Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: Red Moon

Title: Red Moon
Author: Benjamin Percy
Pages: 532
ISBN: 9781444725001
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2013
Genre: Horror / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

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They live among us.
They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.
They change.

When government agents kick down Claire Forrester's front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero.

Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy.

So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge...and the battle for humanity will begin

Reading Red Moon you soon discover that, while the world seems familiar, there’s one big difference – lycans (that’s werewolves for the ill-informed) live amongst the populace. The lycans act as a stand-in for every oppressed minority in our world. They aren’t monsters howling at the full moon. They’re ordinary people infected by a disease trying to live their lives while their rights are being slowly eroded by increased legislation, mandatory medication and ever increasing restrictions to their freedoms. Something has to give. And it does...

Initially I struggled to really get into Red Moon. The story had a distinct YA feel to it – both the main characters, Patrick and Claire, are teenagers whose lives change irrevocably after an act of terrorism. There’s even that clich├ęd YA trope of insta-love.
“The girl remains on the ground. He looks at her and she looks at him and the air feels at once static and loaded, as if there is some kind of undersound his ear can’t quite decipher. Like after a bell rings. That’s how it is between them. There is something celestial about her, her skin a pale color, but a paleness of the softest gray-white imaginable, as if she had been soaking for years in a bath of moonlight.” (page 119)
At this point I rolled my eyes and almost put the book down as a lost cause, but I persevered and I’m glad I did. It doesn’t take long for the characters to come of age and as they do the rest of their world, with all the different factions at play, also come into focus. At the halfway mark I was completely hooked.

While it starts out with a YA feel, Red Moon is most decidedly not a YA-novel. The narrative is filled with scenes of visceral, brutal violence and the themes are thought-provoking, challenging the political outlook of our post 9/11 world.

Percy manages to write beautifully descriptive prose that capture the human condition or surroundings with a deft hand:
"She does not understand people – whether infected or clean – for their capability and appetite for violence. No other organism besides a virus seems so hungry to savage everything in its way. Violence defines humanity and determines headlines and elections and borders, the whole world boiled down to who hits whom harder." (page 390)
"He feels the snow of the Republic weighing him down and he feels the darkness of the grave pressing around the fire and infecting his vision so that there seems no separation between the living and the dead, a child born with a mud wasp’s nest for a heart and its eyes already pocketed with dust, ready to be clapped into a box and dropped down a hole." (page 388)
But this turns out to be a two-edged sword after a while. At times I felt as if these striking descriptions got in the way of the story, slowing down the pace and flow of the narrative.

There are quite a few instances that resulted in moments of jarring disbelief. Patrick gets a handjob from a complete stranger in class. Seriously?! One of the characters manages to survive being shot multiple times at point-blank range without any explanation being given as to how. The actions of the terrorists in the third part of the novel doesn’t quite make logical sense – why salt the field you want to plow? (You’ll understand the reference once you read the book). And what's up with the Mexicans?

The story also relies too much on pure coincidence to move things along. Patrick takes a drive at precisely the right time to save the girl. Much later in the novel he seems to just randomly stumble into a pivotal character exactly when needed the most.

Despite its flaws Red Moon is an engaging read. Its strongest point is the message of tolerance it imparts – we can’t let the few define the many; a lesson we can all take to heart. The ending is very satisfying even though things are tied up almost too conveniently the sublime twist at the end makes it well worth it.

The Verdict:
Red Moon is an interesting reinvention of the werewolf mythos with beautifully descriptive prose speckled with visceral scenes of bloody violence. It’s a story about love, the duality of being, our capacity for good and evil and acts as a powerful allegory for the world we live in. Marred slightly by an over-reliance on coincidence to move the story along, this is still a good read. If you want to see a different take on werewolves then this might just be the novel for you.

The Rating: 6.5/10 (Good)

Thanks to Chabi from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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