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It's not very often that knowing how the book ends is used as part of its selling-point.
Even when modern authors choose to write prequels to the classics, you can never be sure exactly where they will leave off, or what will happen some of the other characters they choose to bring in to the life of the focus-protagonist. Meyer doesn't play any of these games though. She is up-front. You have met Bree. Correction: if you know anything more about Meyer and her phenomenally successful "Twilight" series than you get from the film reviews, you will have heard of her; if you've read the books in order (and in the case of "Twilight" you really have to do so ) then you will have met Bree. If you've met Bree you know that her second life is indeed Short. And that she does not come to a good end at all.
Meyer reminds us of all of this in her introduction to the novella that is "The Short Second Life…"
I will tell you no more, just in case you haven't caught up yet. Or, in case you have been silly enough only to watch the films. Not a patch by all accounts – go buy the books!
Meanwhile, Meyer decided to publish what is really nothing more than a creative-writing-class exercise: take a minor character and tell THEIR story.
Bree appears very briefly in the main stories in Eclipse, where the strange treaty between the Cullen vampire clan and the local werewolves is bringing both into conflict with the mighty Volturi. In the seminal battle that ensues Bree surrenders, the Cullens accept this, the Volturi don't…
But who is she? What is she? And why does Meyer bother to revisit her?
Bree doesn't remember her previous life. She does remember the power and excitement of her conversion. Now she has speed, and extraordinarily powerful senses, physical strength and unbelievable reflexes. She also has an unstoppable thirst. For blood.
Bree is a Newborn.
A human recently transformed into a vampire.
As such, she is kept under close control. She belongs to a coven, or a clan. Like any school it has rules. Most of her fellow-newborns don't follow them. But most of her fellow-newborns are… easily led, shall we say? They are led by Riley – who has an agenda of his own – and Raoul who in the human world would simply be a thug. Bree is confused enough to follow, but intelligent enough to stay out of the way and watch and wait before she starts to question. She keeps her head down. She hangs around Freaky Fred, and reads books. When she hunts, she hunts fair and by the book.
In Diego she finds a kindred spirit – one who shows her that all they're being told isn't exactly as black as it's painted. There is also light. But it is into the dark they are being led. As pawns in a dangerous game, the small clan is led to fight an enemy they cannot begin to understand…
Bree's story is really Meyer's attempt to broaden our understanding of the world she has created for Bella and Edward. Moving away from the Cullens she tries to show us what it is like for more 'normal' vampires, the ones who haven't foresworn the hunt, the ones who are newborn into a second life they cannot understand, the ones who exuberantly relish its joys and those who try to limit its risks.
As with all of the Twilight books, Meyer takes an intrinsically dark character and gives us another perspective on them. In doing so, she risks showing all of the vampires in her world as poor damaged souls, who are just doing their best in the circumstances. Maybe that's her intention. The result however is to take the "edge" off. Worlds do have evil within them. Fictitious worlds especially so. To remove all of that, or erode it, bit by bit, is to create a world where there is no struggle and without struggle there can be no achievement, no heroes. In the real world that might actually be no bad thing, but I'm not sure I'd necessarily want to go on reading about it.
"The Short Second Life…" is an enjoyable read for fans of the series, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else. It has none of the passion and suspense, or indeed of the humour, of the longer books. Restricting it to under 200 pages was a good call. It's background reading. Bree is sympathetic as you'd expect, Diego likewise. Raoul doesn't come over as quite as nasty as he should and most of the other characters (with the exception of the deliciously inexplicably horrible Freaky Fred) are mere cyphers.
We get to understand what Meyer's vampires are: what they can and cannot do; what from the traditional myths do and don't apply in her creation, but part of me does feel that it's all 'too much information'.
Of course the Twilight series are written as teen-books so I'm not expecting full-grown filth and gore and exponential terror, but even so if Meyer has anything more to say on the history of Bella & Edward I'd like to see her take them back into darker territory. I'd also like to see a return to full-length fiction.
Published in hardback under the Atom imprint of LittleBrown ISBN 978-1-907410-36-9 pp 177 Cover price £11.99