Backlist Review: Moonglow by Kristen Callihan

Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Title: Moonglow
Genre: romance novel-ish, historical fiction, supernatural
Series: Darkest London #2
Pages: 327 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected July 31 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Once the seeds of desire are sown . . .

Finally free of her suffocating marriage, widow Daisy Ellis Craigmore is ready to embrace the pleasures of life that have long been denied her. Yet her new-found freedom is short lived. A string of unexplained murders has brought danger to Daisy's door, forcing her to turn to the most unlikely of saviors . . .

Their growing passion knows no bounds . . .

Ian Ranulf, the Marquis of Northrup, has spent lifetimes hiding his primal nature from London society. But now a vicious killer threatens to expose his secrets. Ian must step out of the shadows and protect the beautiful, fearless Daisy, who awakens in him desires he thought long dead. As their quest to unmask the villain draws them closer together, Daisy has no choice but to reveal her own startling secret, and Ian must face the undeniable truth: Losing his heart to Daisy may be the only way to save his soul

Sequel Syndrome strikes again! I had been looking forward to reading this direct follow-up to Callihan's engaging and fun first novel, Firelight, for months now. Upon randomly stumbling across and loving the first in the Darkest London series earlier this year, I was eager to see where Callihan would take her version of London run amok with the supernatural. First seeing this up on NetGalley, the anticipation of a good book when I was approved.. all added up to a lot of pressure and excitement on my part...which never really panned out here in Moonglow. A lot of the charm, the fun, the inventiveness that made the first so memorable and easy to read is missing here. I must admit that I really struggled to finish this, through the predictable plotlines, the meandering plot, the boring sections when nothing happens, though my ARC was only 300 pages. I've gone back and forth with my rating for this - from a 1.5 to a 2.75 to a 2.5 and then finally settli9ng a "2". It's not horrible, but it's just not good, either. Other fans of the first and the series don't seem to be nearly as disappointed as I was, but this is going down as my biggest let-down in months. It had so much potential, so much momentum from the first, and Moonglow utterly squanders both.

I hate the disappointment that often comes so easily to a series of books, usually right where Moonglow is in sequence - the volume between the first inception of a series and the finale of it all. The concepts that were so creative in the first book of Darkest London, just don't have the benefit of the originality, and so it falls to the characters and plot to make up for the lack. That never happens here. Never. Instead of the fresh concept of paranormal curses like what plagued Archer, Moonglow is just another romance novel werewolf tale. I wanted to like the two lead protagonists in Daisy Ellis and Ian Ranulf, but I never invested or connected with either person. It, that ineffable quality some characters possess to make you like them even against your will (see The Hound, Jaime Lannister, etc.)just wasn't there for me. Not for Ian the charismatic, dark anti-hero of Benjamin Archer that I so easily fell under the sway of before. From a villain in the first book to the hero of the second, MacRanulf just fell entirely flat in his presentation, his character and his actions. I also couldn't buy his motivations and change of character from one book to the next. An anti-hero or a man with a dark past is one thing, but the Ian from Firelight was an ass, one I hated, and I therefore couldn't (wouldn't?) buy into his Poor Noble With A Troubled Heart act here in book two. Callihan did her work too well with the first novel with his character for me to see him as sympathetically as she tries so hard to paint him here.

Daisy, his obvious love interest from the first book, had plenty of sass but it felt forced, and disjointed when with her lover. Their tart, acerbic banter could be amusing on occasion, but for the most part, left me cold and disbelieving of their affections for one another. I don't even have a lot to say about Daisy. She was there, she did what she had to move the book along.  She's blah, meh, milquetoast to the tip of her blonde head. I missed Miranda's fire, excuse the pun. The third person POV doesn't really do any favors for either lead: perhaps had I read inner monologues and thoughts I would've cared at all more. I certainly  liked that Daisy was independent and had a mind of her own, but I just couldn't connect with her. I wanted both her and Ian to mature the hell up and act like adults instead of the "I like him/her so I am going to be as rude, inscrutable, cold and mysterious as possible" act that went on for far too long. This isn't young-adult literature, people. This is a romance novel with supernatural elements: please stop with the teenage melodrama and wishy-washy bullshit.We all know you're going to fall in love and bang - please don't make the read there unbearable. When the romance finally did happen along, proceeding as we all knew it would, I had issues; partially due to their weird interactions leading up to that point, but I wasn't into it. The two complement each other well, sure, but I just didn't care about their love lives, their sex scenes or, above all, their angst over the other. If I don't care about either character independently, why would I care when they're together? Oh right: I don't and I didn't.

The mythology of the weres and the lycans is weak.  I can't think of another way to put it. It's not explained nearly enough and seems to be ridiculously arbitrary. <spoiler> Why are female lycans and weres so rare? If they as a species reproduce so infrequently, how come there are so many mentioned? How did the clan come into being? Are all the weres/lycans supposed to be alone their whole lives? Are they homosexual by nature? Then how does the breed survive? Why doesn't the bite of a werewolf turn a human? And if the bite is so weak, how could the disease be passed so easily? </spoiler?>  See? I have many, many questions upon finishing this...none of which are even close to be answered. All that mess adds up to a very unsatisfactory read, full of holes and problems; showing a novel that doesn't take the time to flesh out its own world and lore. I also have to note that this has a Scottish werewolf pack with members named Maccon, Conall, and a beta named Lyall. That doesn't sound at all familiar to fans of Gail Carriger's delightful Parasol Protectorate series, does it? Noo, not at all. Coincidence, or homage? Either way, it's too close to home for yet another alternate supernatural history of England to name their wolfen members such names.

Too much of the plot here was predictable, when it even cared to make an appearance (which was rarer than the female lycans mentioned in passing.) I called two of the key twists long before they happened, to my immense chagrin. I don't remember the first novel's plot as being this transparent and was surprised at how obvious a lot of the "mystery" was to the reader. A little more authorial sleight-of-hand to camouflage the clues would've gone a long way. Long stretches of boredom permeated my one-day read of the novel; sections filled with the annoying back and forth of the main character, with absolutely no plot advancement. Seriously, for like 75 pages, everyone forgets there is a mad, murderous werewolf on the loose. Other elements just felt stuffed in, randomly, like the GIMs, who don't serve any real purpose til the end... <spoiler>when they really do become deux-ex-machinas, or ghosts in the machine.</spoiler> That whole bit just seemed like lazy writing to me - an easy out to fix a plot point. I expected more from what was there - without the side filler and angst, this would've been a much stronger, more enjoyable read.

I'm torn. I like to finish what I start, but I don't know if I will be continuing the Darkest London series with the third Ellis sister installment: Winterblaze. Kristen Callihan has an easy style, but I was not happy with this latest effort. Much weaker, much less original, much less detailed, and with much more off-putting leads, than Firelight, Moonglow was big swing and a miss. Callihan is 1 for 2 so far, and only time will tell if I give my disappointment time to cool.... and  choose to pick up the third. 

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