Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 5/5 Entertainment: 5/5 World Building: 5/5
With its captivating setting, riveting plot, and heart-pounding action, “Moonchild” is a much needed breath of fresh air in the world of YA fantasy. I’d say the same in the context of New Adult fantasy as well since the novel teeters between the two, which works to its benefit. Whichever age bracket you want to put it is, mature YA or NA, “Moonchild” is an original, creative, and exciting read whether you’re familiar with the world of steampunk or not.
Scarlett Moon lives on the streets of a world where computers are a sin and airship rule the skies. Those in control are controlled in turn by corruption. Those who go against them are sent to the coal mines to pay for their crimes. When her best friend, Rory, meets such a fate, Scarlett’s life begins to crumble. Even after she and the rest of her friends are rescued by a band of coal-smuggling pirates, Scarlett finds it hard to fix the invisible walls she has built to protect herself. Among the pirates is the dashing Asher Kimura, who only makes Scarlett’s efforts all the more difficult. When she discovers that there might be a way to save Rory, Scarlett will have to put her friend’s life before her own, even if it means leaving herself vulnerable to Asher’s charm and affection.
There’s so much great stuff in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.
For starters, the setting is a lot of fun. It blends steampunk and the post-apocalyptic genres together seamlessly and brings something new to both categories, which is refreshing seeing as the post-apocalyptic side has been sufficiently milked. The world that Scarlett inhibits is so vast and vivid that it lends itself to a lot of future stories and creative set ups. The characters that inhibit this world are fantastic as well. While not the most memorable, they all offer something important in every scene they’re in. If they’re not moving the story forward, they’re offering insight about the world around them, providing foils to other characters, or helping to build conflict. They each have a job and they execute it perfectly.
I liked Asher in particular. It takes about two paragraphs to figure out that he’s going to be Scarlett’s love interest, but Mary does a wonderful job making him just as believable and likeable as Scarlett. If anything, he’s more believable and likeable than Scarlett, but I’ll talk about her soon enough. I especially like the way Mary uses Asher to explore some mature themes that you wouldn’t expect from a book like this. That little detail gives “Moonchild” a depth that transcends its genre and intended age group (even if that detail is still a little fuzzy).
The main conflict ensnared me from start and I was thankful for the route it took. In the first few chapters, I was worried that “Moonchild” was going to be another “Hunger Games”/“Divergent” clone, but despite its small scale in comparison to the rest of this new world, it proved to be exciting, captivating, and emotionally gripping, much to my surprise. That is due in no small part to the magnificent writing. Both the narration and the dialogue do a great job introducing the reader to both the world and the characters. Despite the newness of it all, nothing feels like exposition. Everything feels like natural storytelling. The entirebook flows like a bullet train heading for a destination you can’t wait to reach, even if the scenery outside is immensely enjoyable.
Despite all of “Moonchild’s” strengths, its protagonist, Scarlett, was rather disappointing. To be fair, she really shines in the action scenes. She’s a headstrong force to be reckoned with and has no trouble getting her hands dirty. In the quiet moments, however, she begins to fall apart. She suffers from that “strong female character” syndrome where “strong and confident” is confused for “emotionless and cold.” Normally I’d shrug it off, but she’s so incredibly bad at it that she started to get on my nerves. She spouts Queen Elsa-esque rhetoric of “Conceal, don’t feel,” but she never seems to follow it. She’s constantly letting her negative feelings color how she sees people and situations and ends up making bad choices because of them. If she were fifteen or sixteen, I might have just made a footnote about the discrepancy, but she’s nineteen. If she’s going to give into emotionally-driven recklessness, Mary should have just called it than rather than hide it behind the need for a “strong female character.” It would have made Scarlett a bit more mature and likeable.
Thankfully, Scarlett is only one piece of an otherwise expertly crafted novel and I won’t deny that she could mature over the course of future novels (which I would love to read, just so you know, Kate L. Mary).
As a whole, “Moonchild” is brilliant. The world is fascinating and vibrant, the characters are enjoyable, the conflict will have you desperate to see the end, and the brilliantly written first-person narrative is worth taking a look at in and of itself. If you’re a long-time fan of steampunk, post-apocalypses, mature YA and NA, or even if you’re new to all of it, I highly suggest you pick up “Moonchild” and get swept away on an air ship. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.
Originally posted on tabbyafae.com on August 20, 2016