Sunday, November 14, 2010

Low Red Moon

Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Drama/Romance
Author: Ivy Devlin
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens

About thirty pages into Low Red Moon, I e-mailed a couple of friends giving my estimation of how the plot was going to turn out. When I got to the end, I had to sheepishly admit that I was wrong on a good number of things. So I suppose I should give the author props for being original. But- call it sour grapes if you will- the story I had assumed was coming was a whole lot better than Low Red Moon.

Our story takes place in Woodlake, a small town somewhere in America surrounded by forest. Avery Hood's parents were the local weirdos- they lived pretty far out in the woods, had a ramshackle house that was literally cobbled together in bits and pieces, and owned a large track of forest land that they left completely undeveloped. Avery, their only child, was homeschooled until fifteen and was branded the local freak upon entering high school. Her parents are pretty much all she has- and now they've been murdered right in front of her eyes. She saw everything, but due to traumatic amnesia she can't remember it. After the funeral, she moves in with her grandmother and tries to deal with the pain of losing everything she's ever cared about. Then she meets Ben Dusic, the New Kid in Town. Right off the bat, Avery senses a mysterious connection to him. But clues keep piling up that Ben is something more than human- and may be responsible for her parents death.

Low Red Moon is described on the dust jacket as "part murder mystery, part grief narrative, part heart-stopping, headlong romance." That tells, I think. If you need more than two genres to describe a book, there's a good chance what you've really got is a jumbled mess. And indeed, the author doesn't seem to know if she's writing a fantasy novel, a paranormal romance, a horror story, or a tale of a girl who's lost everything trying to find a new life. If you ask me, though, she should have gone with the last one, because the grief narrative bits are the only parts that really succeeds. You can feel the sense of loneliness Avery is confronted with, and the pain that the loss of her family brings. I generally don't like protagonists who sit around mourning their lot in life, but this time it works- Avery watched her parents murdered less than a week ago, of course she's going to be shell-shocked.

But that's not the whole book, and the remainder drags it down. The paranormal romance and murder mystery aspects work explicitly against each other- the entire book sets up Ben to have killed Avery's parents during a lycanthropic blackout. But the reader knows that this can't be the truth, since there's no alternative love interest and the paranormal romance genre demands a happy ending. (Or an annoying cliffhanger, but that's a complaint for another day.) The vaguely-hinted yet incredibly obvious real killer turns out to be a red herring- something which I admit impressed me in it's execution- but then the truth turns out to be that a mildly-important secondary character did it. And is secretly a raving psychopath. Lame.

Meanwhile, the romance is undermined by the fact that Avery is falling for a guy who she believes killed her parents. The book tries to justify this with a bit of Love At First Sight Via Magical Bonding, but this just makes the problem worse. Honestly, even if Avery's parents were still alive I'd have a hard time believing that she'd fall for Ben, because he has no personality. We learn almost nothing about him over the course of the book- he wears moccasins, his parents were killed recently, and he swears up down and sideways that he didn't kill Avery's parents. Even his lycanthropy is underplayed- it's a reason to suspect him as the killer, and gives him some vaguely-defined empathic powers. Nothing more. It was the penultimate chapter before I realized that we never even learned what his wolf-form looks like- doggy-style, or Lon Chaney Jr.? I don't know, and it doesn't mean a thing in the end, anyway.

Actually, that may be the core problem right there. "It doesn't mean a thing in the end, anyway." That could easily apply to the entire novel. There's no heart here, no spark, no real point to it. A bunch of stuff happens, but it's all sound and fury. There's some vague subtext about land development that comes around via the old man vs. nature route, but it feels like it's drawn out of the bag of musty old storytelling cliches. Normally, a book like this would be sent into the vaults to re-do later. Devlin runs with it, and it just doesn't work.

Normally the story could be salvaged by turning it into character study. And that might actually have worked, since both romances and mysteries are powered by strong characterization. But again, no such luck. Every character in Low Red Moon is underdeveloped. Avery and maybe her grandmother Renee are the only ones who seem like real human beings- everyone else is one-note at best. And the author falls into that old newbie trap of having the cast spout exposition frequently. Some authors can make this work, but it requires capturing either the sense of wonder or the angst. Most of the time it instead comes off like reading lines off of cue cards. Ben is, again, either the worst offender or the most prominent one. You'd think he could at least be less cardboard when talking about the fact that he turns into a wolf under stress, but the author plays it with a just-the-facts approach that is blandness incarnate.

I hate to heap scorn on debut novels- it always makes me feel like a schoolyard bully picking on the scrawny kid. But the fact of the matter is, I can't find a single reason to recommend Low Red Moon. It had absolutely nothing that appealed to me except some well-written make-out scenes, and that's nowhere near enough to make a good book. The ending sets up a sequel, but I'm not holding my breath. There actually is some interesting world-building on display here, but it's buried in a pile of unmotivated writing, uninteresting ideas, and bland dialog. Skip it.


  1. Look at that gorgeous cover! It's a shame that the book doesn't seem to live up to it ... most of the reviews have made it seem kind of 'bleh'. Like you, I hate to disparage a writer's efforts, but hopefully the author and her editor will take these reviews to heart and work it out better with the next book.

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

  2. I mostly blame trends on being less brutal in the culling process although hopefully the author gets better.

    @jewelknits i do agree that the cover is pretty

    Stopping by from Follow Friday, new follower~~

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books

  3. New follower from the Blog Hops. Look forward to reading your posts.

    ~ Melissa

  4. Hopping through. New follower. You write fabulous reviews. I've heard mixed things about this one.
    One thing a sentence of your review made me wonder - what would you say is the difference btw fantasy and paranormal?

  5. Hiya!
    hopping along for parajunkee's friday follow -- you have so many great reviews so it'll take me a while to go through them, but this one is great!


  6. Hi Happy Follow Friday , Cant wait to sit back and be able to read all your reviews. Have a great weekend.


  7. Personally, I like my grief narratives to be firmly separated from my paranormal romances- it's tricky to write a getting over it romance that to me doesn't read like an extended rebound relationship. Sorry this book didn't work for you- although I've read a fair amount of hype for this book I can't say that it sounds interesting to me.

    Also, a public service announcement for young people everywhere: "I swear I didn't kill your parents" is not a good pickup line. Ever.

  8. The line's a little blurry between paranormal and fantasy. Essentially, though, paranormal is what it sounds like- "nearly normal". The world is as you know it, except one or two significant things are different. 90% of it can be understood using what you know about the real world. Fantasy is where the world is different enough that you have to try and understand it by it's own set of rules.

    Where Low Red Moon dips it's feet into fantasy is when it gets into that whole business of the forest having a soul and Ashley being it's avatar, or something. It changes the state of the world enough that you can't have confidence that the rules of the real world apply anymore. This isn't a bad thing, though it does add to the jumbled tone of the book.

  9. Hi! I found you through Follow Friday and just wanted to say I love your site. Will definitely be following!

    Have a great weekened!

    Wenj @ Black Lagoon Reviews

  10. The girl falls in love with the guy she thinks murdered her parents...? That's quite a stretch, I'm thinking. Yeah, I definitely won't be picking this one up... but I have to agree the cover is gorgeous.

  11. Thanks for following my blog! I'm following yours as well :o) Great review! I picked up this book at ALA in June, but have yet to read it. It didn't look very promising. You've convinced me to take a pass. I agree with what you said about feeling like a bully sometimes when criticizing debut novels. However, honesty is important and sugarcoating reviews doesn't help anybody in the end.

  12. I know exactly what you're dealing with. I have discovered that most YA novels follow this sort of recipe: 1 traumatized girl, 1 hot, mysterious boy, and a paranormal excuse/world opened in front of her eyes. It's annoying, yes, because you can follow the trend with EVERY book. Where is the YA I have known and loved going?

    I love your humor and seriousness with your reviews. I really love the mix, and the fact that you do it so well is even better! (:

    Oh, and thank God I found your blog from Follow Friday. I'm glad I did!



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