First off, I need to say thank you to BadPress Publishing for accepting my request to view this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Moonlands' is an urban fantasy book set between Earth and the Kingdoms of the Moon, a magical world where there are seven moons in the sky and thirteen islands lying beneath them. The Kingdoms of the Moon are being ruled by Elbegast, the King Under The Moon, but his daughter, and rightful heir to the throne, Ashkellion, is living in the mortal realm, so he sends a pack of highly trained assassins - the Wolfen - to eliminate his threat to the throne as quickly as possible.
We start the book following the Wolfen Alpha, Blackwater Blaze, as him and his pack flood the streets of London searching for their King's daughter. After most of the pack get destroyed by Targyn Fae, one of the heir's Wardens, Blackwater Blaze continues on his quest on his own, determined not to fail this mission.
Meanwhile, Ashkellion - or Ashley Hawthorne, as she's known at school - is living a normal life, completely oblivious to the fact that magical blood flows through her veins. After the death of her Aunt Elspeth, she inherits some strange items from the crazy old lady, and soon finds her whole life spinning out of control.
This is one of those books where the synopsis sounds amazing, and the idea is brilliant, but the writing just cannot pull it off. I was convinced that 'Moonlands' was a debut novel, because the writing style is clunky and ineffective, so I was mightly surprised when I looked on Steven Savile's Goodreads author profile and he has many, many works already published.
One of the things that really irritated me about the writing style was the constant use of repetition. I lost count of the amount of times Ashley worried about having an over-active imagination, or the amount of times the words 'oleaginous', 'ululating' and 'orrery' were used throughout (so much so that it really felt as though the author was clinging on to the words that he had discovered, rather than using them once to have an effective description - once something has been described as 'oleaginous' multiple times it really does dampen the image it produces). This was quite a long book (or it felt like it, despite the fact that it was under 300 pages) but it could have been drastically cut down if there wasn't as much repetition of facts that I was sure that any reader could recall.
Similarly, at multiple points throughout, the motives of the characters were overly explained - there was an exchange between Blackwater Blaze and Ashley when he asked her if she was ready, and then there were two or three sentences which described what he was asking if she was ready to do, just for her to say she was ready and have multiple sentences describing what she was replying to. One of the magical things about writing is that the characters can say one thing and mean another thing, and it's all down to the reader to interpret away to their hearts content - being so obviously signposted and shoved in the right direction just takes away the joy and discovery from the reading.
Another of the issues was that multiple bits of the story just didn't make logical sense. At the start of the novel, Ashley relates the fact that she hasn't been living in her new home for very long, however we then discover that she's already made a best friend at school - one that basically lives at her house. I don't know if Steven had a different school experience than any of the rest of us, but in my recollection the new kid had to be around for a couple of months before they really settled with any one group, so it didn't make much sense at all that Ashley and Mel had already had their complete bonding experience. This was further confused towards the end of the book, when Ashley was ruminating upon her life experiences so far - she mentions the first school disco she attended, when the boy she liked ignored her, and how she cried afterwards wondering how Mel could have it so easy... If you've only been at your new school for one term, it's unlikely that you'll have already attended a school disco, and if she's remembering one from earlier on in her life, how was Mel there? Along these same lines, Ashley also mentions the fact that she really misses her old best friends, telling some little anecdotes about them, and fails to ever mention their names again, which makes little to no sense.
Another thing that didn't make sense was the fact that as soon as Ashley crossed through the Moongate, she could remember all of the names of objects and places despite the fact that she left the Kingdom of the Moons when she was less than a day old - yet later on, when encountering different species that inhabit the Kingdoms, she couldn't remember any of their names. If your memory is going to come back as soon as you cross through the magical portal, all of your memory should come back, not selective bits to try and shake up the narrative.
On the subject of the Moongate - we're told that this is the first time that the Moongate has been open since the late 1800's, but then we also find out that the option of forcing open the Moongate has always been there, and they proceed to get opened three times in the space of a few weeks. This also seems to have no semblance of logic behind it - if it naturally opened because of the position of the moon, it would open a lot more regularly than every two hundred years.
Because of all of these issues, I didn't really enjoy 'Moonlands', which was a massive shame. The characters all seemed to be very well developed - Blackwater Blaze's constant internal struggle with obeying orders and following his beliefs was a personal highlight - and the Wardens were an interesting addition, allowing the author's imagination to shine brightly. One of the most terrifying aspects was the Nightgaunt - a creepy, oleaginous creature that sucks all of the senses out of the people near it, leaving you with a lack of hearing, the inability to feel and with your vision disappearing - but with the repetition of this scene every time the Nightgaunt came near, the emotive aspect definitely deteriorated, leaving him as another mildly intriguing aspect to a mildly interesting book.
If you like urban fantasy, there are probably other books out there that you can read that are similar to this but written better. But if you're a fan of dense repetition and a slow moving plot, this book will definitely appeal to you, and I'm certain it's going to get some hardcore fans quite easily. The end of the book has a massive cliffhanger, making it a given that there's probably going to be a sequel, but it will take something drastic to make me read it.