In Life and Death, Twilight is gender-flipped and we meet Beaufort Swan, who’s moving to Forks to give his childishly erratic mother some space in her new marriage, where he meets the perfectly beautiful Edythe Cullen and her mysterious family, and is drawn into a world and a love that could be the difference between life and death.
Ha. You like what I did there?
Actually the ‘life and death’ from the title is relating to school: ‘it’s not like it’s a matter of life and death,’ according to Beau.
So basically this is a retelling of Twilight with gender-reversed characters, and I’m going to write this review in the understanding that you’ve read, or at least are familiar with the story of, Twilight. Considering it’s one of the best-selling YA books of all time and spawned a film franchise they’re still considering expanding, and inspired the alternate universe fanfiction 50 Shades of Grey, which is itself one of the biggest selling books of all time (and a film of that, too!) I expect you to know the basics: bland, innocent girl meets beautiful boy who is convinced he’s a monster who is going to kill her while no one else seems to care; they angst, they fall in love, they angst some more. Except in this case the bland, innocent girl is a tall boy called Beau and the beautiful boy is an impossibly perfect girl called Edythe.
OK, fine. It’s not Beau I want to talk about, anyway. I’ll simply say that I had a stronger sense of his character in the first ten pages than I ever did of Bella over an entire series. I’m pretty sure that was deliberate though, because Bella was supposed to be as bland and unidentifiable as possible – hence the no ambition, no hobbies beyond reading, and no physical description. The reader was supposed to be able to insert themselves into the story as Bella. The same cannot be said for Beau: the majority of readers of Life and Death are probably female.
What I want to discuss more is the consequences of the gender swap and a few events that changed because of it. The whole reason for Meyer writing it was to prove that Bella/Beau was a human in distress, not a damsel in distress – that they were in danger because they were a human surrounded by supernatural creatures. But in reality, two major events reinforce gender issues.
So with the gender flip, everything pretty much happens identically to Twilight. What I want to talk about is the implications of the gender switch on one of the secondary characters, Royal, who’s the prom king, man-bun wearing golden-haired Rosalie in male form.
As we know, Rosalie was turned into a vampire when she was gang raped by her drunken fiancé and his buddies and left for dead in the street. She hates that she’s a vampire because it means she can never have a child of her own, and she’s jealous of Bella for being human and choosing to give it up for Edward. Royal, on the other hand, was beaten to death by a rival gang leader while his fiancée laughed. Royal has no reason to hate Beau, yet he does. Beau cannot bear children either, and it’s never mentioned if Royal wanted fatherhood more than anything else. But let’s pretend he does: what’s stopping him from impregnating a human woman and raising the half-vampire baby just like Renesmee was? As far as we know, Royal hates Beau because Royal was meant to be for Edythe, but they weren’t compatible, and now Edythe has fallen in love with a human. Royal mentions that nothing in this life is worth living it, not even his sometimes wife and eternal partner, Eleanor, who’s the strong, brash one of the group (Emmet) and was almost killed fighting a bear. Thus making Eleanor the imposing one, yet Royal’s still taller than her. Anyway, why couldn’t Royal, the king of pretty boys, be attacked by women?
This happens again when Beau is attacked in Port Angeles by a mixed-gender group of people who believe he’s an undercover police officer. In Twilight, Bella is almost assaulted by a group of men who make it clear they want to rape her. While Bella actively tries to disengage with her group, Beau actively interacts with his to plead his innocence. There’s no threat of sexual violence there at all, similar to Royal. How is changing this proving anything? Women can be just as aggressive as men and a group of drunk women hollering after an underage boy is a scary thing to behold.
Some other gender flipped consequences I want to acknowledge:
Due to her gender, Carine had to spend quite a lot of time posing as nurse, and could only really come out as a doctor in more modern times. It was her father the preacher who led the hunt against the vampires, and the vampire followed him home and turned Carine before murdering her father.
The Volturi are run by the wives of Aro and Caius, Sulpicia and Athenodora, and Marcus. Aro apparently still murdered his sister, but the women found out and had him and Caius disposed of. Meyer seems to think that would make the Volturi less ‘corrupt’ but since we won’t see the events of the other books, we’ll never know.
And now I’m going to talk about the ending. This is different to Twilight, because Beau left the airport five minutes before Bella did, which means it gave the vampire bite longer to spread its venom, and by the time Edythe reached Beau, he was too far gone. Beau became a vampire and in the last hurried pages of the book we see his funeral, which upset me more than it probably should have, because Charlie. Poor Charlie. Beau’s last words to him were horrific, and the last message he left his mother was awful, too. To fake his death rather than doing a Bella where she got to keep in touch with her family, well that was just mean. Poor Charlie must feel like a failure – he couldn’t do a dad’s job, which is to keep his son alive. Beau seems to be OK with it, but I kind of feel like Charlie just got screwed over. His son is still alive (in a way), enjoying his life, but Charlie thinks he’s dead. I don’t think he’d ever get over it, and I think it’s a horrible thing to do to a character who tried to love his son but had no clue on how to be a dad.
Is Life and Death is worth reading? Well, maybe if you have an urge to read Twilight again it would do as a replacement. The gender reversal doesn’t really prove that Beau is just as helpless as Bella because both of the sexual assaults are nullified by virtue of the gender flip. I was entertained for the most part, but it’s probably the third or fourth time I’ve read Twilight, and sometimes those endlessly long, boring conversations were just endlessly long and boring.
Overall I enjoyed my time, but I took my time reading it and I was primarily interested in the possession of power and the roles of the men who were more maternal in Twilight, like Rosalie and Esme.