From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Moonshine by Alaya Johnson

Review by Cynthia Ward

It’s the 1920s, and Manhattan is roaring. Zephyr Hollis can’t say the same, though she keeps busy enough, bicycling from classroom to equal rights protest to blood bank to suffragette meeting. She’s a social activist, a charity worker, a vegetarian, and an agitator for the rights of the supernatural races, known as the “Others.” In short, Zephyr Hollis is a vampire-immune young woman with a guilty conscience, trying to atone for her past as a vampire slayer.

The past proves tough to expiate, or even elude. It feels so good when Zephyr “pops” a bloodsucker. Also, her ex-boss is in town, and her family—complete with her famous slayer father—is arriving from Montana for a visit. Meanwhile, Zephyr’s future—glimpsed in uncanny visions by her Irish flapper roommate, Aileen—doesn’t look promising, and Zephyr’s present is distinctly unpleasant. She needs to find the mysterious, elusive, and extremely powerful crime lord who’s importing the virulent vampire drug known as “Faust,” and who is probably one of the Others. If she doesn’t, Amir, the handsome djinn she’s falling for, may die. But, the more Zephyr investigates, the more she realizes Amir is involved in the city’s burgeoning vampire-drug problem.

Urban fantasy is busting out of its contemporary settings, and Alaya Johnson’s cleverly titled novel, Moonshine, is set in a time and place—Jazz Age Manhattan—that seems especially well suited to nocturnal paranormal adventures. Johnson makes the most of the re-imagined era with her thoughtfully developed alternate history, and adorns it with period details that reach considerably beyond the Charleston and the bob. She also doesn’t shy away from the era’s less-than-enlightened views on gender, race, class, and immigration. The plot of Moonshine is fairly complex, and the protagonist is fun and sympathetic, with an enjoyable first-person voice. Some aspects of the narrative do not entirely convince (Zephyr’s attitudes seem a bit too modern at times, and surely folks in the Roaring Twenties would view Faust as a vampiric variant of forbidden hooch, instead of a drug), but most readers will forgive the lapses and clamor for sequels.

Moonshine: A Novel
Alaya Johnson
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 978-0-312-64806-0
288 pages | Trade Paperback | $14.99

You Might Also Enjoy:

Tagged as: , ,