Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά

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«Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά»

Κείμενο: Ιονάς Κυρατζής
Εικονογράφηση: Βερένα Κυρατζή
Κατηγορία: Εικονογραφημένη παιδική λογοτεχνία

Μερικά βιβλία δεν είναι μονάχα ιστορίες, είναι ολόκληροι κόσμοι. Τα ανοίγεις και ταξιδεύεις. Το βιβλίο που κρατάς στα χέρια σου θα σε μεταφέρει σε δύο πολύ μακρινές χώρες, όπου θα γνωρίσεις περίεργα και όμορφα πλάσματα με ανθρώπινα ιδανικά. Για παρέα θα ’χεις μια πανέξυπνη γάτα που τη λένε Ελένη. Μαζί της θα δεις αρχαίες πόλεις και τον μεγαλύτερο πλάτανο του κόσμου, θα μάθεις για τον Πόλεμο των Κουνουπιών και ίσως ανακαλύψεις το μυστικό του Αόρατου Βασιλιά.

Μόλις κυκλοφόρησε!

(Our first children’s book is now in bookshops in Greece. This is so awesome, words fail me.)

2012 Reading List

Now in chronological order:

Trumps of Doom – Roger ZelaznyLots of Books
Blood of Amber – Roger Zelazny
Sign of Chaos – Roger Zelazny
Knight of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
Prince of Chaos – Roger Zelazny
The Last Light of the Sun – Guy Gavriel Kay
Look to Windward – Iain M. Banks
Here Comes Trouble – Michael Moore
The High King’s Tomb – Kristen Britain
22-11-63 – Stephen King
Trujillo – Lucius Shepard
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt
The Fear Index – Robert Harris
Solar – Ian McEwan
Matter – Iain M. Banks
Blonde Bombshell – Tom Holt
The Cold Moon – Jeffrey Deaver
A Bend in the Road – Nicholas Sparks
The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe
The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe
The Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe
The Citadel of the Autarch – Gene Wolfe
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Iron Council – China Miéville
One of our Thursdays is Missing – Jasper Fforde
A Son of the Circus – John Irving
The Mist – Stephen King
The State of the Art – Iain M. Banks
Blaze – Richard Bachman
Alex & Me – Irene M. Pepperberg
The Coma – Alex Garland
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov
The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton
Raw Spirit – Iain Banks

2012 was a highly varied reading year. As always I’m far below the number of books that I wanted to read, but I guess the times when I was an unmarried, jobless, friendless, carefree gal of 15 who didn’t generally bother with homework won’t be coming back. Good riddance, I say. If I had to pick my favourite book of the year I would have to say Look to Windward by the always amazing Iain M. Banks, with The Coma by Alex Garland a close second.

Worst book of the year is a little harder to pick. The competition is so thick that you could cut it with a chainsaw… and probably should. I guess I should nominate A Son of the Circus by John Irving, just because everyone keeps carrying on about how bloody brilliant his books are. Well, they aren’t, at least not all of them. Second place is a tie between Nicky Sparks and Jeff Deaver for brain-numbing, cliché-laden awfulness and abuse of the English language in general. And Kristen Britain… well… is Kristen Britain. See my review of First Rider’s Call for more details.

I also had a few firsts, authors which I’d been meaning to read since forever but never got around to, and those were one and all delightful. Chesterton, Zelazny, Wolfe, Chandler, Miéville and (I am ashamed to say) that giant of both fiction and non-fiction, Asimov, are all worth a read. Not a single turd there.

For now I’m still in the middle of Raw Spirit by Iain Banks, which I am enjoying way too much to be envious of someone who got paid to taste all of Scotland’s great single malt whiskies. Okay, maybe a little. But it’s a really great read. And I shall use it to bolster my next reading list – after all, I can legitimately claim that I read it in 2012 and 2013.

No Bears But Lots of Beaver

So I’m reading A Son of the Circus by John Irving right now. I used to love Irving, but as I grow older (and have more Irving reading experience) my opinion of his books has shifted from “wow, this is some crazy imaginative shit” to “oh bother… another story about bears, midgets, rape and weird sexual disorders.” Irving is the Joseph Beuys of the writing world, and his fat and honey are bears and prostitutes. I suspect a lot of people feel that way. The rest probably haven’t been paying attention.

I have, at this point, read 30 pages of A Son of the Circus, and although the story hasn’t even properly begun yet, the book is already worthy of review.

The circus referred to in the title is an Indian circus, so this book’s ursine content is probably relatively low. As a matter of fact that’s the reason why I chose this novel over the other Irvings that are still loitering in our bookshelf, a low bear quota is always a plus. It’s got midgets, though. Let’s see how Irving will manage to annoy me with those.

For now I have two other bones to pick with this novel. One of them, the smaller bone, is that the book is set in India (a country in which Irving has spent under a month in his entire life) and has an Indian protagonist who was schooled in Austria (another Irving favourite) and lives in Canada. And like all good transcultural protagonists he’s uncomfortable in Canada, feels alienated in India, and is generally at odds with where he belongs and who he is. And while I’m sure that there are plenty of similar people out there, people who for one reason or another have left their country of origin and now have trouble settling down and adjusting to a foreign culture, I think that this has become such a cliché of modern writing that it should be outlawed. Ask anyone who’s studied English Lit with a focus on transcultural studies. If they’re clever they’ll tell you that you can’t poke a stick at a writers’ conference without hitting someone who’s written extensively and stereotypically about this subject. If they’re less clever they’ll tell you that Mr. Irving is writing the shocking truth about these poor, uprooted people.

But that’s a minor complaint. Here’s the bigger one:

The 30 pages of A Son of the Circus that I’ve read make up three chapters. The first one concerns itself with how wonderfully quirky and eccentric (with just the right dash of melancholic) our protagonist, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, is. And that’s okay. The second one briefly tells the story of Farrokh’s best friend, a dwarf, and how they met. Then, somewhat less briefly, it relates the story of how Farrokh once broke his nose on his best friend’s wife’s vagina while in a trapeze safety net. See what’s wrong with that? A lot, seems to be what comes to mind. And it gets better. Chapter three is all about Farrokh being at a private golf club and contemplating an image of the founder’s wife, Mrs. Duckworth. Mrs. D., now long deceased, apparently had a slight problem with exhibitionism. And Farrokh, his imagination now sufficiently fueled by this titillating bit of information, spends about five pages musing about the feel, bounciness and general aerodynamics of Mrs. Duckworth’s breasts. Now… see what’s wrong with that?

I’ll tell you. Why, for the love of all that’s good, do modern writers need to obsess about sex like that? I’m not a prude, really, but I find this fixation somewhat disturbing. What happened to good old “plot”? Rhetorical question, I fear. Plot’s out of fashion, because plot means talking about the world, and civilisation, and meaning. Maybe even politics (gasp!). So instead sex has become the written equivalent of what in theatre is “naked man and a projection”. It’s what once was new and daring, something to shock the elderly out of their stupor, and what’s now so commonplace that it has become the new establishment. Absurdly, sex has become safe, and plot has become something uncomfortable. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this, Solar by Ian McEwan had similar problems, but this morning while talking to Jonas I suddenly happened across the explanation. And I was astounded. It’s nothing but fear of plot. A story allergy. A postmodern disease, if you will. It permeates modern literature and sucks all meaning out of novels. I wonder what Freud would make of this.

Now, I’m not saying that A Son of the Circus isn’t still going to get around to having a little bit of plot, if there’s time between Farrokh thinking randy thoughts and all the embarrassing accidents that are bound to ensue, but I still think the absolute vacuum of meaning generated by these opening chapters is worth noting. I’ll continue reading, if only because I hate not finishing a book. Check back in a week or so to see how it went.

Accidental Intertexuality

As the old saying goes: “When in Greece, read lot of books.” (It might not be an actual saying, but I still think it’s the way to go.)

On our two-week holiday I managed to read a staggering seven books. Which really isn’t too shabby, if you ask me. Also something rather amusing happened while I was reading, which is the main reason why I’ll give you five of them in one single humongous monster review.

The one I started off with was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. I assume many of you know the movie that was based on this book, but Iet me say a few words about the content anyway. For one thing, this is a narrative non-fiction book, not a crime novel, as many of you might think. While it somewhat centers around the murder of Danny Hansford by eccentric antiques dealer/millionaire Jim Williams and the subsequent trial, it is just as much about the city of Savannah and many of its more peculiar inhabitants. While I enjoyed the story of Williams, who is sad and inscrutable in equal measure, I was looking forward to the other characters just as much. The citizens of Savannah, at least those that Berendt chooses to write about, are one and all fantastically peculiar. It is mesmerizing, though admittedly in some cases more like watching a train wreck than like anything else. There’s the guy who supposedly possesses enough poison to kill the entire city, the society lady that hasn’t left her bed in years… and the Lady Chablis. Oh, and what a character the Lady Chablis is. She is easily the best thing about the book, and while I am willing to believe that some of the anecdotes in the book might have been altered to suit the author’s needs, I believe every word that is written about her. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean, for Chablis plays herself and she is, as Chablis would say, fabulous. All in all I highly recommend the book. It paints a vivid and lively picture of Savannah and all the strange creatures that reside within, and it manages the all-too-rare feat of being suddenly, genuinely touching when you least expect it.

Next up was The Fear Index, by Robert Harris. Let me say, on an unrelated note, that I love Robert Harris. The man has written three wonderful novels set in Ancient Rome, books which I wholeheartedly recommend both for their engaging stories and their factual accuracy (Ancient Rome being a subject about which I know a thing or two). He’s also a delight to listen to, as we found out the other month, when we accidentally stumbled upon a reading of his at our local bookstore. Now, if you think that this gushing praise of Harris is the lead-up to tearing his latest book into shreds, I’ll have to disappoint you. The Fear Index is a book about the current economic crisis. It is a book about capitlism, and not a positive one at that. (Most chapters open up with quotes from Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I found extra creepy as I was once forced to sit through an exceptionally misguided student presentation that tried to link the one to the other.) It is also the story of a physicist, Dr. Alex Hoffman, and of the hedge fund that he has created. The novel opens up with a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.” The quote is fitting and not accidental, because The Fear Index explores themes of creation and responsibility. I forgive you if you now think that this is a book about an evil AI gone rogue, I had similar misgivings at one point or another, but let me assure you that it isn’t that simple at all. And I think this is where I should stop, lest I give away too much about the plot.

Thirdly (and this is where the funny bit starts) I read Solar, by Ian McEwan. Now, in all fairness this one should get a proper review of its own, because it was maybe not the most stupid, but the most intellectually offensive book that I read on this holiday. I’ll try to be brief. Solar is the story of Michael Beard, a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist past his prime (both physically and in the field of physics). Beard is, easily, the most dislikable character I’ve ever read about. He’s a womanizer, an egoist, lazy, arrogant and delusional. I could go on for a while, but I fear that all you will say is “duh, it’s a satire, of course he’s dislikable.” And yes, of course this is a work of fiction, and of comic fiction at that. Who’s to say that the dislikable prick can’t be the one who saves the world from global warming? And yet, and yet… it leaves a sour aftertaste. McEwan makes Beard so incompetent, so gross, that it seems like anything he touches is, by association, vile. Our protagonist treats his science like he treats his women: with studied, opportunistic contempt. I would have to re-read the book and write a far more detailed analysis to bring forth more satisfactory arguments than these, but all in all Solar seemed to ridicule climate change more than it warned of its dangers. That, on top of the unfair (and not to mention highly ironic) jabs at the futility of art in the face of such a calamity and the ham-handed attempts at taking on feminism (which backfire mightily and for all the wrong reasons in my opinion), makes for an unsatisfactory reading adventure. Or maybe I just don’t enjoy grossness as much as I should.

Oh yes, the funny, I almost forgot. At one point in Solar the protagonist, Michael Beard, is at a party. And, while sipping a glass of Chablis, he idly quotes Darwin’s Origin of the Species to impress some poor female or other. And I thought, what a funny coincidence… and the protagonist is a physicist too… weirder and weirder.

Book the fourth: Blonde Bombshell, by Tom Holt. I have some authors, Tom Holt among them, that I read primarily out of some sense of obligation to my younger self. Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind, all these I am still reading because I stumbled upon them when I was fourteen and had no critical faculties whatsoever and I feel that I somehow owe it to myself to finish what I started (and in the case of Mr. Goodkind out of some sort of political/sadomasochistic/scientific interest.) Now, of all of the above I still find Tom Holt the most entertaining to read. True, the books are, as The Independent mildly put it, “undemanding”, and if you’ve read more than five you’ll find that there are more recurring themes than is good for them, but Holt also still manages to hit home with a lot of his jokes. And if I get a few good chuckles out of what is essentially an afternoon’s worth of reading, then I’m sort of happy. Blonde Bombshell isn’t overly complicated in terms of its plot, but still not easily summarized. Let me try: A race of canine aliens send a sentient bomb to planet Earth to destroy humanity, because we’ve been driving them insane by unwittingly sending radio waves to their planet. The bomb was preceded by another bomb, which vanished without achieving its mission objective. So the Mark II, being sentient, reasons that it should maybe figure out what happened to the Mark I before it does anything rash. Meanwhile on Earth, tech genius and multimillionaire Lucy Pavlov tries to figure out why she can’t remember anything prior to two years ago… and why she’s seeing unicorns. And then there’s George Stetchkin, an alcoholic physicist (another one!) who’s recruited by Lucy to figure it all out. And yes, he drinks Chablis in one scene, but he doesn’t like it. And then there are the two weird fellows, who might or might not be secret agents, or dogs, or maybe both. And… as I said, it’s not easily summarized. If you’re looking for an easy read with a few laughs I’d recommend Blonde Bombshell. It’s no Douglas Adams (by far) and those allergic to pop culture references might find an untimely end while reading it, but it’s far from the worst book I’ve ever read. It’s not even the worst Tom Holt I’ve ever read (that dubious honour goes to A Song for Nero). It’s inoffensive and brief and not even quite as predictable as expected. And I likes me a good pop culture reference now and then, so there.

And then, after three counts of Chablis and three counts of protagonist physicists, I thought that that might be the end of weird coincidences. That’s when I realized that the last book I had picked was Matter, by Iain Banks. Which was bound to contain lots of AIs and bombs, and even bomb AIs. And it did.

The book is part of the ongoing Culture series, which is not so much a continous story as a setting. I won’t say that this is the best Culture book that I’ve read so far. I won’t even say that I particularly liked Matter. My opinion about the book is a bit of a wibbly-wobbly grey area, I’m afraid. I like the story. I adore the scientific concepts it introduces and the science-is-our-friend-attitude which permeates the Culture books in general. I like the bits that are about people from a low-tech background entering a high-tech environment. I love the drones. If you’ve read any of the other culture books you’ll now have a vague idea of what I’m talking about. If you haven’t: do. Iain Banks’ Culture is sci-fi at its best. Whenever someone tells me that the genre contains nothing more than adolescent crap, this is what I use as a counterargument. The books are mature, philosophical, pro-science and all the while still fun. So now you’re wondering why I’m wibbly-wobbly about the book, yes? It’s because of the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, the book is still worth reading, but the ending does a few things that, in a way, seem to negate a lot of what the books says and does. And that is a shame.

So, here we are. Five books, a lot of funny coincidences. I know that if you just try hard enough you can find a pattern in just about anything, but still… creepy, no? And if nothing else, this might give you some nice ideas about what to read next.

2011 in Books

These lists seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Either I read less, or I’m running out of good books. No, wait, I remember now: the Unconsoled, that triple-damned piece of literary diarrhea by Kazuo Ishiguro, put me off reading for at least four months in early 2011. There, all his fault.

The Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster
Excession – Iain M. Banks
The Mirror of Her Dreams – Stephen Donaldson
A Man Rides Through – Stephen Donaldson
Past Imperative – Dave Duncan
Present Tense – Dave Duncan
Future Indefinite – Dave Duncan
The Last Dragonslayer – Jasper Fforde
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
Sailing to Sarantium – Guy Gavriel Kay
Lord of Emperors – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Lions of Al-Rassan – Guy Gavriel Kay
Gerald’s Game – Stephen King
Misery – Stephen King
The Stand – Stephen King
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Tombs of Atuan – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Farthest Shore – Ursula K. Le Guin
Tehanu – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner – Stephenie Meyer
Snuff – Terry Pratchett
The Alphabet – David Sacks
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
The Guns of Avalon – Roger Zelazny
Sign of the Unicorn – Roger Zelazny
The Hand of Oberon – Roger Zelazny
The Courts of Chaos – Roger Zelazny

The Last Dragonslayer

I’ve just finished the first book of this holiday. Not written it, dear Lord, but read. Why do we need to stop the press for that? Surely people finish reading books all the time, everywhere. Yes, they do, but ever since we got a new bed and changed the bedroom layout a few months back we haven’t had a light at the bed and thus no reading in the evening for me. Which was the only time I had time for such things. And reading is ever so important to me…

To get back into the game I chose something easy: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. I love Fforde’s work, but only conditionally. The Thursday Next series is mostly great, although the energy seems to have gone out of it a little as it progressed. I’ve not even picked up the new instalment, which came out in the beginning of the year. The Nursery Crime novels on the other hand aren’t quite as successful. Maybe the noir meets fairy-tale approach just doesn’t work for me, I’ve had the same reaction to some of Robert Rankin’s work. As for Shades of Grey… it seems to be well-meaning and has some nice concepts, but is somehow powerless and badly paced.

But I was going to write about The Last Dragonslayer. The book tells the story of Jennifer Strange – foundling, acting manager of the Kazam Magic Management Company and soon to be the last of the Dragonslayers. She is to be the one who decides the fate of the last Dragon on earth and who of the many players in the game for his lands and power is in the right. Of course everything isn’t quite as simple as it appears to be.

The world is obviously based on modern Britain, but weird enough to be alien and never quite understood. It doesn’t reach the level of the true greats, such as Tolkien or McKillip, but one gets the sense of a vast volume of strange conventions and stranger history that lurks just beneath the pages. I like stories like that. Jennifer, who seems to have an awfully marketable name in a world where everyone else seems to be called after members of the crustacean family, is a funny and clever character. The kind of girl I would have liked to be… had I grown up in a weird alternate Britain where dragons exists, mages are primarily employed as plumbers and marzipan is the new crack.

The book’s biggest fault is its brevity, which might be connected to the age group for which it was written. Maybe I just have a lot more reading stamina than your average fourteen-year-old. I hope not. Then there is also Fforde’s tendency to include rather random pop-culture references in his works. A company called Industrial Magic comes to mind. There are others that did not bother me, although I can’t remember any of them at the moment (which is most likely because they didn’t bother me).

I recommend The Last Dragonslayer to any young, fantasy-loving readers out there. Hell, I recommend it to any old fantasy-loving readers. The book is funny and solidly written. The world is interesting and has a wealth of interesting characters (and the quarkbeast!). And the ending is genuinely touching, although I wonder how this is ever going to lead to the promised sequels. Still… the book is worth a read. Give it a go.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 11

Once more with feeling. Once more I shall be brave and take a trip deep, deep down into Stephenie Meyer’s dark mind. (Okay, dim might be a better word.) At the bottom, underneath layers of sparkly skin and perfect golden eyes, lies another horror. Do not go there, dear reader, for few return with their sanity intact. What lurks there may be short, only 178 pages, but it is far more horrible than anything you’ve encountered before. You thought Jake’s narration in Breaking Dawn was bad? Think again. Think again and see… The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner.

As some of you may already have guessed, I wasn’t very pleased with this one. The term “companion novella” should have made me cautious. Then again, were I the cautious type I probably wouldn’t have started this sorry experiment in the first place. What I am trying to say is that I believe I have, over the course of the last year, become inured to the level of writing contained within the pages of a Stephenie Meyer book – and yet it wasn’t quite enough to prepare me for what TSSLOBT had in store for me. (Also: mistrust any book where reading the title takes longer than reading the actual book.)

I don’t know if the problem was that the deadline was too tight, or that Stephenie is done writing Twilight; maybe she thought “this one’s just for fun,” or maybe it was oxygen deprivation at birth, but this book is seriously bad. Bad as in this opens up a whole new category of bad. Super-Bad, so to speak. Bad². Essence de Bad… oh, you get my drift. TSSLOBT feels unfinished, and in combination with Stephenie’s overall writing talent and style, this doesn’t make for a very good result.

The story: Bree Tanner is a three-month-old vampire, formerly a fifteen-year-old human. She’s part of Victoria’s newborn army from Eclipse (as in: the army that gets systematically dismantled and charcoaled by the Cullens at the end of the novel), so there is little doubt as to why her second life will be very short. The newborn army is currently hiding out in Seattle under the supervision of a vampire called Riley, because Victoria wants to keep her sparkly fingers clean for now. We meet Bree while she is out hunting with three other vampires, one of whom is named Diego. While the other two try to decide which comic book hero is cooler, Spider-Man or the Hulk, because Stephenie feels the need to show us that they both are really really really immature, Bree and Diego go off to hunt on their own. When they later return to the army’s hideout, they find the house burned down and abandoned. This is cause for concern, since Bree and Diego seem to believe that the whole sunlight-turns-vampires-to-crisps deal applies to their breed as well. Ditto goes for stakes and garlic. They hide in a cave and get to know each other. If you thought that sentence smelled of innuendo, you were right.

Sigh… so yes, nothing actually happens, but after two hours in a cave with Diego, Bree certainly hopes that something would happen. In the Stephenieverse girls take an average of 3.2 seconds to fall in love. In the brief moments in which they are not busy gazing dreamily at each other, our heroes also figure out that the whole sunlight/garlic/stake thing is a load of horse dung. Bravo, Diego, only took you eleven months to figure that out. That’s how old he is, by the way, in vampire terms. And before that he was a human for about eighteen years. Which would make bonking Bree illegal in a number of places. Diego’s luck holds, though, because he dies before he can do anything unlawful other than killing loads of people.

Sorry, I’ve jumped ahead a little. After Bree and Diego discover that they can go outside during the day without turning into sparkly lumps of coal, they go in search of the rest of the army. They find them and discuss whether or not they should tell anyone about their amazing discovery. Yes, is their conclusion, but we’ll only tell Riley for now. Maybe it’s an honest misunderstanding. Hell, the poor man might not even know. Bree is not so certain that Riley is such a good guy, but Diego insists and continues to insist on that even after he and Bree overhear a conversation between Riley and Victoria in which they blatantly describe the army as a collection of idiots designated to be cannon fodder very soon. (That conversation gives me a headache when I try to think about the logic of it all… but more later).

They hear and they ponder and think, but hey, he’s the good guy, right? So Diego tells Riley about the sunlight, alone, and as a result suffers a slight case of death. Bree, for reasons known only to Stephenie herself, doesn’t think much of it when Diego doesn’t return, and happily goes along with her orders. The army gets trained a little, they kill enough humans to depopulate as small country, and off they go to get slaughtered by the Cullens, Bree among them. She survives, or rather surrenders to our favourite veggie-vamps, only to get killed by the Volturi a few pages later. But that’s okay, really, because Diego is dead too and now they can be together… in hell.

So, now for the fun part. The three principal characters in this book are Bree, Diego and a vampire named Freaky Fred.

Diego is easy. He’s your typical Adonis look-alike vampire. Not too bright, except where his sparkly skin is concerned, but who’s counting brain cells when a pretty face is involved? My favourite Diego scene is the one in which he tests out his theory about stakes not being quite as lethal as they are made out to be by ramming one into his chest. I applaud his application of the scientific method… but his survival instinct seems to be on holiday throughout the book.

Then there’s Bree, our narrator. One thing that I forgot to stress when I was writing my review of Jacob’s narration in Breaking Dawn is that Stephenie seems to be intent on making a character’s age apparent through his inner voice. Jake is a kid to her and so is Bree, and I get the idea that she thinks teenagers cannot or shouldn’t be clever or eloquent. This doesn’t make the book any easier to read.

Bree is also really thick. I guess that is why she falls for Diego in the first place: perfect match and all that. This way their singular brain cells will be less lonely (they just need to hold their heads really close together). Bree has several good hunches about just how nice Riley really is and just how true all the things are that he is telling them about the Cullens and their place in the world. And what does she do about it? Diddly-squat, that’s what. The whole thing finds its culmination when Diego doesn’t return from his heart-to-heart with Riley. She, already suspecting Riley of being a bad bad vampire, ask him what happened to Diego. Diego? says Riley. Ah… yes. Diego. He’s… over there somewhere. Scouting… yes, that’s it. He’s scouting. He’ll be back, honest. And he’s fine, not dead at all. And Bree is happy and content and marches off to meet the Cullens. Cause there’s nothing suspicious going on here at all, right?

Then there’s Freaky Fred. I haven’t mentioned him so far because he doesn’t really play much of a part in the novel. He’s one of them special vampires, the ones that can do fancy magic and stuff. His magic is to make people feel sick when they look at him. He’s got a weak spot for Bree, so he makes people feel sick looking at her once or twice too when she needs it. He’s also the only one of the sorry lot that gets away in the end. As Bree notes in one instance, Fred is a real clever one, must have been to university or somethin’ like that. So he sees right through Riley’s clever subterfuge and in the end slips away before the big slaughterfest. He also, apparently, thinks about telling Bree about his theories. Bree, who is already suspecting things, only to always discard her worries as silly suspicions. One would think that some extra input from someone educated might be of help. The only trouble is that Fred is apparently content to look at her as if he wanted to tell her something important and then never opens his bloody educated gob. I didn’t notice at first, but that’s really what happens. He just looks like he’s got oral constipation and then never says anything. This happens at least a dozen times in the book. That’s once every fourteen pages. Stephenie’s version of “being subtle,” I assume.

Victoria, the uber-evil uber-villain of Twilight, sadly appears in only one scene. I say sadly, because this scene alone has enough laughs to keep a good stand-up comedian busy for years. First there’s the whole shtick about the newborn army being basically the Twilight equivalent of your average Star Trek redshirt. A discussion which Bree and Diego listen to without any real consternation. Maybe fear isn’t a vampire thing, like thinking.

The Volturi, as I never get tired of reminding people, are this super ancient vampire clan from Italy. They’re from Volterra, which makes me wonder a) why they’re not called Volturri and b) if Steph maybe didn’t just pick the name because it sounds a tiny-winey little bit like vulture. Also they’re some sort of vampire aristocracy/world police/super badass coven all wrapped up in one, and they are out to get the Cullens. Because everyone is always after the good guys. In TSSLOBT they visit Victoria to make sure that she’s really out to kill Eddie and Bells and the rest of the clan and not just trying to achieve world dominion through outstanding idiocy. And they wonder… if Alice can see the future, how come she hasn’t seen the newborn army come for her family yet?

Stephenie Meyer has already tried to answer that question with some limited success in Eclipse. There Alice’s explanation sounded a lot like it’s because she hasn’t decided yet and if she’s not decided then I can’t see and… look, a unicorn! Victoria gives much the same answer, only in the face of 22 vampires that are camped a stone’s throw away, the answer seems even less convincing. I haven’t decided what I will do with them, she says. So in other words she has created 22 vampires all on her own, appointed someone to herd them and gets regular updates on how they are doing and she hasn’t thought “and then they’ll kill the Cullens for me” even once. Really? I mean… really?!? That’s as if a man was heating up a large glob of glass on a hollow stick without ever thinking “I’ll make a vase”. Try not to think of an elephant, I dare you.

Almost done.

I was very amused by the scene in which Bree and Diego discover exactly what their skin does when it comes into contact with sunlight. We all know the answer… it sparkles. Bree is a little surprised, kind of pleased, but also a little amused. I look like a disco ball, she thinks. And once again I can sort of see Stephenie shuffling her feet in the far distance. She twiddles her thumbs, smiles a little sheepishly and says: Okay, I get it, it is silly. If I admit it is silly will you please stop making fun of me? No, we won’t, Steph. Sorry. But it is nice that you admitted it. Now go look at something shiny.

And then there’s my favourite item. It’s about math again. Vampire feeding math. 22 still alive, Victoria says at one point. She means the newborn army and seems to imply that there were more than 22 at some point. Okay. Eleven months, Diego says when asked when he was created. Also noted. I’ll be hungry again in a few hours and in three days I’ll have to hunt again, Bree thinks to herself (after just having snacked on two hookers and a pimp). A lot of pretty, sparkly numbers. If you add them up they worry me a little.

Say Diego was the first vampire created by Victoria. We don’t know that, but to be fair that’s what we shall assume. Let’s also say that there might have been more than 22 newborns at some point, but if you take into account that Victoria needed some time to bring her army to full strength the eleven-month average is probably lower than 22. Say… fifteen?

Fifteen vampires need to feed once every three days over an eleven-month period consuming between two and three humans with each feeding. Eleven months have 336 days. That’s 112 feedings. 122 x 2.5 = 280. 280 x 15 = 4200. That’s me going with reasonable, low numbers. And I’m not counting Riley or Victoria here. Seattle has 617,334 people living in it according to a 2009 census. So, roughly speaking, Bree and her friends eat 1 in 125 people in the Emerald City. That’s a lot. The sudden increase in missing persons and unsolved homicides is mentioned in Eclipse, sure, but this… ? Shouldn’t Obama be sending in the National Guard or something?

And thus, in the wake of this amusing little mathematical conundrum, I leave you and Twilight be. It’s been a fun ride. OK, who am I kidding? Actually it hasn’t been. I’m very tolerant when it comes to reading trash. Bring it on, baby. But with these books it got harder and harder to forge on with each page that I turned. And yes, it is easy reading. The sentences seemed to fly beneath my eyes. Maybe they wanted to get out of the book really badly. But no matter how fast I was reading, the sheer stupidity of the characters… Bella’s submissiveness… Edward’s suffering masculinity…. Jacob’s biceps… it all got a little too much to bear after almost 3000 pages of incessant, self-absorbed blathering.

But I’ve also learned things. I’ve finally understood why people are so fascinated with Twilight. I have learned to look deeply into the twists and turns of Stephenie Meyer’s mind (or Steph, as I call her), and it is a scary place. I’ve learned about grizzly bears and mountain lions, about Seattle, about the Olympic Peninsula and about domestic violence. It has been an experience. It was gruelling, but it has also made me stronger.

Do not follow me, if you are faint of heart.

Seriously. Don’t.