When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun. This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?
Like most adults who enjoyed reading the Twilight series in their pre-teen and teen years, I have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I am acutely aware of the problematic elements in the romance that forms the basis of the book. But on the other, it was the first romance I’d ever read and I have a nostalgic attachment to it. If there is one thing that is undeniable though, it is that this series with its flawed characters will always be a part of me.
I revisit it once in a while when I want to escape my real world problems and take refuge in the quiet and beautiful world that is Forks. So when Stephenie Meyer announced the launch of Midnight Sun in the middle of this pandemic, I was overjoyed. Reading about an emotional vampire’s first love is a sure-fire way to take the edge off the stressful times we live in.
Midnight Sun is like beauty and the beast told through the eyes of the beast. So I was prepared for self-loathing and guilt forming the major theme of the book. What I was unprepared for was the amount of it. Edward is a hundred-year-old telepathic vampire with overdeveloped mental faculties. So he overthinks, A LOT. Whether he is brooding over how impossible his love is, analysing Bella’s minute facial cues, or keeping his thirst in check, he thinks about every action and its consequences from ten different angles.
As he should, because no matter how civilised they try to be the Cullens are a family of blood-thirsty vampires. He has to constantly fight against his nature but he never gives himself credit when he wins the fight. This makes his head an interesting, albeit a bit taxing, place to be in.
What I liked
I don’t think any other book would have benefitted so much from a retelling through another character’s POV. Even if she is supposed to be mature for her age, Bella is a teenage girl. From her POV, this is a simple story of how she falls in love with a strange but good-looking vampire who saves her life multiple times. But from Edward’s POV, it is the story of a self-aware, self-loathing monster falling in love for the first time in a century, with a would-be prey. The premise becomes a hundred times more intriguing.
Bella is also more interesting from his POV. You can easily see what Edward finds alluring in her. She, with her sweet-smelling blood and mental muteness, turns his monotonous existence upside down.
I liked that Edward’s complicated relationship with Rosalie is a much bigger part of this story. Meyer has used Rosalie as a stand-in for her most critical readers. Her disdain for Edward, apart from being entertaining, made him more real and relatable. In general, watching the Cullens disagreeing with each other but rallying to protect Bella (which is described in much more detail than in Twilight), made them feel more like a close-knit family.
What I disliked
The book could have used more editing. I get that this is a unique challenge because Meyer had to include most of the scenes from Twilight, and also create new storylines about Edward’s relationship with his family and his past. But the repetitive nature of his self-loathing started to get boring after a point. And I did not enjoy the pages and pages of descriptions about the Cullen Baseball match or their drive towards the Ballet studio to save Bella.
Edward’s view into Alice’s psychic mind was interesting in the beginning. But Meyer dwelled on it for an inordinate amount of time in an effort to fill the Twilight plot holes.
Although we see the seeds for the plot of the next book being planted here, I do not look forward to a New Moon retelling. If being inside Edward’s head while he is the happiest he’d ever been in more than a century of existence can be this miserable, you can imagine how horrible it would be when he wants to kill himself.
Twilight is clearly a book that people love to hate. Though I and many others are starting to feel that most of the hatred it gets is undeserved, some of the criticism is very valid and should be considered seriously.
So how does Meyer do with her second chance?
- Bella’s personality: One of the fair criticisms against Twilight is that a girl with no special qualities and no discernible personality has a superhuman immortal falling in love with her just for being her. In Twilight, if Bella did have any personality, we barely get to see it before she starts obsessing over Edward from the first chapter. Meyer has tried to rectify that to a certain extent by adding scenes and conversations about the ‘good deeds’ she does, her plans for the future, and her relationship with her mother.
- Bella’s agency: Another criticism is that Bella just lets life happen to her and she has no agency. I disagree with this because to me Bella chooses to be with Edward every step of the way. In Midnight Sun, Meyer reinforces the fact that Bella makes the decisions, again and again. To Edward’s utter delight and dismay, she falls in love with him even when he is trying to avoid her, she chooses to not care about the fact that he is a vampire, she decides to make herself a part of the Cullen-world inspite of his protests, half-hearted or not.
- Age difference: Edward is too old for Bella, or for anyone really. This has never bothered me because his experience when it comes to relationships is the same as Bella’s. And he is supposed to be frozen, physically and mentally, at 17. So while we do see him being concerned about her lack of worldly experience, we also see him experience love, jealousy, and the pain of separation (things he’s only read in books) for the first time. By the end of the book, he ends up discovering a lot of new things about himself – which is no mean feat given that he’s existed for a century.
- Edward’s controlling behaviour – Now we come to the most important criticism. He watches her sleep and stalks her without her knowledge. He can be pushy and overprotective. This is problematic in spite of Bella’s willingness to play along. There is no way that Meyer can justify this but there are a few points she calls out:
- The concept of privacy doesn’t really exist in Edward’s world because he can hear everyone’s thoughts anyway.
- He is frozen as a boy from 1919 and he does not know how to court a lady in 2005 (his words, not mine).
- No one hates Edward more than he hates himself while doing these things.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this makes his stalking okay. I am only saying that Meyer cannot go back in time to un-write it. So if not for anything else, I give her credit for considering the feedback seriously and trying to fix it, instead of ignoring it.
At the end of the day, Twilight/Midnight Sun is about two imperfect people falling in love and being perfect for each other. It should not be seen as anything more.
Bonus: All of Edward the moody and jealous vampire’s murderous thoughts about Mike Newton!
- “I frequently amused myself by imagining backhanding him across the room and into the far wall. It probably wouldn’t injure him fatally.…”
- “I imagined the sound it would make if his body hit the opposite wall with enough force to break most of his bones.”
- “Though this insignificant, undeserving boy might not be the one Bella would say yes to, I yearned to pulverize his skull with my fist, to let him stand as a proxy for whoever it would be.”
- “I wasn’t going to stand around arguing with the moron.”
- “My hand twitched, wanting to teach him some manners. I would have to watch myself, or I would end up actually killing this obnoxious boy.”
- “I thought about snapping poor Mike myself, and enjoyed the mental picture intensely.”
- “I accidentally uprooted the young spruce tree my hand was resting on when he pinched a strand of her hair between his fingers.”
- “I wanted so badly to race across the campus, too fast for human eyes, and snatch her up—to steal her away from the boy I hated so much in this moment I could have killed him for no reason but to enjoy it.”
Edward seriously needs to chill.