Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
When I reviewed Moonlight, I rejected it for making some game-breaking mistakes with its second half. But up until things went south, I was enjoying the book very much for its brisk pace and realistic characters. And having read some legitimately bad books since then, I look back on Moonlight a bit more charitably today. So when I finally got around to the sequel, I had hopes that Hawthorne would do better with the material. And as it turns out, she has. Maybe not as good as I hoped, but a definite improvement.
At the end of Moonlight, heroine Kayla turned out to be a Shifter and hooked up with the brave alpha wolf Lucas Wilde. Rival love interest Mason was outed as a mad scientist with the Bio-Chrome corporation and fled. Full Moon picks up where Moonlight left off. You'd expect a sequel to complicate Kayla and Lucas's love story, but it doesn't. Instead, our consummated couple hangs out in the supporting cast, and we switch to a new protagonist, Lindsey. Lindsey is a Shifter who had a secondary role in the first book. As Full Moon begins she's on the verge of her first transformation, and plans to go through this intimate experience with her childhood friend Connor. However, two weeks away from the fateful night Lindsey starts feeling an irresistible attraction to the wild Rafe, and soon she's stuck in a love triangle. No one approves of the threat of a sudden change of plans, least of all Lindsey's parents. Complicating matters further, Mason and Bio-Chrome are still lurking about. And after a defector tips the Dark Guardians off to a Bio-Chrome facility hidden on the edge of the forest, action is required and Lindsey winds up in the thick of things.
I'll admit upfront that this is not the most original plot. Moonlight wasn't either. But I've been around the block enough that very little is original to me anymore, and I'm still reading books. What matters is not whether a book is unique, but whether it's interesting. Full Moon is. Mostly.
One of the things I greatly admired about Moonlight was the efficiency with which the story unfolded. There was no filler- each and every scene was important to plot, character development, or both. Full Moon has that same stripped-down, no-nonsense approach to storytelling, and it works. In fact, without the gobs of exposition that plagued the second half of Moonlight, it works even better.
Everything has a price, though, and the price of this approach is missed opportunities. The summer solstice- hyped as a Very Big Thing in shifter culture back in Moonlight- occurs at the beginning of the book. And it's... err... a party. I guess. We really don't see much of it- there's a lot of Shifters around, there's food and touch football, and Lindsey- our narrator- is so disinterested that she ditches it in favor of motorbiking with Rafe. This is an important moment for them, no doubt, but the solstice is a golden opportunity for world-building and it goes to waste. Later, a dead body is found with its throat torn out, and Rafe has no alibi. This could spice up the story by adding trust issues to the love triangle, but instead it's dropped almost immediately. Lindsey's controlling parents are supposed to be a major reason for her attraction to Rafe. But they're not terribly well-developed characters, which undermines Hawthorne's ability to sell a deeper connection to Rafe.
With that said, though, what is actually here is solid material. While not so good on plot, Hawthorne knows how to write people. Dialog flows crisply and naturally, and love scenes have the required mix of desire and doubt to pull us into the dynamics. The characters are conflicted without being melodramatic- Rafe and Connor are both torn between a longing for Lindsey and loyalty to each other as fellow guardians. Neither will hurt the other willingly, so Lindsey has to make a decision. But she loves both- albeit in different ways- and can't make a decision. But she has to. So she doesn't.
(Yes, this does make sense. It's called "analysis paralysis". Go on, google it.)
Lindsey spends most of the book flip-flopping back and forth between being in love with Rafe and being in love with Connor. For the most part, her internal struggles are realistic and the men are played sympathetically. It does, however, get to be a bit much. By the end I was practically yelling "Good lord, woman! Make up your mind!" And the ending did not sit well. I understand playing the final twist for maximum drama, but there are limits. What happens at Lindsey's first shifting- and during the buildup thereto- is believable. Lindsey nearly causes a tragedy by being indecisive for so long, but I can still buy her actions, and her motivations are human. What I can't buy is the lack of lasting consequences. Under the circumstances a no-regrets happy ending rings completely false. It's as if Lindsey got handed a Protagonist's Get Out Of Jail Free card in a situation where it wasn't warranted. This didn't ruin the book by a long shot, but it did take some of the air out of it.
There's also the series' overarching plot of the Bio-Chrome corporation, which motivates about half of the novel. And a further subplot about Lindsey's friend Brittany, who will presumably be the heroine of the next book. Both of these are good, but they both end in cliffhangers- the payoff is being held over for Dark of the Moon. If this was supposed to compel me to read further into the series... alright, I'm a sucker and it works. Still, it's frustrating. When the middle book of a trilogy (now a quartology, with possibly more on the way) spends time petering about instead of advancing the overall plot, it feels like wasted time.
I intended this to be a more positive review, but in the process of writing it I started seeing all the flaws in the book. I enjoyed Full Moon in the end, but I'm really not sure if I can recommend it. It has shortcomings, and others may be a lot more annoyed with them than I am. So, out come the Antique Scales of Judgement. (Remember them? From the Shiver review?) Onto the good side: brisk pace, realistic characters, notable improvements over Moonlight, good dialog and nice love scenes. And some enticing setup for the next book. Onto the bad side: cliche plot, unlikely ending, missed opportunities. And the world isn't as well-developed as it could be. When we remove the blocks, does the scale tip in the favor of the good?
It's a tough call, but I'll say yes. With the caveat that the flaws may put a few dents in your walls. (Or maybe not- it's a paperback, after all.) However, I'm still not sold on this series as a whole. I can tell from what's here that Hawthorne can do much better, and the fact that she doesn't leaves me disappointed. I'll check out volume three, but it'll need to be better to truly do the concept justice.