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REVIEW: Demon Moon by Meljean Brook

Book CoverWhen 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 dearlyà¯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 "heavenlyà¯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 "hellishà¯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 "taintà¯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.

Best regards,

Janet

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

16 Comments

  1. Jackie
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 14:30:44

    Some books are meant to be chugged; some are meant to be sipped. Meljean’s are very, very fine wine. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

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  2. Aoife
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 15:44:44

    I am almost at the end of this book, and unless something major happens to derail it, I will give it the same grade you did, a very solid B+. In her previous novellas and Demon Angel, I found some of the author’s writing to be incomprehensible, even with careful rereading, but in this book she had either smoothed those glitches out, or they just didn’t bother me. In some ways, Colin’s complexity reminded me a little of Francis Crawford from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series. I love complex, difficult heroes, especially when their complexities aren’t the faux variety, and Savitri was a good match for Colin. Am loving the book, and will eagerly look forward to more from Meljean Brook.

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  3. Janet
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 16:44:05

    Hopefully it’s clear from the tag that I wrote the DM review.

    Jackie: I hope you enjoy it; the first half was kind of slow going for me, but I think I might be in the minority on that.

    Aoife: I agree with the writing in DM was more streamlined; I didn’t find the book confusing at all. I haven’t read the Dunnett books, but I have the first one TBR. What really, really surprised me about this book was how much I grew to like Savitri. For the first part of the book I wasn’t really seeing the wisdom of her relationship with Colin, but the book really built their connection for me, and I LOVED THAT. IMO that building of the romance is, ironically and sadly, what’s missing from so many Romances I read these days. This book did it in the most critical way for me, by drawing me into support of Colin and Savi as a couple by showing me why they belonged together and made such a good couple.

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  4. Rosario
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 16:49:35

    Janet, I think this is one of the best reviews I’ve ever read. Thanks for helping me see many things about the book in a different light (and isn’t it great that DM is complex enough for that?)

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  5. Jane
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 18:08:19

    whoops. So sorry. You need to sign your posts next time, Janet!

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  6. Janet
    Jun 04, 2007 @ 18:32:57

    Poor Jane; I already make more work for you by having you post the review, and then I don't even do the work of signing it! I'll try to remember to sign it next time, I promise.

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  7. Aoife
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 04:17:16

    Yes, I thought Savitri was a wonderful heroine, and I agree that the careful development of the relationship was what set this book apart from most romances. I totally believed in Colin and Savi’s commitment to each other, and the risk they took to stay together was inevitable (even if I thought it was a little rushed at the very end) within that context.

    Your review really did justice to Demon Moon, and I hope it inspires a lot of readers to give this one a try.

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  8. Tara Marie
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 10:02:23

    Janet, I think this is one of the best reviews I've ever read. Thanks for helping me see many things about the book in a different light (and isn't it great that DM is complex enough for that?)

    My exact thoughts–great minds Rosiaro

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  9. Janet
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 11:12:09

    Aoife: Thanks; I hope people will give the book a try, too, and I especially hope that those readers who — like me — are burned out on paranormals will read it, because IMO its strengths really transcend the subgenre and make it a good Romance, period.

    Rosario: I really like what you said in your review about how Savi is a combination of modern and traditional; it’s so rare, IMO, that heroines, especially, are allowed to be multicultural, multiracial, and super smart to boot. For all of Savi’s issues, she’s not a neurotic nutcase (the tradeoff for being super smart in Romancelandia) and perhaps that’s partially because of her grounding in her mother and grandmother’s cultural traditions. She’s not super self-conscious about it, but her Indian culture is very much a part of her daily life, even as she’s functioning at an incredibly high level of technological savvy (hah: Savvy — Savi).

    Tara Marie: Have you read DM yet? I know you’ve been busy with Romantic Advances, but I’m looking forward to your comments on the book, too.

    After I wrote my review I went around reading everyone else’s, and I love all the things people have to say about the book. It’s a complex enough read that everyone has taken a little bit different approach and talked about some different aspects of the novel, which is rare, IMO. Jaci Burton, I think, commented on the “hip” writing, and I have to say that I had a moment of reflection on how nice it was to read a book that was really modern in its writing but not schmaltzy or over the top. DM really reminded me of how much I crave more Romances that build solidly on those “old fashioned” elements of plot and character and relationship development.

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  10. Kirsten
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 13:01:59

    Hi Janet :-)

    After reading your review and the thoughtful comments of Aoife et al, I realize what bothers me about “paranormal” romances–the back to basics or back to the cave instinctual recognition of life partners function in lieu of plot and character and relationship development. I think that MBs first book takes no shortcuts and I’m looking forward to reading this one.

    Thanks for a wonderful (as usual) review.

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  11. Jane
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 22:23:17

    One thing that I particularly loved was the interweaving of the relationship Colin had with Anthony Ramsdell; the bittersweet loss of his family and the mirroring of that ending with a new beginning at the end.

    I thought those were particularly deft writing touches, making the memories of Ramsdell and Emily so much more than just filler but actually providing foreshadowing and layering to the book.

    I agree that there was probably too much talking but I would so much have the clever dialogue than the ham fisted hand of the author directing my thoughts thither and yon as if I don’t have a brain in my head.

    A friend of mine read Meljean’s book and said that Meljean starts with the premise that readers are smart and that we can follow the bouncing ball. Sometimes, the ball gets away from her and us but as she grows as a writer, I feel like we will all solidly be in the same place.

    Ro and Janet, you are both so insightful on the character of Savi. It was hard to pinpoint just what I liked about her so much but she did feel very modern, very of this age without being too l33t or as if the author was trying too hard to portray a modern woman.

    Savi was a perfect match for Colin. One thing that I liked was that I never doubted, for a second, the desire and longing the two had for each other and that provided such great tension as the story moved forward.

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  12. Janet
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 23:49:12

    A friend of mine read Meljean's book and said that Meljean starts with the premise that readers are smart and that we can follow the bouncing ball. Sometimes, the ball gets away from her and us but as she grows as a writer, I feel like we will all solidly be in the same place.

    I recently read an historical by an established author, and that book was downright painful to read, from awkward writing, to inconsistent copyediting, to contradictory characterizations, to artificial conflicts, to a love story as deep as a puddle. Sometimes I feel that Romance has become so filled with shorthand that it’s like reading Romance mad libs. I know that sounds harsh, but when I read a book like DM I get mad all over again at what has happened to the genre as a whole and how little is expected of readers these days. I understand that not everyone wants to ponder the nature of the universe when they read. That’s fine with me. I know that sometimes Brook’s prose is opaque and somewhat clumsy, which has turned some readers off (and made them feel like deep is being confused with unclear). I can see that. But as you said, Jane, just the way Brook weaves the memories of Ramsdell and Emily through the story, the loss Colin suffered, the parallels between his relationship with Savi and Emily’s relationship with Anthony — it is just one more layer in an already multi-dimensional book. I. Want. More. Romance. Like. This. PLEASE.

    I realize what bothers me about “paranormal� romances-the back to basics or back to the cave instinctual recognition of life partners function in lieu of plot and character and relationship development.

    Speaking of caves, look who crawled out of hers! Yes, your point is just another example of what I call Romance shorthand, and with shorter and shorter page counts, more frequent releases, etc. it’s become the norm, IMO, and I truly think it’s injuring the genre.

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  13. Tara Marie
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 10:47:13

    Janet, I did read it and posted my commentary back in May. But since it seems relevent I’ve reposted it today.

    http://romancereadingmom.blogspot.com/2007/05/demon-moon-by-meljean-brook.html

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  14. Rosie
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 12:16:45

    “…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.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the comments on how spot on this review is. I also agree with the comments about Ms. Brook assuming her readers are smart. I actually love that about the book. Rivieting, complicated, intense, I couldn’t put the book down. Great review Janet. It captured my feelings perfectly even the flaws.

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  15. Jepad
    Jun 08, 2007 @ 09:51:33

    I finished Demon Angel two days ago and just leapt into Demon Moon. I’m pleased to hear that you didn’t find this as complicated as Demon Angel. I thought her first offering was fantastic and that I was reading a book meant for intelligent people who didn’t need everything spoon-fed to them. That said, I still think a bit more explanation of the bargains and wagers at the of the DA wouldn’t have gone amiss.

    Still, her world-building is unique and her characters incredibly complelling. I agree with you that an A or A+ book is certainly something to be expected in future.

    I have to completely agree with Janet’s assessment of the genre. It’s unfortunate, but I feel that the editors are pandering to the lowest common denominator of intelligence. Or perhaps the authors feel that all you need is some artifical conflict and a boatload of testosterone to make readers happy.

    I think that the issue that MB had with DA was that certain explanations and conversations lacked clarity, to the point that I had to stop, re-read, think for a moment and then it hit me what was going on. I don’t mind having subtexts in a book that need to be mulled over at a later date, but I feel that I shouldn’t be confused by the flow of a conversation.

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  16. brwngem
    Aug 04, 2007 @ 22:50:10

    I’m about a third into this book, and although I do feel like it’s slow going, I keep going back to it. I will pick up her next, because as mentioned many authors give a little more with every nove they complete.

    I recently got hooked on Lynn Viehls Darkyn series, and I think it’s a similar deal with Brooks. For that series I had the first two and gave up. I went back re-read them and now I’ve gobbled up the rest!

    As readers I think we sometimes get used to a certain set of rules, and then someone comes along and turns those all around. I love it!

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