By Stephanie Meyer
The sequel to Twilight begins happily enough with Edward inviting the reluctant yet still very human Bella to celebrate her 18th birthday with the Cullen clan at their swanky yet isolated lair. Birthday girl is disgruntled she’s now older than her boyfriend, who’s been frozen at 17 for almost a century, but that’s the least of her worries. The party comes to a crashing end when Edward realizes what a dangerous predicament he’s put his human girlfriend in by having her associate with his family of vampires, some still prone to weakness at the sight of human blood.
Edward decides that the best thing to do is to leave Bella – for good. A few months after his abandonment, we spend a good chunk of the first third of New Moon dealing with our heroine putting up a brave face despite her catatonic depression. In her struggle with vampire withdrawal, Bella renews her friendship with Jacob, the teenage son of Billy Black.
There were hints dropped in the previous installment about Jacob’s possible supernatural Quileute heritage, but before you can say “love triangle”, Jacob discovers he’s turned into a teenage werewolf! Sounds ridiculous, but Meyer somehow manages to spin out a rather captivating yarn behind Jacob’s transformation. He’s one of the direct descendents of shape-shifting ancestors who protect the tribe against the evil Cold Ones, since bloodsuckers are part of the Quileute legends too.
Things get rolling when one of the bad vamps from the previous book is back looking for vengeance. Learning that her mate James was eliminated by the Cullens, Victoria seeks to destroy Bella, who was James' original prize. Since Edward’s stepsister has the gift of seeing into the future, Alice returns to Forks thinking that Bella is dead. Due to some catastrophic misunderstanding, Alice and Bella then race to Italy to rescue Edward from the ancient and formidable vampire coven, the Volturi.
The Volturi keep all the vampires of the world in check and their guards have deadly vampire abilities of their own. Aro, the Volturi leader, covets the gifts of the Cullen coven, and discovers that Bella is impervious to their psychic attacks. He decides to release Edward out of respect to Carlisle and with the promise that Bella will one day be turned into a vampire. Bella is thus reunited with her beloved Edward, and she learns that he truly loves her after all. Bella, Edward and his family return to Forks to resume their lives, but now there is the complication with Jacob and the Quileute werewolves!
Like the past book, Meyer does a great job describing the gloomy beauty of the rainy Pacific Northwest and the geography of the Olympic Peninsula. It seems to be a pattern now where Meyer starts off the first chunk of the story with a near-banal lull with Bella entrenched in her all-too-real and all-too-ordinary small town existence. Then she suddenly turns on the action switch, ramps up the conflict and delivers on the fun and fantastic. There’s a reason why the saga has become such a popular phenomenon.
Of course, there’s the romance between Bella and Edward that sends young hearts racing, although their love for each other is so totally unreal. These two spend almost every waking and sleeping moment together! The hyper-romantic codependent relationship between human and supernatural being does not exactly make a healthy influence on teenage girls! The copious cliches of two souls intertwined and words describing the pain of heart-wrenching separation were enough to make me gag. The positive part is that Bella and Edward are still compelling protagonists, if you can get past their self-deprecating declarations of love.
Plus, the interesting backstories on the other vampires, such as Carlisle and Alice, and the Quileute characters who are tied to Jacob, like Sam Uley and Leah Clearwater, also enrich the narrative. There is definitely enough there to move on to the next installment!