Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Red Moon Rising

Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Drama
Author: Peter Moore
Publisher: Hyperion

Peter Moore is an obscure author. He doesn't have a website, at least not one that I could find, and his Goodreads page seems to conflate his work with that of several other people with the same name. This is probably why his book Red Moon Rising hasn't gotten a whole lot of press. It's a real shame, too, because this is excellent writing. It reaches above the usual love stories found in YA paranormal to give us a much deeper tale of bigotry and personal identity.

Dante Grey is half-vampire, which isn't unusual in his day and age. With access to synthetic blood substitutes, the vampires have stepped out of the shadows to become the social and political elite of America, and intermingle freely with the human population. They even have their own prestigious private schools, like Carpathia Night High, which Dante attends. The other students know he's only half-vamp, but they think that his other half is human. In fact, Dante's biological father -- his mother's first husband -- is a werewolf. The wolves haven't fared as well as the vamps. Unable to control themselves during their full moon rages, they're forced to make monthly pilgrimages to government-run compounds where they blow off steam safely away from mundane humans and vamps. Their own safety is not a high priority. So hybrids like Dante are quite willing to get expensive gene-modification treatments to neuter their wolf halves. In Dante's case, however, the treatments didn't work. Now his wolven attributes are coming out, and he's about to get a lesson in how the other half lives.

A Vamps vs. Weres story usually manifests undertones of class warfare, with the vamps being intelligent, cultured, and usually well-off, and the weres being emotional, physically strong, and closer to earth and nature. The aristocracy vs. the peasant/working class, essentially. So Moore is by no means coming out of nowhere by turning the premise into a story of institutionalized racism. He deserves credit for not letting the situation degenerate into straightforward allegory or, even worse, preaching. What we have instead is a story about a young man who loses his place in a world of privilege and then has to face a new life as a member of the underclass.

Red Moon Rising succeeds largely on the strength of its setting, which a lot of work has gone into. There are several antagonists -- federal agents, the racist school bully, the prospect of going to a compound -- but these are all manifestations of the greater enemy: a social order that see werewolves as sub-human. Dante has to find a way to survive and stay hidden, and his allies appear to be few. His biological father is one. Beaten down by the system and resigned to his fate, he still hopes for a better life for his son. He has a sense of weariness about him, of being tired of all the bull but too exhausted with living to do anything about it. A social crusader -- with the telling if not-entirely-subtle name of Huey Seele -- is another ally, of a sort. Dante never meets him, knowing him only through televised appearances at protests and rallies. But he is nevertheless a significant presence in the story, providing inspiration and a hope for change.

However, if you look at the situation more closely, it's the reverse of what you expect. The villains are almost exclusively distant, impersonal, monolithic entities. Aside from Gunther, the aforementioned racist bully, pretty much every major character we meet is on Dante's side.  His friends don't abandon him on learning he's half-wolf. Nor does his new human girlfriend Juliet, who just kinda shrugs and doesn't care. Despite ostensibly being about the worst and most deplorable aspects of human nature, Red Moon Rising is really about our power to transcend those flaws.

(Spoiler paragraph)

The clearest representation of this is Dante's parents. Being vamps who are implied to be somehwat ashamed of their son, both Dante and the reader expect them to disown him once the truth gets out. And indeed Mom doesn't react well at first, but once she has time to process it, she's ready to go to bat for her son. Stepfather impressed me even more so. He's played as a buffoon, but when called on to commit a felony for the sake of his stepson he doesn't hesitate for a second. Dante needs help; stepdad's priorities are crystal clear. In a genre overflowing with neglectful and/or abusive parents, this is quite refreshing.

(End spoilers)

Gunther deserves some discussion. As an avatar of racism, he is as monstrous and vile as you would expect, but there's also nuance in the portrayal. There's a level of immaturity about him, as if the author is exposing bigotry as both a contemptible thing and something that is just as worthy of mockery as disgust. Gunther goes after Dante for literally no other reason than to be petulant and spiteful. Probably his defining moment is when he sends a long harassing e-mail to Juliet in a style of net-speak that exposes his own childishness. I quote: "Im writing 2 u bcuz u r in need of punishment 2. it is tru, u r not a vamp, just a human, but itz still disgusting 2 see a mixing of species."

With all that said, there are some weaknesses in this book that can't go unmentioned. You may have noticed that I haven't talked much about Juliet. That's because she's basically irrelevant. She's a Cardboard Love Interest: no character or personality beyond being in love with Dante for reasons that are never really explained. She exists only to be a source of angst for Dante and a way for Gunther to hurt him by proxy, and could have been edited out of the story without affecting much of anything. It reeks of bowing to genre convention: "There's got to be a romance, damn it!"

The second big problem here is the ending. The climax is great, a culmination of all the ideas that have been percolating throughout the book, but it's kicked off by Dante doing something flagrantly and absurdly stupid. It's realistic stupidity, for a fifteen-year-old, but that didn't stop me from wanting to give the boy a Jethro Gibbs Special for cocking up the plan that everyone he knows is sticking their necks out for. Post-climax, we get a bunch of stilted expo-speak, and... the end. The major conflicts are resolved, but there are a good number of subplots left hanging. In fact, the ending raises quite a few more questions than it does answers, which makes me think this is supposed to be one of those first-in-series efforts. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'd like to see more stories in this setting. But it always irritates me when a book brings up a lot of things that won't matter until the sequel.

All in all, though, Red Moon Rising is a lot like the characters inside it: rising above their failings to paint an unflinchingly honest but hopeful picture of humanity. This is not a book for everyone. It doesn't have the action or the romance commonly associated with werewolf stories, but it is a good story, well-told, and with significant things to say about human nature. A must-read for readers interested in something a little deeper.


  1. This is a really good review and I enjoyed reading it. I normally would have gone right past RED MOON RISING but I'm definitely going to look into it now. I tend to get really irritated with characters that ruin a good plan by being stupid - but as you point out, he's 15. The tidy ending does seem a bit disappointing, but this sounds like such an interesting and different from all of the other Werewolf books, I'm really interested in it.

  2. I like your style of reviews, well informed, truthful without being too snarky - and worst of all, you're making me want to read all the books, not really a bad thing for me, not so good for my Mt. TBR!

  3. "Im writing 2 u bcuz u r in need of punishment 2. it is tru, u r not a vamp, just a human, but itz still disgusting 2 see a mixing of species."

    I read entire research papers written like that.

    Is the humanity of this novel worth the pain of the Cardboard Girlfriend? Because I'm sick of Cardboard Girls in general. They seem to have the corner on the teen paranormal romance market. (I refuse to believe that all the girls reading these books are seeking to be as vapid as the Bellas of current YA lit.)

    I've only read a couple woof-centric novels. I've got one on the backburner, and I'm on Linger right now, having loved Shiver.

    Any other suggestions?

    I'm academically interested in a culture studies approach to female sexuality in these stories...but I have to like the stories to get something out of them!



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