Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Shadow of the Moon
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Word from the author’s website is that Shadow of the Moon is the final book of the Dark Guardian series, which is a shame. All this time following the Shifters of Wolford, I’ve been waiting for Rachel Hawthorne to fully realize the potential in her concept. Now, she finally has. In Shadow of the Moon she’s constructed a solid story with appealing characters and a tight plot that has appeal both on the surface and on a deeper level. And only now is the plug pulled. Damn.
Our heroine this time around is Hayden, who throws us a twist- she’s not just a Shifter, but a psychic Shifter. She can sense the emotional states of other nearby Shifters- feel what they feel, essentially. If that sounds like fun, it’s not. In the opening scene she gets to experience mortal terror and death by proxy when a fellow Shifter is attacked and killed by an otherworldly entity called a harvester. Understandably freaked out, Hayden runs away from Wolford and winds up serving coffee to skiers at a resort town along the U.S.-Canadian border. Enter Daniel, whom you might remember from the previous two Dark Guardian books. The Elders- with their usual interest in matchmaking- have chosen Daniel to court Hayden in preparation for her first shift, and he manages to track her down a week before the full moon. His immediate job is to bring Hayden back home. She doesn’t want to go, since the harvester will put both her and her mate in danger on the destined night, but she can’t deny that Daniel is attractive. And so the dance begins.
In some ways Shadow of the Moon is a reboot of the Dark Guardian series. The characters we’ve come to know and love aren’t in this book until close to the end, and the first half doesn’t even take place at Wolford. Instead we focus tightly on Hayden, her budding relationship with Daniel, and her fears about her impending shift and the harvester. For awhile the book teases out the possibility that Daniel himself is the harvester, but this idea soon falls by the wayside. A good thing, too- see our discussion of Low Red Moon for how pushing the main love interest in a romance as the villain Simply Does Not Work. Instead, Hayden’s driving fear about being in love with Daniel is that the harvester will get them both when he comes for her. So the closer she gets to him, the more she tries to push him away.
What we’re dealing with here is something rooted in real life. No, most real-life couples don’t have soul-stealing horrors to deal with, but everyone is afraid of hurting the ones they love. Hayden’s fear- as well as other issues related to her empathic abilities- push her into the life of a loner. She lives alone and apart from her kindred because she can’t bear the possibility of causing them pain- essentially, fear of commitment. Daniel is also a loner, but it’s revealed later in the book that he knows what a lousy idea it is to isolate yourself. His reason for joining the Dark Guardians is to be part of the group and learn how to rely on other people. The contrast shows in their interactions- Daniel is trying to convince Hayden to trust the pack and the people who love her. Hayden is trying to convince Daniel that she has to do this alone. This being a romance, you can guess who’s right in the end.
The previous Dark Guardian books had rather disposable plots. Here, however, we’ve moved up to… well, okay, it’s still pretty disposable. But, I appreciate the attempt at deeper themes, and all in all it was enough to keep me reading, though it’s still not great literature by a long shot. As for the execution, it is as always Hawthorne’s biggest strength. Everything scene has a purpose and a point- there’s no filler, nor any wasted words. It’s the pure, undiluted story, and the tight focus and cut-down supporting cast make it a lot easier to focus on the central love story this time through.
Still and all, there are some issues that crop up in the second half- an unfortunate tradition with this series. The writing starts to suffer, with some repeated words and half-baked dialog. You get the feeling that the book really needed another revision, but deadlines loomed. And when the regular cast shows up, they’re… off. Acting a little out of character, and succumbing to the dialog problems. Another piece of evidence for the theory that Hawthorne was trying to take the series in a new direction. This isn’t enough to hurt the main story, but it takes some of the oomph out of it.
All in all, this is solid book, if a little short and shallow. It’s easily the best installment of the Dark Guardians series, which makes it all the more depressing that this is the end of the line. Hawthorne had finally found a voice for it, and now it’s adieu and farewell, we hardly knew ye. Too bad, but at least we’re going out on a high note.