So, what does he have to say? Well, a lot. More than 600 pages a lot. The general “Twilight” story remains unchanged — girl moves to Forks, Wash., vampire boy appears unimpressed, then gets one whiff of her blood, which smells like the vamp’s version of Cinnabon, and becomes obsessed. (The feeling is mutual.) But layered atop that familiar tale is a new look at Edward’s internal struggle concerning Bella, along with deep glimpses into his past and his family dynamics, that make him a more complex, and better, character.
It’s a take on Edward that fans almost didn’t get to see. Chapters from the book were leaked online in 2008, and Meyer said that the finished book would most likely not be published. But 12 years later, she made like a Cullen and dared to let it see daylight. And while publishing during a pandemic doesn’t sound like a dream scenario, it feels appropriate: Edward “died” and became a vampire during the 1918 flu pandemic.
“Midnight Sun” is still the Edward and Bella love story, but with a heightened look at how Edward deals with the extreme conflicts of his love. He thinks Bella’s the greatest woman on earth and feels reborn when she makes his “dead frozen heart beat again,” but he also knows the odds are high that he’ll massacre her in biology class. As he put it, “She wanted me — bliss. She was risking her very life for me — unacceptable.”
Getting inside that struggle is tension-building, as is a new look at his powerful relationship with his future-seeing sister, Alice, when they work together to save Bella from her predicted fate. Retaining that suspense is a feat considering most readers know the story. The best thing about an Edward Cullen book turns out to be his gift of telepathy, the thoughts of others coming off like the footnotes you never knew you needed. We see what Bella’s high school coterie is brooding about (sex, prom, “that freak, Cullen”), the inner thoughts of Bella’s potential attackers in Port Angeles and what Edward’s family is thinking (so much sass from Emmett: “I can’t believe you missed the game last night just to watch somebody sleep”; constant love from Esme; great expectations from Carlisle).
We can’t hear Bella’s thoughts. They remain closed to Edward, but since most of his are about her, she remains the star of “Midnight Sun.” He constantly describes her as a feather of a girl — “It’s just that you are so soft, so fragile. I have to mind my actions every moment that we’re together so that I don’t hurt you . . . You don’t realize how incredibly breakable you are.” (Yes, the writing is still “Twilight” writing. If you came for modern and concise, you’re opening the wrong book.) Edward is obsessed with how self-sacrificing she is, but to the reader she comes across as a stronger woman than in the original story.
Bella has been analyzed and reanalyzed as the ultimate anti-feminist, feminist, or the passive party in an abusive relationship, and this version of Bella will inspire those arguments again, because a big part of “Midnight Sun” is still Edward stalking her. He sneaks into her bedroom and watches her sleep, and it does make you want to scream “hashtag consent!” even if he’s aware that he’s “an obsessed vampire stalker” this time around. However you see Bella, what becomes clear in “Midnight Sun” is that she is a woman who knows what she wants. She wants the hottest guy in school, she wants him bad and she wants him forever. So, she has to give up that little thing called a heartbeat and the ability to eat solid food. When eternal life is on the table with someone who really sees you, isn’t that just a little appealing?
The Edward/Bella power dynamic is still ripe for criticism, as is the depiction of the Quileute characters who don’t get much time in this book, not even Jacob Black. They still come off as stereotypical B-list characters. Meyer said that in writing “Midnight Sun” she was locked into the original story. But leaving those aspects unchanged adds a staleness to what is in many other ways an entertaining page-turner carried by frisson after frisson, that sexual tension of youth.
So, will team Edward be happy with this book? The original team Edward from 2005 who binged the books and watched all five series-inspired movies that pulled in over $3 billion at the box office? Absolutely. Meyer wrote with her biggest fans in mind, dedicating the book to them, and plunging into the mind of Washington state’s most complicated teenage vampire as he falls for a woman who is more determined than we’ve given her credit for.
Karin Tanabe is the author of five books, including, most recently, “A Hundred Suns.”
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 672 pp. $27.99