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Friday, February 7, 2014

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Book Review: Moonshine

I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. I also loved Alaya Dawn Johnson's young adult novel The Summer Prince. So when I found out she wrote an urban fantasy novel about vampires set in the Roaring Twenties, well, I knew what would happen next.

I was going to read it, of course.

Zephyr Hollis has developed a reputation as a regular do-gooder, standing up for the rights of the lower class, immigrants, and even America's not-so-human citizens. When she finds a recently turned vampire child lying unconscious in the street, a mysterious dark-skinned man comes to her aid. He takes the boy, but in exchange he asks Zephyr to help him find a notorious gangster, who he suspects is really a vampire. Zephyr accepts the job, as well as a hefty cash advance, and soon finds herself tangled up in a supernatural mystery on the snowy streets of Prohibition-era Manhattan. 

Moonshine is quintessential urban fantasy: gritty and mysterious, full of monsters, eccentric characters, magic, tall buildings, crime, politics, excess, romance, and decay. Our heroine really gets around (mostly on bicycle). Through the course of the book, we get a glimpse of lower class tenements, noisy underground speakeasies, and posh high rises.

The characters are all fun and eccentric. Zephyr throws herself into humanitarian endeavors with the enthusiasm of someone with a doomed soul down in the red of her karma bank. She's a former demon hunter from Montana, but her current activities are a far cry from her past, much to her parents' chagrin. The result is a young woman who is quick-witted, reliable, frugal, and just a tad bit ruthless when she needs to be. She's also handy with a blade (not so much with a gun).

Her steamy relationship with Amir kept my finger tapping the Kindle for the next page. Amir is enigmatic, funny, and sweet. I enjoyed his many attempts at playing the white knight to Zephyr's damsel; Zephyr's about as competent a damsel as Amir is a white knight, by the way. But as captivating as he is, flirting with supernatural boys also courts danger, and Zephyr's efforts to save Amir perhaps resolve messier than she would have liked. As for me, I like messy.

Speaking of courting danger, Zephyr's other love story is tangled up in fanged little boys. Judah is the kid she rescues at the beginning of the story, and he's so adorable I can barely handle it... but also sad. There's no going back for him, and also no telling what sort of vampire he'll turn out to be. Damning the young is a dangerous business, and the Turn Boys serve as a constant reminder to the citizens of New York. This gang of young vampires is led by Nicholas, who I might call a tragic hero if he weren't psycho. Still, he's a fun little psycho, and I spent half the book pleading silently that he wouldn't die! This book played games with my heart, I'll tell you.

Between Zephyr's busy class schedule, picket lines, political intrigue, popping vampires (I'll refrain from calling them by the slur used in the book, innocent though it may seem), seducing a beautiful man, and general sleuthing, there is a lot going on, but Johnson deftly keeps it strung together—though precariously. As much as I love Johnson’s writing, on occasion I do feel like I am tripping along, barely holding onto the shirttails of the plot as it careens forward. I’m not sure if it’s because certain details go unsaid, or I’ve missed or misinterpreted subtle cues, or there’s simply too much going on. In any case, these moments are usually infrequent enough that I'm able to press on without too much difficulty.

I felt the book was a comfortable balance of mystery, drama, fun, and excitement. I wouldn't call it fast-paced, but I was never bored. The climax is delightfully maniceven the villain seems flustered at different stages. Give it a read, and when you're done pick up the sequel, Wicked City.

Title: Moonshine

Author:  Alaya Johnson

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Teens and adults

Final Rating: Four out of five dozy foxes

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1 comment:

  1. I lost the password to my karma bank account. Can you loan me some karma points?