A few years ago, I took note of the increasing frenzy surrounding Twilight, the series of books by Stephenie Meyer about a plain girl in Forks, Washington, who falls in love with a vampire. Never being much interested in vampires myself, I took little notice at first, but eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. Although the series did not draw me in nearly as fully as Harry Potter, I did find it difficult to put each book down after I had started reading, and after reading Spotlight, John Granger's commentary on the possible alchemical framework of the story, I find elements of the series less grating than before. While I would never call myself a Twihard, I'm glad that I started the series and saw it through to the finish.

Twilight - We meet our narrator, Bella Swan, a nondescript girl who has just left her home in Arizona with her free-spirited mother to live with her father Charlie, a police chief, in the dreary town of Forks. Bella is a rather glum teen, and though she quickly makes a few acquaintances, she feels little kinship with them. However, she becomes fascinated with Edward, the gorgeous boy who sits next to her in science class, and the small cluster of equally attractive people he eats lunch with. While everyone else at school avoids this little clique, Bella wants to get closer. Little does she realize just how close she will soon get.

Some hints from an old friend named Jacob Black lead Bella to the startling conclusion that Edward and his siblings are vampires. When Edward, after evading her for several weeks, rescues accident-prone Bella from a dangerous situation, he confirms her suspicions, and despite his misgivings, he confesses himself irresistibly attracted to her. Edward is dazzlingly handsome, and he also is a perfect gentleman. What's more, he and his fellow vampires have sworn off drinking human blood, disciplining themselves to only drink the blood of animals, making them monsters with a deep desire to retain their humanity.

My biggest complaint with the book is probably Bella's incessant praise of Edward's every perfect feature, especially since she quickly runs out of interesting ways to say the same thing. She repeats herself over and over again, commenting on his "alabaster" complexion and "golden" eyes, among many other traits. However, it's easy to understand why she loves Edward, who shows such courtesy and self-control. His protective instincts are powerful, though Bella's alliance with him puts her in danger's path. This is a fairly action-packed book, and it works as a stand-alone, though if you liked the first volume, you'll want to continue to the others.

New Moon - This book was the hardest for me to take, since we spend the majority of the book with a Bella who has checked out of life entirely. Edward, fearing that she will never be safe as long as he is near her, abandons her, leaving her with a massive hole in her chest, as she tells us nearly 40 times throughout the book. It's painful to see Bella in such a despairing state, especially since we are reading from her perspective, and since Edward is generally regarded as the most popular character in the series, I'm sure that many people found his absence throughout the majority of the book deeply frustrating.

On the other hand, the book allows Bella to spend more time with Jacob, with whom she enjoys a simple friendship that feels much more normal and natural. Twilight was all about getting to know Edward, a vampire, while New Moon is all about getting to know Jacob, a werewolf. In Meyer's world, werewolves and vampires are sworn enemies, though a treaty keeps Jacob and his tribe from interfering with the Cullens as long as they remain "vegetarian" and don't transform anyone else. Introducing Jacob as a legitimate romantic rival heated up the fan base and made this series the subject of shipping wars as intense as those in Harry Potter and LOST.

Throughout the series, my favorite character is Alice, Edward's exuberant "sister" who soon becomes Bella's closest friend. She takes on a larger role here as a misunderstanding spirals out of control and Edward's life hangs in the balance. This book also introduces us to the Volturi, an intimidating group of vampires who reign in judgment over the rest of the vampire world, and they are at the heart of what I consider the most traumatizing scene in the series. This scene was unsettling enough to make me consider giving up on the series, but my curiosity ultimately was enough to keep me reading.

Eclipse - I'm glad I stuck with it, since I liked Eclipse much better than New Moon. At this point, the story really gets cooking, to the extent that the first two books merely feel like set-up. Now Bella and Edward have reunited, but Charlie disapproves of their relationship, and Jacob, still hopelessly in love, despises Edward for whisking Bella away from him. After a period of estrangement, Bella convinces Jacob to renew their friendship and tries to forge a peace between the two young men she cares for so deeply.

In the meantime, news of a savage series of killings in nearby Seattle has everyone on edge, and Bella soon learns that vampires are responsible. As their circle widens, she must work with the Cullens as well as Jacob's tribe of werewolves in an effort to wipe out this potent threat. While romance is always an element of these novels, it takes a backseat to wider issues like the safety of Charlie and the ability for warring factions to come together for the greater good.

Breaking Dawn - Bella graduates from high school and, in spite of her qualms about the institution of marriage, agrees to wed Edward, while he in turn promises that he will transform her into a vampire, though he still has deep misgivings about it, particularly because he fears irreparable damage to her soul. He also suspects that once he transforms her, her savagery and thirst for blood will be so strong that it will be months or years before they can enjoy their married life. In light of this, they decide to consummate their marriage while she is still human, with the result that she becomes pregnant.

What bugs me most about Bella throughout the series is her constant whining, but in the final book, now that she is going through a harrowing ordeal, her demeanor changes, and she patiently puts up with an agonizing pregnancy for the love of her unborn daughter, shooting down the panicked Edward's attempts to persuade her to abort the baby. We see most of her pregnancy from the perspective of Jacob, while Bella narrates the first and third sections of the novel herself, showing us the consequences of this most unusual birth. While the novel could do with some editing, it provides a clever conclusion to the series that resolves several core conflicts, leaving me quite satisfied with Meyer's intentions for the story.

I have yet to see the movies, though I would be curious to see whether I find them more or less satisfying than the books. I don't plan to delve into more vampire literature as a result of this foray, but I think I can now appreciate much of the fascination with Edward, Jacob and Bella.