Sunday, October 31, 2010
Dark of the Moon
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Poor Rachel Hawthorne... she just can't seem to get it right. She's a good writer- not great, but a sound craftswoman. And yet she keeps dropping the ball. The previous two Dark Guardian books have provided enjoyment, but also disappointment. In the third installment, she cleans up the technical problems- Dark of the Moon is well-paced, centers around an appealing couple, and it weaves it's central romance into the overall plot of the series very nicely. Freed of the minor issues, she produces a pretty good teenage love story. But it doesn't fit at all with what her readers have come to expect, rendering it perhaps the biggest disappointment of them all.
Full Moon focused on Lindsey trying to resolve a love triangle between herself, Connor, and Rafe. She finally chose Connor, but changed her mind at the last minute, deciding Rafe was her chosen mate after all. Meanwhile, her friend Brittany had a subplot where she was pining for Connor fruitlessly, and was eventually reduced to heading into the woods to handle her first shift alone. Dark of the Moon switches the viewpoint character to Brittany, and picks up with her alone in the woods, awaiting the transformation. But the moment passes without anything happening. She returns to Wolford to find Connor available, but not yet over Lindsey. Ashamed of her failure, and afraid of being kicked out of the Dark Guardians, Brittany conceals the fact that she can't shift, even knowing that doing so puts everyone in danger. Then Bio-Chrome shows up again and things start getting ugly.
We'll get the technical stuff out of the way first. This book is very well plotted. There's none of the padding from Full Moon, nor the bogging-down that throttled Moonlight. The pace is universally smooth and brisk, and the events are logical, though Hawthonre relies a bit too much on people keeping secrets when they shouldn't as a plot device. This book has a realistic and believable central character- Brittany acts how you would expect a seventeen-year-old girl to act in her situation. The supporting cast is also good, if a little bland sometimes. And it's a good story, all in all- Hawthorne departs from the love triangle format of the previous two books, instead going with an embattled relationship. Brittany and Connor both want each other, but Brittany's failure to shift and her subsequent attempts to cover it up monkeywrench things, as do later complications. And the writing, though not great, is enjoyable. The book also has some great moments- the opening scene, the wrestling match, the movie night, all done extremely well. The later sections, where Brittany and Connor are imprisoned together (not a spoiler- it's given away in the flash-forward prologue) are vehicle for some excellent character development.
The problem is, it doesn't make sense. Oh, it makes sense in the context of itself, but it goes completely against the grain of the series. It's actually the reverse of the problem with 13 to Life. That book is good as an installment in a series, but doesn't stand on its own- it feels incomplete. Dark of the Moon is good by itself, but undermines the entire premise of the Dark Guardian series.
Let's be brutally honest, here: I've enjoyed the Dark Guardian books, but I have no illusions about them- this is hardcore porn for junior-high girls. No, there's no explicit sex, but it's the same kind of unrealistic wish-fulfillment fantasy- a loving, devoted man who will be yours and yours alone by fate, never leave you, always know exactly what you're thinking, accept you for who you are, and be available for cuddles and make-outs at a moment's notice. Actually, you might have to put an asterisk by the "no explicit sex" part. The whole "first shift" business is a paper-thin metaphor for the heavily-romanticized version of losing your virginity. It's a painful moment, but you go through it with an experienced man who guides you through it. Pain turns into pleasure, and it becomes a magical moment that you'll remember forever, and which will bond the two of you for life, and blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.
Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I personally think Carrie Bradshaw's assessment of teen sex was closer to the truth: "He didn't know what he was doing, and I didn't say a thing."
Despite our apparent differences of opinion on the subject, I don't mind this. There's no shame in doing something that is purely escapist fantasy. The shame is in doing it badly. If you're going to make a porno, you have to do the money shot. The audience expects it, and Hawthorne has always delivered. The climactic moments in both Moonlight and Full Moon were energized and powerful scenes- enough to forgive some of the missteps on the way there. Dark of the Moon starts from the idea that Brittany isn't going to have such a moment, and before long it becomes apparent that she never will. So there's no big bang at the end. I understand that there are content restrictions in play- deprived of our convenient metaphor, we'd have to go with the real thing, which would never get past the editors at HarperTeen. So it all ends with a kind of a shrug. It's a sweet ending, but it plays against Hawthorne's strengths.
It's not just that, though. The book goes with the idea that finding love the human way- developed and deepened over time, rather than Shifters who are chosen by destiny for each other- is a perfectly fine way to do it. On an intellectual level, I agree, but this kind of better-then-reality relationship is what the audience is expecting, so Dark of the Moon feels like a bait-and-switch. Perhaps Hawthorne wanted to answer her critics, or move the series in a different direction. I can only speculate. One thing I can be sure of it that what she's come up with doesn't give her a chance to shine. Divorced from the themes of the first two books, it also lacks their energy.
Dark of the Moon has tossed away the very thing that made its older sisters appealing to begin with. The result is a technically sound story with no spark- almost as if the author herself didn't like it. It's not unreadable, but it's bland, and it wasn't the direction the series needed to go in. All in all, too bad.