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REVIEW:  Moonset by Scott Tracey

REVIEW: Moonset by Scott Tracey

Dear Mr. Tracey,

I have a soft spot for witches. It stems from my traditional fantasy reader background. After all, a witch is often the urban fantasy equivalent of a mage. Though I’d heard lots of buzz about your debut, Witch Eyes, I haven’t had the chance to pick it up. When I heard the premise of your new book, I decided to give it a go.

Moonset takes its name after an infamous coven of witches. In short, they were the magical world’s terrorists. They’ve been gone for years — having been executed for their crimes — but their legacy lives on. And by legacy, I mean children.

Justin, Moonset’s protagonist, and the other four children of Moonset’s members have lived under the strict supervision of the witch’s Congress. It’s for their protection, of course. Let’s just say some people affected by Moonset’s acts would be all too happy to take out their rage and grief on the next generation.

What no one says, but everyone knows, is that the Congress fears Justin and his “siblings” might follow in their parents’ footsteps. As a result, their training in witchcraft is carefully monitored and regulated. Because we all know that works out well: tell teens not to do something and of course they’ll be 100% obedient.

When the children are kicked out of their school, they’re relocated to a town that has ties to their parents’ pasts. Not that they know this. In fact, Justin and his siblings are kept in the dark. Not a good thing when supernatural monsters and renegade witches and warlocks are after you.

Then it soon becomes apparent that Justin and the other teens weren’t moved to their new home for their own safety. They’re bait. And if they happen to die in the process of catching the real target? Oh well.

I wanted to love this book. The premise is right up my alley. I adore thematic explorations of children making up for, and bearing the brunt of, their parents’ mistakes. I was also intrigued by the motivations behind Moonset. As the book unfolds, we learn there are inherent inequalities in the magical world (as is the case with everywhere else) and these imbalances are what drove Moonset to do what they did. But because Moonset lost and the witch’s Congress won, that part of history is ignored and glossed over. Unfortunately, a few factors detracted from these otherwise interesting things.

First of all, the characters were often stereotypes. The only person who was fleshed out was Justin, the protagonist, and sometimes that was even pushing it. I liked that he was the long-suffering “keep everyone together” brother figure but in some ways, he was too white bread. He sometimes lacked the quirks that bring a character to life. His siblings all had “roles” — Jenna was the alpha female, Mal was the jock who wants to be normal, Cole was the joker, and Bailey was the delicate soul — but never rose above them or felt fully dimensional.

Because of this, I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme among the female characters. I literally could sort them into two major categories: Mean Girl and Damsel in Distress. The only one who didn’t fall into either category was Ash, Justin’s love interest, and she was such a Special Girl. I don’t mean that in a Special Chosen One sort of way. I mean that because she’s the love interest, she’s different from other girls. She stands up to Justin’s sister, Jenna – something that’s just not done. She banters with Justin’s brother, Mal, but is otherwise unimpressed by his charms. She marches to the beat of her own drum. And sure, I get that because the book is told from Justin’s POV, Ash’s portrayal will be colored by his attraction to her. But when every other girl in the book falls into easily identified categories, it’s rather noteworthy and obvious.

The plot had a lot of promise, but sometimes it struck me as being unfocused. The teens have moved from school to school, usually a result of Jenna’s acting out. Justin is tired of it but because his role is to keep everyone together and clean up after everyone’s messes, he bears with it. In many ways, Justin saw their new home as being their last chance. But then something — or someone — is hunting them. They have bodyguards but some are more effective than others. There’s some maneuvering and politicking within the witch’s Congress involving them. The relationship between the siblings is becoming increasingly strained. Justin finds something once belonging to his infamous father. It seemed like there were lots of elements that should have blended well together but didn’t.

Despite my misgivings about the novel, the ending leaves openings for future books (and I’m sure there are). The world you presented interested me enough to check out the next one. That said, I hope the characters rise above their superficial roles and more time is spent delving into the world of Moonset in all its ugly glory. C+

My regards,

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REVIEW:  The Lost Soul by Gabriella Pierce

REVIEW: The Lost Soul by Gabriella Pierce

Dear Gabriella Pierce:

I will never fully understand how anyone could claim the short-lived ABC TV series, 666 Park Avenue, was based on this series. They have completely different premises. The TV show was about an apartment building that granted your desires — but for a price. The book series is about a young woman who discovers she comes from a long line of witches, and the ensuing generations-long conflict that existed between the various witch families. In fact, the only thing they have in common are the character names. Just the character names, mind you; not even the characters themselves are the same.

the-lost-soul-pierceI read the previous two books in this series, 666 Park Avenue and The Dark Glamour, and enjoyed them for what they were. They were light, enjoyable paranormals. They weren’t deep. They didn’t require heavy mental investment. Sometimes you need that.

The Lost Soul picks up where The Dark Glamour left off. Jane Boyle has reunited her nemesis, Lynne Doran, with her long presumed dead daughter, Annette. Jane originally thought this good deed would make peace with her wrathful mother-in-law. Unfortunately, there’s one minor detail.

Lynne Doran is actually an ancient witch who has hopped from one body to the next through the centuries. A crucial ingredient to this ritual? A blood descendant. Explains why Lynne was so eager for Jane to procreate with one of her sons, doesn’t it? Not only would she get a granddaughter whose body she could eventually steal, the potential magical ability would be high since Jane comes from a distinguish witch lineage herself. But now that Lynne has been reunited with Annette, there’s no need to concern herself with Jane anymore.

To her credit, Jane is horrified. She can’t believe she just doomed another person to having her soul destroyed and body stolen. But when she tries to rescue Annette from her impending fate, she runs into another roadblock: Annette doesn’t want to be saved.

The Lost Soul continues along the same vein as the previous novels, pitting Jane against the well-connected, highly knowledgeable Lynne. Obviously, Jane is at a disadvantage. Not only was she not aware of her heritage until recently, she now has to overcome the lies Lynne tells her daughter.

After all, who would you believe? Jane lied to Annette about so many things. Who she was, what her motives were. Lynne, on the other hand, welcomes her back with open arms and showers her with everything life has denied to her up until now. Annette didn’t live an easy life. She’s an angry person. Yes, she was separated from her mother for the sole purpose of breaking the body stealing cycle but would Annette understand that? Which is more believeable? Enemies separated you from your mother for their own nefarious purposes or your mother is an immortal body-stealing witch? So I can see her refusal to believe Jane. Even ignoring all those other factors, the shift from working class waitress to Manhattan socialite can be dazzling.

Lynne’s not the only one reunited with people important to her. Jane is reunited with her estranged husband, Malcolm, who is also Lynne’s son and Annette’s brother. He feels responsible for his sister and helps Jane with her new quest. I’m fairly ambivalent to the Jane and Malcolm romance. I’ll always see him as the guy who purposely seduced Jane to bring her into his mother’s sphere of influence and was responsible for the death of her grandmother. I think readers are supposed to view them as an epic love in spite of all obstacles and odds but the execution falls flat for me.

The one thing I’ve always liked about these books is that Jane has allies. She is not a lone woman standing against the world. She doesn’t know everything and knows it. There are some things she can’t do and knows it. So she has no problem depending on her friends to fill in the gaps. The conflicts that arise as a result of this, especially when the fight against Lynne results in casualties, are interesting.

The Lost Soul concludes the major conflicts introduced in 666 Park Avenue nicely. On the other hand, it also opens up more possibilities. It’d be interesting to see where Jane goes from here but I think, as a reader, I’m satisfied by this ending and am content to say goodbye to this world. C+

My regards,

Previous books in this series: 666 Park Avenue (review), The Dark Glamour (review)

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