REVIEW: Demon Moon by Meljean Brook
When I read Meljean Brook's Demon Angel, I was riveted by the first half of the book and slowed down by the second half. In reading Demon Moon I had the same experience but in reverse –" with an almost identical overall result. Like Demon Angel, Demon Moon is an ambitious, richly layered, intense, flawed read, a book with flashes of lucid brilliance alongside patches of sluggish prose and staccato imagery. But even with its weaknesses Demon Moon is a credit to the genre, a smart book that illustrates how possible and potent it is to have an intellectually rich book that is still emotionally passionate and sexually hot.
The story of immortally suave vampire Colin Ames-Beaumont (whose grandmother "paid dearlyÃƒ ¯Ã‚ ¿Ã‚ ½? for that hyphen!), and eternally curious Savitri Murray, Brook's novel starts with the beautiful, bored, oh-so-traditional English nobleman Romance hero, only to dismantle that stereotype faster than a wyrmwolf with a femur. In an ingenious taunting of the increasingly common Romance shorthand of the mutual attraction of mutually attractive characters, Brook creates in Colin an incredibly beautiful and intelligent vampire whose physical allure belies an impressive complexity, generated not by a brooding poetic soul but rather by a personal and terrifying connection to Chaos. Unable to rely on a mirror to reaffirm his own considerable vanity, Colin sees another reality that is tied to a 200-year-old curse and recent memories of being abandoned in Chaos to the dismembering cruelty of its hideous wyrmwolves.
Savitri Murray, on the other hand, represents a different kind of chaos –" beautiful, brilliant, rebellious, vocationally unfocused, and straddling a strong loyalty to her grandmother's cultural expectations and an equally powerful need for autonomy from artificial constraints. She also has a horrific memory of abandonment, which defines her character to some degree, as the sole survivor of a senseless robbery and murder of her parents and brother. As in Demon Angel, the romance in Demon Moon is all about dualities and the attraction and interdependence of opposites, portrayed here through the suave but guarded Colin's attraction to Savi, whose disordered outer life belies an incredibly penetrating insight and a stubborn habit of compartmentalizing her most painful memories and emotions, virtually disconnecting her heart from her body and mind. Both have their own way of running away from unpleasant experiences and emotions; indeed, both Savi and Colin are accomplished evaders, seemingly engaged in the world but protective of their private vulnerabilities. As in Demon Angel, here Brook does not merely pair two opposing personalities in her protagonists; instead she presents both Savi and Colin as internally divided, warring against themselves and each other in a larger battle for a more transcendent condition of wholeness. And again, the romantic resolution serves as both a component and a reflection of a larger sense of cosmic balance.
At the beginning of Demon Moon we discover that Savi and Colin are already linked –" that they experienced something intense during their sojourn in the "heavenlyÃƒ ¯Ã‚ ¿Ã‚ ½? Caelum during the adventures of the last book. Savi is unnerved by what happened, which, we come to find out as the novel unfolds, involved Colin sending her a psychic experience of the "hellishÃƒ ¯Ã‚ ¿Ã‚ ½? Chaos at exactly the wrong time, a culminating sensation that makes her completely untrusting of Colin's romantic interest in her. Colin, who doesn't have the same memory as Savi, for reasons that are related to his own psychic condition during that time in Caelum, simply knows that he is enthralled by Savi, an attraction that is enhanced by the psychic scent she gives off, an alluring fragrance that draws him elementally to her. Although neither understands the full significance of this, it is clear that Savi has been affected by the violent incident she had in the opening scene of the novel with a nosferatu and some hellhound venom, a combination that leaves her with certain physical enhancements and numerous questions. In the absence of satisfying answers, Savi and Colin cannot deny their mutual attraction, even as both attempt to, and as they become more closely bonded, more emotionally open to one another, the more danger they face from the realms of both earth and Chaos –" from wyrmwolves who somehow find their way out of Chaos, to a megalomaniacal demon (is there any other kind?), to vampires who have not adjusted well to the lack of central leadership within their community. They also face an increasingly challenging mystery around Savi's altered nature and the complications that might pose to an already untenable human-vampire love match. For the intimate relationship between vampire feeding and sex makes literal monogamy virtually impossible for Colin, and a certain "taintÃƒ ¯Ã‚ ¿Ã‚ ½? in his blood means that he cannot safely endeavor to turn Savi into a vampire (especially with the remnants of nosferatu blood and hellhound venom within her).
On a purely superficial level, Demon Moon is a much more straightforward book than Demon Angel. The plot revolves around the need to discover and close what appears to be a hole in the barrier between Chaos and earth and the uncovering of a plot to press vampires into service to a nefarious demon. Savi and Colin must juggle lusting after one another, falling reluctantly in love, fighting off various otherworldly threats, and struggling to resolve their own unique relationship issues. There is a good deal of attention to making some of the world-building aspects of the series more transparent, as well, but the emotional and physical intensity between Savi and Colin is really the heart of this novel.
Savi and Colin are two people who are each scarred in a way that makes emotional vulnerability frightening, which, of course, drives much of the emotional conflict and the satisfaction in reading their love story. In some ways, Demon Moon feels more like a traditional Romance to me than Demon Angel, even as Brook continues to expand on the originality of her fictional vision. She experiments with different ways to include some of the complex mythology and history into Demon Moon with varying degrees of success. The passages at the beginning of almost each chapter can be very illuminating, for example, but the informative conversations between Savi and Colin, where Brook uses Savi's natural curiosity to fill in gaps bear moments of artificiality. During those passages, many of which happen in the first part of the book, I could almost feel the story being built, and I wanted to ignore, rather than explore its infrastructure.
Around halfway through, however, and perhaps not surprisingly at the point where Savi and Colin begin to solidify their emotional connection, the novel takes flight, the prose flowing more easily, the action clipping along nicely, the threads of Savi and Colin's various conflicts pulling together. As Colin and Savi surrender do their deeper emotions and more intense physical passions, the emotional landscape of the novel really opens up, and I felt just as enthralled as one of Colin's nameless blood donors.
Reading the Guardian stories is like an archeological expedition, with each installment filling in a huge puzzle that comes into focus gradually, requiring patience and persistence on the reader's part. But the rewards are great, at least they have been for me. Once again Brook builds a fully fleshed out romance between two characters that did not feel intuitively matched to me in the last book. And she is writing an interracial and interspecies romance, with both elements figuring prominently into the character and plot dynamics.
I know that these books have been criticized by some readers for being too dense or too much work, but as a reader, I really hope that Brook does not try to conform her continuing work to any reader response, positive or negative. I was worried in the first part of the book because it felt a little like she was trying to make the book easier to understand, and I just wanted it to flow from her imagination in the purest form possible. Not that I'm hoping for awkward prose or confusing scenes (or suggesting that's how they would show up). I'm only saying that in the same way Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Patricia Gaffney and other great authors grew to mastery over the course of several novels, so, I believe, will Meljean Brook. I think Brook possesses that same gift of being able to weave incredible detail, intellectual depth, and emotional and physical intensity together in a wonderfully satisfying way. Demon Moon was a B+ read for me, but I fully expect A or even A+ books bearing her name, during what I hope will be a long and prolific writing career.