Simone Maroney,
Moon Child
(Draumr, 2005)

Within its comparatively modest 328 pages, Simone Maroney's epic fantasy debut contains competing religions, a post-apocalyptic low-tech world, an imminent flood of biblical proportions, a flurry of different cultures and exotic ceremonies, secret societies with dark agendas and, at the center of it all, a young girl named Hanna who is just coming into her powers.

Hanna is the child of a fateful and forbidden pairing, with the magical talents of both parents. She is also "The One" of ancient prophecies destined to save the world, though initially, getting into scrapes at the all-male order of Priests, being exiled and tagging along with her enigmatic father, Hanna hardly seems to fit the role of prophetic fantasy heroine. All that changes when a gruff woman claiming to be Hanna's aunt kidnaps her and inadvertently initiates a series of events that lead Hanna through different lands, peoples and dangers toward a rendezvous with her fate ... forthcoming in the sequel, Sun Birth.

Stand-alone fantasy lovers, this one is not for you. Nor, however, is it for readers who are primarily interested in strong, realistic character development. The myriad characters of Moon Child drop in and out of the narrative at a disconcerting rate. Potentially interesting characters like Aunt Vi, the precocious boy Pat and Hanna's grandmother Hamil are present only for a handful of chapters before disappearing in one way or another; of all the characters, only Hanna is consistently in the picture. The others, less enigmatic than underdeveloped and inexplicably volatile, seem to be there only to betray Hanna at appropriate intervals to further the plot. Perhaps the episodic nature of Moon Child is to blame for the sketchiness of its peripheral characters, but even Hanna comes across as more of a victim of her world than its heroine: her defining characteristics are her sweetness and resilience. (Yet if this is so, it is curious that she seems to feel so little remorse at having permanently damaged the intellect of a boy she considers her friend.) Untrained but possessing an ever-increasing number of powers, Hanna matures throughout the book without actually gaining much in the way of individual personality.

That's not to say that Moon Child doesn't contain certain scenes of interest; a number of the rituals Hanna performs or undergoes, from embalming to healing, are described with a good eye for detail, and the defensive lessons Hanna receives from her grandmother have a thought-provoking and rather Eastern logic to them. If Hanna applies its principles to her various hazardous situations, however, she does so too subtly to be noticed.

Whatever its other flaws or strengths, however, it is the writing that makes Moon Child a long, hard slog for its readers. While it is evident that first-time author Maroney lacks neither ambition nor enthusiasm, the results are uneven, ranging from the merely pedestrian to the cringe-inducing. Redundancies and clumsy, inexact prose plague all of Moon Child: heads whirl (neat trick!), people chortle with derision, yell angrily, mutter sullenly and use jarring, anachronistic phrases ("a defeatist attitude"). Equally distracting are the common writing errors (raise instead of rise, lay instead of lie, alright instead of all right) that an editor should have caught and did not. Dialogue is unnatural and overdone, particularly in the first third of the book in which hardly anyone can merely say something, but must squeak, holler, sigh, demand, moan, growl -- or saddle a plain, serviceable verb with an unnecessary adverb. "Please," this exasperated reader sighed wearily, finding whole pages in which no single piece of speech went unaccompanied, "stop it at once!" It's not quite that bad, but it's close.

Is there anything in Moon Child that could make putting up with sentences like "A burst of annoyance hit her. Then a shot of sadness walloped her" worthwhile? Frankly, no. Its slight charms are eclipsed by writing so awkward that even some non-sticklers are bound to find it disruptive, and as a whole, it is neither a cohesive nor convincing fantasy. It's true that Maroney's writing improves throughout the novel, and perhaps future books will be paragons of tightly crafted prose. I'll take my chances and pass on them.

by Jennifer Mo
14 October 2006

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