Every single Ian McDonald adult book I've read since creating the Hotlist has ended up in my Top 10 reads for that year. I'm sure you can understand my excitement when I learned that he was taking a break from his foray into the YA market to return to the more hardcore science fiction works that made him an award-winning author. But though Luna: New Moon turned out to be another quality read, it wasn't quite as good as novels such as River of Gods, Brasyl, or The Dervish House.
Understandably, as the first installment in a promising two-book cycle, Luna: New Moon wasn't as self-contained and satisfying as those aforementioned stand-alone novels. I was thus looking forward to discovering just how McDonald would close the show in Luna: Wolf Moon. Imagine my surprise, not to say disappointment, when I learned--after finishing reading the book, mind you--that this series was now a trilogy. Having the carpet pulled from under me in such a fashion has probably influenced my review, for I was expecting an exciting endgame and a great finale. Not a middle book. . .
Here's the blurb:
A Dragon is dead. Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward--virtually a hostage-- of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point—that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey--to Earth.
In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts. Luna: Wolf Moon continues Ian McDonald's saga of the Five Dragons.
Not surprisingly, Tor Books has been marketing this series as Game of Thrones on the moon. With rivalries between families/corporations at the heart of the story, it is indeed an apt description. But it is much more than that. Truth to tell, it has more to do with rival mafia families than competing corporate entities, so it is more The Godfather than Game of Thrones. Like George R. R. Martin's bestselling saga, it's an extremely devious and cutthroat environment where anything can happen. For you see, there is no law on the moon. Everything can be negotiated.
Regarding the moon as the backdrop for this tale, once again McDonald's worldbuilding is nothing short of superb. As was the case with Luna: New Moon, the author managed to capture the essence of what living and thriving in such harsh conditions entail. And he even turned it up a notch in this sequel. As is habitually his wont, the author's prose brought the moon and its inhabiants to life in vivid fashion. His incredible eye for details creates an imagery and an atmosphere that never ceases to amaze readers. Whatever the premise, McDonald's narrative always makes you feel as though you're part of the action. I particularly enjoyed how he portrayed making war on the moon and how it all works, as well as the physical requirements needed for someone who has never experienced Earth's gravity to even be able to consider traveling to the planet's surface.
The multi-perspective narrative usually works well for Ian McDonald, yet one had to wonder if there was need for so many POV characters in Luna: New Moon. Too often, it felt as though some scenes and/or points of view were extraneous material that brought little or nothing to the story. Idem for Luna: Wolf Moon. The cast of characters is comprised of disparate protagonists and you can never tell how those multilayered plotlines will come together at the end. As a matter of course, there is the usual confusion of not really understanding where the author is taking the plot. If you are an Ian McDonald fan, that comes with the territory. And yet, when the various threads come together and you finally understand what Lucas Corta has orchestrated during his exile on Earth, it is awesome! Trouble is, the book is a veritable mess of POVs. And since most of the names sound the same, too often was I forced to go to the back of the book to peruse the Dramatis Personae. I mean, I'm a big Malazan fan, so a huge number of protagonists/plotlines has never been a problem for me. But when it's hard to differentiate them, regardless of what family they're from, then it becomes a bit of an issue. In the end, as was the case with its predecessor, I felt that Luna: Wolf Moon would have benefited from a more limited amount of perspectives.
In terms of rhythm, it appears that Ian McDonald followed the exact same blueprint he used for Luna: New Moon. The pace is relatively slow for the first 2/3 of the book. And then, when Lucas Corta's plan has been put into motion and the endgame is in sight, things really pick up and the proverbial shit hits the fan. Thankfully, the endgame did not feel as rushed as the one that brought the first installment to a close. Still, a more balanced rhythm may have made the novel more enjoyable.
As mentioned, given my belief that this was the final volume, I had certain expectations regarding this novel. I realized that this wasn't the conclusion of this series when I reached the last page,
which was a bit shocking. Nevertheless, McDonald truly upped the ante and Luna: Wolf Moon sets the stage for what should be a memorable finale.