average adolescent girl going to know that, or are they going to think of “patriot” in terms of the more general meaning of someone who’s a strong supporter of their country? Because “vampires” aren’t a country, or even a culture. As Garret himself just pointed out, what the Cullens have is supposed to be super-rare. Groups are supposed to be the exception rather than the rule. Doesn’t really work that way, and anybody who’s a patriot for superior douchenozzles is nobody who’s likely to have a good bead on oppression anyway.
* Anyway, remember Charles? His vampire power is to know when he’s being lied to, and he declares the Cullens innocent. Of what? And what is he reacting to? Garrett’s speech? Again, Nessie doesn’t strike me as someone who’s growing up to be a model citizen, and I’m not sure how honest she’s been with everybody. Does Charles’s power still work if the person he’s talking to is saying something they don’t know isn’t the truth? Or should I stop thinking about how there’s such things as layers of truth because this is just another convenient power Meyer whipped out of her poop chute to confirm something?
* The Volturi huddle up to discuss the situation: “Is the protection of our world worth perhaps the loss of some of our number?”
Am I supposed to have seen something that proves the Cullens are special and worth saving? When was it? What was it? What’d I miss? Somebody, fill me in.
* Bella says goodbye to Nessie so that she can Jake can get away once the fighting starts. “I love you too. More than my own life.” That. Means. Nothing. Anymore. Steph, have you never heard of diminishing returns? You had Bella say that so much it just became a meaningless catchphrase, not an expression of how willing she is to die that another might live.
Edward gets in on it too. “Goodbye, Jacob, my brother…my son.”
* Carlisle asks if there’s no hope left, and Bella replies, “There is absolutely hope. I only know my own fate.” Okay, how do you know your fate? When did we hear about that?
“Edward took my hand. He knew that he was included. When I said my fate, there was no question that I meant the two of us. We were just halves of the whole.” Damn it, Steph! This is a romance! They’re married! They have a kid and they’re sending her off while they die! What do you think is so hard to get about that, that you need to spell all that out for us?!!!!?
* “Suddenly, we were surrounded by murmured goodbyes and I love you’s.”
Well isn’t that heartwarming no it’s not I don’t care about any of them. Telling me I should doesn’t count.
* In the midst of all that Bella feels something pressing against the edge of her shield and then disappearing. “There was no change in the silent, still forms of the counseling ancients. But perhaps there was some signal I’d missed.”
Steph, for that to stand out, it can’t be the norm. Bella couldn’t even figure out why they were setting the bases so far apart in the first book, remember?
Chapter 38 - Faking A Climax
* The Volturi try their usual routine with things looking like they’re going down the toilet, with one vampire trying to weaken the emotional bonds between them with her power, Dakota Fanning and her brother trying to put the whammy on the Cullens, but it of course doesn’t work because Bella.
|Sure, just tell us. It's all you've been doing.|
And…that’s it. There’s no Plan B. If that doesn’t work, they’ve got nothing.
*facepalms* You know, yet again I’m forced to think of the Dresden Files. Mainly of all the times the White Court vampires used guns. “How idiotic, a vampire using a gun,” you might say. Or, if you actually think about it a little, “wow, vampires who have a fallback plan in case being a vampire isn’t enough to win a fight,” you might also say (granted the White Court are more succubi than anything, but they’re not stupidly confined to type and that’s the point). For the scary overlords of vampirekind, who’ve been in power for hundreds of years, the Volturi are awfully pigeonholed. And this after their leader admitted humans have weaponry powerful enough to make them a threat. Yet the Volturi (like all meyerpires, actually) rely completely on their abilities as vampires.
Imagine if they had a few incendiary weapons inside those cloaks. Hell, imagine if the Cullens planted a couple landmines on the baseball field from where Alice saw them coming.
And don’t say they stop because of being caught in the lie of being here to demand justice when it’s really an excuse to absorb the vampires with powers they want. Because if you’re saying that, you’re still saying they don’t have any fallback plans. They’ve been doing this for centuries, and don’t have any other convenient excuses worked up? They’re corrupt enough to ignore their own rules, but not corrupt enough to have ways to justify it if caught doing so? That makes no sense. In fact that would do wonders for their reputation and ability to keep vampires in line. They are THAT ruthless, baby. Don’t give them ANY reason to come after you.
* And just an aside for the Twihards, this is final proof that meyerpires are not nearly as awesome as she’d have you believe. Their arrogance and feeling of superiority over humankind aren't nearly as justified as she thinks.
Because for all the weaknesses she wiped away, all the bullshit science she came up with to explain how rock people can be fast and graceful (it’s because there’s vampire venom between every single cell. Yeah), all the vampires Meyer’s shown us have a common failing: not one of them leaves themselves any strategic options besides their natural vampiric abilities. None of them think outside the box.
What does this mean? That if it came down to a war between humans and vampires, humans would win.
Yeah, suck it. Meyer talks about how that arrogance of theirs come from the vampires being higher on the food chain, but you know what? Humans didn’t climb that same food chain by being the strongest or the fastest or the best adapted to surviving in hostile environments. We climbed it by finding ways to make up for our shortcomings versus other species and conditions.
You can try to claim that meyerpires would be so fast and strong we couldn’t hit them with our weapons, and to that I say ha. Do these sparkly assholes have entire branches of their governments in charge of finding new ways to kill things? No. The guys who set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner to this entire species base their entire offense around the abilities of two of their members. If it doesn’t work, they’re out of options. The entire species paints themselves into a corner like that with their feelings of superiority. And even Aro admitted humankind is a danger because of how advanced our weapons have gotten.
Do they function well as units? No, they don’t, and it’s so incredibly rare for vampires to form longterm groups it almost never comes up anyway. Also remember that to vampires, an “army” is about twenty guys. Evidently because their arrogance and short attention spans prohibit anything larger.
Plus, the combination of unearthly beauty and corpselike pallor Meyer gave her vampires makes them easy to identify, even out of the sun. Not to mention the unexplainable unease people feel around vampires, if that hasn’t been totally phased out by now because it was getting too inconvenient to the narrative.
So talk all you want about how awesome meyerpires are. The Volturi are doing them a favor trying to keep regular people from learning they exist. Even the author of your little fantasy world says so.
* Bella takes the opportunity to gloat. “It probably wasn’t very mature…So I grinned a huge, smug grin right at Jane…I pulled my lips wider, showing my teeth.”
Again, it can’t be a deviation if it’s the norm. Granted, this one’s more subtle, but remember how Bella totally tosses over everyone she considers a friend when the Cullens are available instead. They’re hardly ever mentioned in the narration when Edward’s there willing to spend time with her. At the end of New Moon she even ditches Jacob without a second thought when sparkle-boy assures her he’s not leaving again. Edward piles expensive gifts on her, and while she expresses a little resistance at getting them, she never actually refuses them or suggests something worthwhile Edward might throw that money at instead. Like, oh, education for literary agents.
Does Bella really feel unworthy of her association with the Cullens as she keeps insisting, or is that a front to make her seem like a slightly less gigantic Sue? She’s, as noted, already a gigantic Sue, and she already seems like a narrator who isn’t being completely honest with us. I can’t shake the feeling she’s feeling superior on a regular basis already.
* And on top of that, this is the culmination of Meyer's little fantasy, in that not only is Bella young and beautiful forever, she has super-powers, an impossibly devoted (and of course, good-looking) husband and loving child, ridiculous wealth, but she doesn't have to answer to anybody for anything now, either.
Charlie could never tell Bella what to do once she started hanging out with Edward, but now even the ultimate authority of the ultimate life form can't impose their will on her. If even the Volturi can't tell Bella what to do, well, what higher authority is there? She can do whatever the hell she wants! Isn't that awesome?!
* Bella asks if Jane’s brother is trying his power, and Edward assures her that yes it is, but “His gift is slower than Jane’s.” I ask one last time, how does he know?
“A strange clear haze was oozing across the snow, nearly invisible against the white. It reminded me of a mirage--a slight warping of the view, a hint of a shimmer.” Now I’m doubting Bella’s weapons simile even more. When did she see a mirage? Am I meant to be thinking of her delusions in New Moon?
Controls-the-elements vampire sees it coming too, and tries to whip up some wind to blow it away. As you’d expect, a physical force does nothing to a field of psychic power. “It was like air blowing harmlessly through a shadow.” Great analogy. And they know the powers the Volturi’s guaranteed to use in their offensive, and nobody told this guy?
* Bella realizes that they can still win this if she can hold that shield. “We still had Benjamin and Zafrina; they had no supernatural help at all. As long as I held.” And I have no idea at all how much damage those two can do because the author likes to include fighting, yet not include it. I don’t know how big of an advantage that gives them over the vampires who are in charge of killing vampire criminals. You’re going to talk strategy, you need to give us some idea of the weight of assets you’re going to mention.
There’s some talk about who among the Cullens’ group wants to kill which Volturi, but the only one we have any reason at all to understand is Tanya wanting a piece of Caius. And not even much there, because as I keep saying our whole exposure to Irina was when she was being a bitch. Hard to miss her.
The Volturi say they’re going to vote on their course of action. “I shook my head angrily. I was tired of this charade. The bloodlust was igniting in me again, and I was sorry that I would help the others by standing still. I wanted to fight.” For once, I’m with her. This boring fluff is how you’re going to cap off the entire series? This is how you’re going to convince us the world’s been made a better place? That the Volturi are the greatest of all threats?
* “I knew he was desperate to keep Edward and me, to imprison us the way he had hoped to enslave Alice. But this fight was too big. He would not win if I lived.” That’s a significant reversal. “I was fiercely glad to be so powerful that I left him no way not to kill me.” As if we expected anything else from you, Bells.
* Edward steps forward to clarify that the problem is because they’ve never seen a half-vampire before, and thus can’t be sure she won’t grow up into a ravening maniac. If they can be convinced she won’t, they’ll leave, right?
He says it like that because he’s picked up Alice and Jasper show up with some guests. Another half-vampire, as a matter of fact. One who stopped growing when he was around seven years old. Also, “He was beautiful.” Because that hasn’t been stated nearly enough.
* His name’s Nahuel, Alice found him somewhere in South America, and his mom didn’t survive the birthing because she wasn’t changed into a vampire at the last second like Bella was. If you think I’m going to dignify a character introduced within twenty pages of the end of the entire saga with more than absolutely necessary, then you’re as crazy as Meyer is.
* Oh, one another thing, just on account of how dumb it is. He’s heard of “libishomen” in his people’s legends. Meyer shouldn’t be making up supernatural creatures in general, she especially shouldn’t be making up longstanding legends about them.
* Anyway, regardless of any logic but as was to be perfectly expected even before all that horse hockey with the forged ID’s, the Volturi decide nobody here’s a threat to their security. Aro doesn’t even use his power to verify the half-vampire’s story.
They think Nahuel’s dad, who’s some kind of vampire mad scientist who thinks he’s creating a master race, might be worth checking in on, and it’s now where you might start asking yourself, “Why am I not reading that story?”
* Bella: “Is it really over?”
Edward: (His smile was huge) “Yes. They’ve given up. Like all bullies, they’re cowards underneath their swagger.”
Oh, well that sure helps me look back and think the Cullens have faced dangers untold to get here…
* “ ‘I get to stay with you?’ Nessie demanded.” One more time, if that’s normal…
* To mark their “victory,”…I don’t even have to tell you, do I? But I will. Bella and Edward kiss.
“I couldn’t speak anymore. I lifted my head and kissed him with a passion that might possibly set the forest on fire.”
“I wouldn’t have noticed.”
You never would’ve before, either. All this crap she’s been through and all she’s got to show for it is sparkly skin and a sparkly kid.
Maybe, Steph. But if I may venture an opinion, it also takes an author who’s willing to show us they could take those steps and do something unpleasant to a character they like and that we’re meant to like. Thanks to your ceaseless worship of the Cullens’ awesomeness, outright refusal to show anything or anyone scary or dangerous, and how poor, pwecious widdle Bella constantly gets everything without trying, you didn’t give us much room for doubt about how things COULD have happened. The Cullens would win at everything, none of them would die or suffer any lasting misfortune, and there’d be no struggle for any of it. Sorry Steph, but you’re a Suethor.
And you named the last chapter “The Happily Ever After.” Ways things could’ve gone!