Moondancer Drake, Ancestral Magic (P.D. Publishing 2009)
“In a world where magic has become no more than childish fantasy or cinematic illusion, secret towns exist beyond the sight and understanding of mundane humanity. Green Grove is such a town.”
I have rarely approached a book review with more reluctance or mixed feelings. Largely this is because I’m on unfamiliar territory. I’ve read and reviewed science fiction, fantasy, horror, humor, literary and non-fiction books — big names and small — by mainstream press, self-published authors and small presses, but I’ve never before been presented with a “multicultural paranormal romance.” Romance, in fact, has always been something I’ve shied away from (and occasionally shied across the room). But this one drew my attention for two reasons: it’s under a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) label, P.D. Publishing, Inc., and it has a distinctly pagan slant -– and no, not Harry Potter magic — but the real deal, the stuff that many people around the world practice and sincerely believe in.
So I began reading with some trepidation and discovered a mixed bag. There was a definite sense of thorough research. In fact, the “thank you” list runs two pages with a paragraph for each person or organization being thanked. While that may sound boring, I found the background information interesting and a nice lead-in to the story itself. For example, the author consulted the Badger Association For The Blind And Visually Impaired, along with other organizations, for accuracy about items such as guide dogs for children and how internet access for the blind works. I’m always thrilled when an author goes to such lengths, so that gave me a good feeling about the book right up front.
I loved the opening line:
The moonfaced clock ticked softly from its perch above the kitchen door, both silver hands reaching in silent prayer towards the stylized number two.
The story rolls on from there focusing initially on two main characters, Meg and Sky, in the kitchen of Sky’s apartment. Meg is fixing a wiring problem and Sky is going through her overwhelming stack of bills. The setting is laid out quickly: Sky’s job as a waitress barely keeps her out of complete poverty, partially because her brilliant but blind son, Drake, attends an expensive private school. Meg is a sturdy freelance maintenance worker who’s secretly been in love with Sky since grade school. Drake’s father is Meg’s brother John, who took off for the hills years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.
So far, so good. The characters are interesting, the situation compelling, the details nicely chosen to evoke all the senses. Then Sky gets a surprise reprieve from her bills: a wealthy relative has died and left her the family estate in a town called Green Grove. After some agonizing, Sky packs up Drake and heads, along with Meg, for their new home, and their lives all turn distinctly strange. Turns out Meg and Sky grew up together in Green Grove, but Sky blocked her early childhood from her memory because of the traumatic event that prompted her parents to move out of town in a hurry. The family estate isn’t just a house; the house could actually be said to be the least important thing about it. There’s a powerful nexus on the grounds, one that evil forces want to possess and the good forces want to protect . . . and Sky is now the de facto guardian of that nexus. Events wind on from there to an interesting semi-conclusion, implying further books will follow.
Now we come to my ambivalence. As a first book by a new author, Ancestral Magic is well-researched with some compelling characters, intriguing plot twists and a creative blending of reality and fantasy. I like to learn something new when I read fiction, and I definitely learned a lot about blind children in today’s world from this book.
But like many first novels –- I include books from major labels as well as small presses under that umbrella — it has a mishmash of good bits and flaws. The cover (design credit goes to Boulevard Photorafica) is a perfect example. I like the title font and the way a feathered staff weaves through it. I also like the door, which is well-drawn, but the surrounding doorway and background are blurry and look like a badly photoshopped picture. I thought it was a great idea marred by sloppy execution.
Getting into the writing: Meg, Sky, and Drake are well-developed. Unfortunately, the bad guys came across as flat and stereotypical. If this had been sent to me as a book instead of an electronic file, I might have thrown it across the room at some of the more annoying passages:
The power was close and Morissa Davidson knew it was just a matter of time. It would need to be soon. Age was creeping ever closer and without a new energy source to hold back the ravages of time, she would lose her youth. . . .
I’ve seen that exact motivation done to death across countless movies and books. This book deserved better than something that hackneyed. I like my bad guys to be believably bad with characters as strong and well-developed as the good guys, and smart, not just cackling witches plotting in corners. The revelation of why Sky and Meg’s parents left town also fell flat for me. *SPOILER* it was a little reminiscent of (sorry!) Harry Potter, in that an untrained child is able to mysteriously drive away evil attackers when the experienced elders around her are all getting killed. */SPOILER*
The number of characters introduced is another problem for me. I would have preferred more focus on Meg, Sky and Drake, and less interjection of the Davidson family overall. Too many characters fighting for center stage make it hard to like any of them.
The good parts in this book -– description, characters, plot twists — are very good; the flawed parts are . . . well, very flawed. I enjoyed reading the unusual concepts, and I believe Moondancer Drake’s writing will improve with time and practice. She may well one day be prominently featured on the big chain shelves. Until that time, I’ll continue to shy away from paranormal romance stories, mainstream or otherwise. In the end Ancestral Magic just wasn’t solid enough to keep me interested.
P.D. Publishing 2009
ISBN: 978-1-933720-54-8 (1-933720-54-9)