Friday, November 06, 2009

Book Review: Waking the Moon

Oddly enough, I have never done a book review on this site. I'll make an effort to do them whenever I read them from now on. This time, it's Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand. I discovered it by looking at one of the top 100 lists over at The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

First, the good points. The primary conflict is an interesting story of a power struggle by an Illuminati-inspired group against a sort of pagan Christ figure or avatar, told mostly through the eyes of parties who are seemingly incidental to the whole thing. The narrative is split into two parts which represent (1) the origin and (2) the ministry of this avatar; whether a similarity to the canonical Gospels was intended is a matter of speculation. Hand can really draw you in with her narrative, with her descriptions often as good as Clive Barker's. The vision of angels she provides is quite possibly the best I have ever read, and some of the more dramatic scenes are very powerful.

However, there are many problems with the book. Sometimes her descriptions seem to be a way to show off her personal taste in things rather than to add any value to the scene, and other times she seems to want to impress you with how much research she has done into the topic of goddess worship. There are about seven or eight characters I can keep straight in my head, but all of the characters are flat. Near the middle of the book, Hand introduces some characters solely for the purpose of killing one of them off in an interesting way without advancing the story; others are introduced seemingly for no purpose at all. There is also a lot of needlessly-inserted drug use and deviant sexuality.

But my biggest quibble with the book is the love story intertwined with the greater narrative, to the extent the love story is the primary vehicle for advancing the story. Had I known this was how the story was told, I never would have picked it up. In any case, the love story seems to make sense and serve a purpose in the first major story arc. However, in the second story arc, Hand seems to try to repeat the pattern, but it neither makes sense nor serves a purpose. And the resolution to the story which finally comes is unsatisfying: Though it was foreshadowed a little bit, it still feels like Deus ex machina. In fact, the whole thing seems plot driven, which is usually a very bad thing.

I suspect female readers of fantasy will enjoy it a great deal. I tried to enjoy it, I thought I was going to enjoy it, and Hand kept luring me along through the story with promises of really cool things that could happen. In fact, the first story arc was exceptionally well-written and compelling, despite its flaws. It's the second story arc that ruins the whole thing. Like I said, she did a great job of drawing you in--but there is no payoff. All in all, I give it 1 out of 5 stars.

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