Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “When Beaufort Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edythe Cullen, his life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With her porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edythe is both irresistible and enigmatic. What Beau doesn’t realize is the closer he gets to her, the more he is putting himself and those around him at risk. And, it might be too late to turn back… In celebration oaf the tenth anniversary of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer has crafted Life and Death, a bold an compelling reimagining of the iconic love story that will surprise and enthrall readers. This special dual edition includes a foreward by the author as well as the complete original novel.”
Review: Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Yikes. Firstly, keep this Life and Death quote (spoken by Edythe to Beau when he tries to pay for dinner) in mind throughout this review. It will be important:
“Try not to get caught up in antiquated gender roles.”
I hadn’t heard about Life and Death until recently, when I saw a vaguely Twilight-esque book in a bookstore. Given my middle school infatuation with the series, I had to investigate. As it turns out, Stephenie Meyer decided to publish Life and Death in order to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Twilight. Instead of giving her readers what they actually want (Midnight Sun, aka Twilight from Edward’s perspective), she instead opted for this “reimagining.” The entire book honestly feels like she used “find and replace” to swap out most pronouns and character names in Twilight and called it a day. The more drastic plot changes she did make were utter failures. In Life and Death’s foreward, Meyer attempts to explain herself.
“You know, Bella has always gotten a lot of censure for getting rescued on multiple occasions, and people have complained about her being a typical damsel in distress. My answer to that has always been that Bella is a human in distress, a normal human being surrounded on all sides by people who are basically superheroes and supervillains. She’s also been criticized for being too consumed with her love interest, as if that’s somehow just a girl thing. But I’ve always maintained that it would have made no difference if the human were male and the vampire female – it’s still the same story.
Meyer then goes on to say the following about the changes she made in Life and Death (which I have abbreviated in places).
“There are many more changes in the writing than were necessitated by Beau’s status as a male person, so I thought I would break them down for you…”
–5% of the changes I made were because Beau is a boy.
-5% of the changes were because Beau’s personality developed just slightly differently than Bella’s…
-70% of the changes I made were because I was allowed to do a new editing run ten years later…
-10% were things that I wished I had done the first time around but that hadn’t occurred to me at the time…
-5% were mythology issues – mistakes, actually – mostly related to visions…
-Which leaves a 5% catchall, for the many miscellaneous changes that I made, each for a different, and no doubt selfish, reason.
Having now read the book, I have gone back and bolded the parts of the foreward that I think are most critical for this review to make sense. Essentially, Meyer sets the scene for a book that is supposed to prove one main point: the Twilight story is the same, regardless of the gender of the vampire and human. In this quest she spectacularly fails. Perhaps it is her exact words that doom her later on. The changes she makes because Beau is a boy tie directly into the “antiquated gender roles” that she seemed so eager to avoid. It comes across as almost offensive in certain parts of Life and Death. For example, consider the infamous scene when Bella finds herself lost in a bad part of Port Angeles. Although not explicitly stated, she runs into an all-male group and is in immediate danger of being sexually assaulted before Edward comes to her rescue. In Life and Death, the circumstances surrounding Beau’s need for rescue are very different. Once again lost in Port Angeles, he instead finds himself in danger of being SHOT by a mixed-gender group of teenagers who believe that he is a cop. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? In a similar vein, consider the backstory of Royal, the male counterpart to sullen Cullen sibling Rosalie. In Twilight, Rosalie is sexually assaulted by her fiance and almost dies before being saved by Emmett. In Life and Death, Royal is beaten to the brink of death. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hoping to see Beau or Royal sexually assaulted in Life and Death. But the changes Meyer makes leave a distinct impression that the instances of sexual assault (or almost assault in Bella’s case) in Twilight were UNNECESSARY and were simply used to garner a sympathy for the characters that could have been achieved using different means. I am not the first to hone in on this discrepancy. If Meyer really wanted to achieve a groundbreaking reimagining, she could have gone for an LGBTQ couple in the main roles. Something more than just pronoun switching and offensive changes. Even small details, such as the room where Bella and Beau are supposed to meet the hunter have slight, but noticeable (and questionable) changes. In Twilight, Bella recognizes the room as where she took ballet as a child. In Life and Death, Beau recognizes it as the room where his mom taught ballet for a brief stint. Would it have killed Meyer to have Beau take ballet as a child too? The parts of the story that are new (such as the ending, when Beau is actually turned into a vampire whereas Bella had to wait two more books for that) ended up being a complete information dump. In 30 pages, a half-conscious Beau learns about the rules of being a vampire, the Volturi, the Quileute wolves, and all the Cullen character backstories (again, Bella had an entire four-book series to gather this information). It’s ridiculous. The whole thing felt like a money-laundering scheme, where Meyer was given free rein and was allowed to publish a first draft. All in all, Life and Death is a failure in every single way. Not worth the read.