Book Review: Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy
The last time the sickness visited Mahri Zin’s village, she lost her husband and child because the Healers refused to help swamp smugglers. This time, Mahri travels to the capital, knocks out a Healer, and dumps him over the wall into her boat. But the man she snatches turns out to be the arrogant heir apparent, Prince Korl Com’nder, and his enemies seize this opportunity to do their damnest to kill him. Suddenly, it’s up to Mahri to save the prince’s life–and perhaps convince him that the lives of her loved ones are worth saving too.
Now what I expected from the book was that culture clash between Mahri and Korl, his dawning understanding of how the other side lives, and a budding attraction for the entirely socially unacceptable swamp smuggler.
On Mahri’s end, I couldn’t wait to follow the slow recovery from the grief over her family’s death and her coming to grips with her feelings for the man who’s an integral part of the system responsible for her loss. The book would be one part fantasy, one part romance, and one part careful study of the clash of cultures and cultural classes!
“What are you going on about?” my reading friend said. “You knew exactly what you were getting into. There’s a shirtless guy on the cover.”
Well, yes, okay, there is.
So I’ll just dive into the bad, the good, and the shirtless…
The Bad: The romance is tiring. It’s heavy-handed and clumsily executed. The story relies on conveniently instantaneous magical bonds (instant attraction because they are soulmates? Check. An irrevocable magical joining that binds them together forever? Check. A prophecy about them being together and being awesome? Check.) instead of relationship-building. For me, this doubly a shame because there are scenes that could have built a real relationship between them. Instead, the author opted for hitting a higher quota of sex scenes.
The Good: The world sure is lovely. In a nod to science fiction, we learn that this world was colonized ages ago and then, in a Pern-like fashion, the colonists forgot their roots. In this Avatar-scale conception of the planet, water covers the entire surface and the only “landmass” consists of complex ecosystems of plants and trees that rise above sea level. The creatures that live in this world are majestic and varied, and Beneath the Thirteen Moons does utter justice to the majesty of the world both in prose and concept.
The Bad: This is not a story for you if you’re looking for social commentary or realism in your romance (I’m not the only one, right? Right?). Beneath the Thirteen Moons tries to appeal to the ninety-nine percent mentality, but with the heavy-handed social engineering of a drunk rhinoceros trying to take on Political Theory 101. The solution that removes the social barriers that stand between Korl and Mahri is laughable in its improbability; there should have been at least five years of civil war, right there.
The Good: The magic system is intriguing–the power is both addictive and deadly as magic-users are forced to rely on eating a plant root to control the forces around them. As Mahri flees from her enemies, she is faced with the inevitable choice of no good options–by taking more root to save herself and the prince, she risks death by overdose. If she doesn’t take more root, she faces death by enemies. Well played, Kennedy.
The Bad: Back to the romance. I am not quite comfortable with any romantic premise in which the hero drugs the girl to have sex with her. Just saying.
The Good: I am reaching here, but I did appreciate the novel’s attempt to broaden the scope of its plot to involve the mysterious native inhabitants of the planet and their mystical vision/mental connection to the universe. It was a little too Avatar for me (though I will be fair and point out that this book was published six years before Avatar hit the screens) and would have been better served being expanded over the course of several books instead of being crammed into this one, but it did gave another dimension to the plot.
The Bad: Because of the need for drama and angst, the story bent Mahri’s character this way and that to fit whichever scene it wanted to do. By the middle of the story I had to wonder how I’d been fooled into thinking she was an intelligent, strong, and capable widow.
In the end, I would only truly recommend this to romance fans. General fantasy fans, proceed with caution. If you place great stock by character and political realism, your mileage will vary downward. But if you love soulmate plots, fantastical worlds, and adorable telepathic animal sidekicks, you’ll probably stick on at least a couple more stars to my rating.