Midnight Sun, the 2020 follow-up to the Twilight series, was a mistake.
I don’t say that as someone who explicitly hates the Twilight series as a whole (I don’t), but because I think it makes canon a lot of uncomfortable realities of Edward’s character that Meyer is not a good enough writer to deal with.
The elevator pitch is simple: Midnight Sun is Twilight from the perspective of brooding, eternally 17-year old vampire Edward Cullen as he is ensnared by waifish, Jane-Austen loving, clumsy Bella Swan in the eternally rainy town of Forks, WA. Like the first book in the Twilight saga, Midnight Sun is set firmly internally, it is in Edward’s voice. Herein lies the issue.
Edward is a 104 year old vampire, he’s overtly inhuman and he spends over 60% of the book in deeply homicidal fantasies. It’s alarming. That Midnight Sun is a romance is even more alarming when you factor in how little time they spend in romantic situations versus how much time they spend either imperiled or with him actively considering how best to eviscerate her or her classmates with as few casualties as possible.
For their first meeting in a Biology classroom, Meyer decided to write into a teenage romance how Edward Cullen had mapped out how to kill Bella Swan, her entire classroom of twenty students and her teacher. Violently and silently. “It would take me, at most, five seconds to end every life in this room, “ he mentally intones. “I was a predator. She was my prey. There was nothing else in the whole world but that truth.” There are pages of this language. In an age where schools have active shooter drills it seems honestly bold that a publisher would send a book like this to print, more so when you consider this isn’t the only time that Meyer brings up mass murder inside of a school (it’s joked about during the prom scene that concludes the book). At some point he seems to decide that he loves her, but the reader is given very little cause for this, instead it’s frequently buried between scenes of him having to stop himself from bleeding her dry.
The descriptions of him wanting to kill her and blood her are frequently so pornographically described that, as an older reader you want to sit down and have a discussion with the poor boy about kink and sexuality and repression. Blood in general in Midnight Sun is described as a temptation worthy of sexual, explicit praise. At some point, Emmett (Edward’s vampire brother) telepathically recounts a previous kill–after making an oddly specific account to how it wouldn’t have happened if his wife had not been out of town:
except that a sudden night breeze blew the white sheets out like sails and fanned the woman’s scent across Emmett’s face.
“Ah,” I groaned quietly. As if my own remembered thirst was not enough.
I know. I didn’t last half a second. I didn’t even think about resisting.
His memory was far too explicit for me to stand.
The sexualization would be fine if it wasn’t so weirdly chaste? There’s a lot of emphasis put on the fact that Edward, our 104 year old vampire lead, is a virgin. Bella too, but there’s less emphasis on that. Edward has never had a romantic partner, never dated. He died a seventeen year old virgin and remained one; you can tie that to the writer’s faith, many have. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with being a life-long virgin, as some people live long and fulfilled lives without sexual intercourse or attraction. Edward could, for example, identify as a sex-adverse asexual. Except that Edward is not asexual or aromantic. In the context of the Twilight franchise, he’s basically just waiting for the right seventeen year old girl to magically appear so he can groom her into his vampire bride.
The language Meyer chooses is 100% grooming language. Uncomfortably so. Bella “was one of them–a human teenager. Only…she occasionally didn’t behave like one.” She has “abnormal maturity” for her age. He identifies in her aspects of parentification, wherein a child is taking care of the parent, specifically when she’s talking about her mother and how she’s taking care of her. This is how a predator talks about their prey. He asks her if her mom would approve of her partner, as long as they made her happy, regardless of their age. He breaks into her home to watch her sleep, bringing grease to oil the windows so that they make less noise so that she’s less likely to wake when he does so. She is a 17 year old girl. He is 104. Their age difference is brought up constantly in his head.
In the original book series, and more so in the film series, Edward’s alienness is a part of his allure. But in Midnight Sun it’s disturbing because you can see that it’s complete. He doesn’t understand humanity at all. He views them as “cannibals” at best and “featureless sheep” at worst, which makes his attraction to Bella bizarre since it makes him seem like he’s fascinated by a particularly intelligent dog or a bear who can do tricks.
Meyer never laid the groundwork for why Bella was a compelling character; she’s intended to be an audience stand-in. She likes to read. She has parents that are difficult but not impossible. She has friends but not a best friend. Boys don’t really like her because she’s different. She’s clumsy. She’s what teenage girls think about themselves. But this doesn’t work as well from the other side of the fence, because Edward finds Bella immediately and intensely captivating and since we are inside of his head, it’s baffling. Edward is 104 years old. He’s well-traveled. He’s telepathic. He holds multiple degrees. These are his character traits, so it’s mind boggling when Meyer writes that she’s inhumanly kind because she…chooses to work with the stoner girl in Biology class, or pretends to want to go to Comic Con because a friend was getting teased. “Bella was good. All the other things added up to the whole: Kind and self-effacing and unselfish and brave–she was good through and through.” It is possible in all of Edward’s travels, both physical and mental that he has never encountered another “nice” person but it seems unlikely. So we’re left with no compelling reason for the central romance for the book, which takes up the bulk of this massive volume.
The primary antagonists of the book don’t show up until about 4/5th’s of the way through, which means that we spend pages upon pages upon pages of text wallowing inside of Edwards mental headspace as he does nothing. He goes to school. He sits in Biology. He watches Bella sleep. There are glimmers of a plot when other vampires come to town, the promise of backstory for his vampiric siblings, but instead of spending time with them, Edward goes to watch Bella sleep next to a Jane Austen compendium.
Every moment of potential plot is arrested instead by tedium, by the least interesting longing you’ve ever read, repeated ad nauseum. It’s rinse and repeat emo.