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If you like yours dark, you’ll love  Red Moon

Red Moon is a tough book to review. It’s not my most natural sweet-spot – I’m not a huge Lycan lover and am swiftly tiring of dystopian novels. Every once and a while, I’ll read something out of my comfort zone to ensure I haven’t developed an appetite for it and to learn what I can learn.  This has some military/thriller as well as alternate history aspects to it, which do fit me a bit better. Even more than the genre, however, is that there is much to love and a few disappointments.

Red Moon

So, what are they good things about Red Moon?

  • Red Moon has a clever premise – Lycans have lived fairly publicly amongst humans. While there is tension, they have been able to coexist. Lycans are typically treated as second class citizens with forced drug management of the “condition”. As with all disagreements there are those who want to rebel against the status quo – they have fought for their own country, but it’s in cold Finland and it’s occupied by American securing power. They want more, especially as equally radical elements on the other side want more restrictions on Lycans. Pop in your favorite oppressed group and you get the idea.
  • Really good descriptive language is used. If you want a master class in compelling descriptions that pull you into the moment and make you taste and feel the literary moment, read Red Moon. Mr. Percy does a fabulous job with clear descriptions that aren’t overly done; there are no descriptions added for the sake of extended descriptions.
  • Very human characters (yes, including the lycans) are created – no one is too perfect although some characters are incredibly wicked, their wickedness is, alas, all too believable.
  • A variety of promising characters are introduced.
  • Overall, well-paced, interesting narrative.

What did I struggle with in Red Moon?

  • I get dystopia, but this was just unrelentingly depressing. Very little goes right for anybody, especially in the second half of the book. Don’t worry about a disappointing Disneyesque ending – this is a definite: “…and they lived unhappily ever after.”
  • Promising characters are simply thrown away either through death or not being developed. I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler section of the review.
  • We’re all used to flipping between threads of the story, but it doesn’t seem managed well here. I think it’s a bit too frequent with too many threads. Momentum is lost and confusion is gained in the translation between the threads.

Would I recommend Red Moon? Yes, but with caveats – if you love survivor stories, love gritty action and disparage Disney happy endings this may well be the book for you. I don’t think being a fan of Lycan literature is critical. There is a love story thread, but it is very minor. If you like yours dark, Mr. Percy is your man. It became a bit of a slog towards the end. Most of the efforts of the characters come to naught. There is little purpose to the suffering and certainly no resolution. This may be due to a hinted sequel in the epilogue.

****SPOILERS****

I indicated that Mr. Percy descriptive language is quite good; here’s an example in this segment of Jeremy Saber’s remembrance and distraction technique: “None of this matters to him now. He has made his mind purposefully blank. For the past few hours, Britney Spears has played on repeat over the loudspeakers, and he has developed several techniques for escaping the noise and brightness of his cell, for avoiding the trapdoor of madness he senses underfoot. One trick is to recite the alphabet forward and backward. Another is to create designs and patterns in the air bubbles hardened into the concrete walls. Another still is to imagine himself on a path in the woods and approaching a gnarled pine tree and pulling down on its branch like a lever so that a door swings open and then stepping into its shadowy interior and descending a coiled staircase to a muddy root-tangled room with a pond full of glowing fish and peeling off his clothes and going for a swim” (p. 262, Kindle edition). You are there.

One of the aspects of Red Moon I struggled with was his handling of characters. Alan Reporbus is a fairly cool character – ex-hippie, demonstrator from the “old days”, still quietly fighting the fight. There was, at one point, a time where I thought he might be Balor himself and that Balor would be a cool and clever leader. Not so much. He’s tossed aside without much ado. He plays his role and walks off-stage. He could have been so cool to include in the later half. Another problem with most of the characters is that I just don’t like them. Balor, Puck, the Tall Man and many others are not meant to be likeable. It turns out that it’s hard to even be sympathetic to them. The only sustained character for which one has much empathy is Miriam; she has suffered tragedy, she fights the good fight, is fairly kick-ass and then becomes ineffective and, finally, the victim able to crawl away. Peter and Claire are just a bit too generic to muster up much care, even with all they’ve suffered. Part of that is due to the near universal suffering; theirs is not so stark when pain is everywhere. Rather than inventing Tio and the Mexican crew out of nowhere, how about more developed characters being used throughout the book?

Finally, as a number of reviewers have noted, then ending was a bit flat and felt a little unfinished. The more I read, I’ve come to appreciate the difficulty of a good ending. Books seem to have the same challenge as jets, take-off and landing are the most dangerous bits. The beginning has to engage the reader quickly while allowing for a build-up throughout the book, while the end needs to bring things to completion with satisfaction without necessarily tying off the bow. I’ve seen novels no end (the fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles books by Patrick Rothfuss come to mind) and the elongated wrap-up (usually for a series) such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Tolkien’s well beloved Return of the King with its infamous three endings. Of course, we forgive those because we enjoyed them so much and don’t want to let go. So hats off to those that nail it and understanding to those that wobble a bit and slam the brakes on the landing.

I went between the Kindle version of this and the Audible version. Mr. Percy reads this himself. While that’s often not a lovely choice by authors, Mr. Percy’s sonorous voice seems perfect for the role. There are occasions where he draws out the drama a bit too much in the pacing of his reading (and I do realize that the Tall Man and Balor both do this as characters). I love (and, appropriately loathe) his Puck. Now for my regularly schedule rant – Windows dev team for Audible – can you please enable Whispersync for Voice for Windows Phone 8! Now back to our program.

Alas, like the teacher I once was, I focused too much on where I think Red Moon can be improved, let me wrap-up by extolling the virtues of the alternate history well and consistently played out and the carefully crafted action that rings true rather than cool. He allows us to see the problems everyone has in the difficult situations in which they are thrown. Nobody is completely in the right and few are completely in the wrong. Mr. Percy does a great job of using this book to remind us that even those on the “right” side of an issue need to pursue their goals in the right way. Otherwise, chaos and evil ensues.

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