Moth by Daniel Arenson
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Epic Fantasy / Science Fiction|
|Release Date:||October 22, 2013 (US) October 9, 2013 (UK)|
In 2014, I’ll be wading into the river of indie sci-fi and fantasy, panning for gold. If you’ve read a great indie book, one that’s every bit as good as mainstream titles, and you think I should cover it, let us know in the comments.
Moth is the story of a world of light and darkness, a war that engulfs it, and two lives torn apart by that war.
And it’s good.
The book is a bit of a throwback as far as fantasy stories go. It reminds me more of Dragonlance or the Belgariad than A Song of Ice and Fire or The Name of the Wind. It opens with Torin Greenmoat, gardener and village guardsman, entering the dusk that lies between the lands of eternal sunlight and the lands of eternal darkness in his world, looking for a missing girl. We learn in time that the world of Moth once turned, but that a meteor strike stopped its turning, separating its peoples for long enough that the residents of the sunlit side are no longer sure those on the night side exist, and vice versa.
From there, Torin’s story becomes a narrative of a country going to war and a conflicted young man trying to stop it.
Torin’s story will feel familiar to anyone with a grounding in 80s and 90s fantasy. Young man, small town, heroic bloodline, good to his very core even though he doesn’t always live up to his goodness, etc. He ends up being more important than he really ought to be and has to stand up to the forces of evil. No magic powers, but he does have an eye injury that lets him see uncommonly well in the darkness. To me, his narrative felt a little bland, and it alone wouldn’t have earned the book high praise.
Luckily, Moth has two big stars.
The first is the night-side half of the world. Daniel Arenson can do a wonderful job of painting scenes and creating locales, and his talent is on full display when describing the nighttime wonders of Moth. Torin’s journey into the dusk is what initially caught my eye, and the book is full of other unforgettable settings: a crater at the heart of a starlit plain; a nighttime city of glass and crystal, dotted with brightly colored lamps and fed by a diet of seafood and mushrooms; a graveyard where fluttering silks hide a den of thieves called the Dust-Face Ghosts.
The sunlit side feels a little more stock-fantasy European, and it’s not drawn in nearly the same level of detail. We don’t spend a great deal of time there, however, as the narrative focuses more deeply on the night as it goes on.
The book’s second star is its other main character, Koyee Mai. Koyee is Torin’s night-side equivalent, and she shows up early in the book and quickly takes it over. She’s a fisherman’s daughter who takes up the fool’s quest of warning her people about what’s coming from the sunlit side of the world. Along the way, she shows more heart and courage than anyone else in the book, meets by far the more interesting of the secondary characters, and benefits from being our guide to the fantastical nighttime half of Moth. Her story feels much more unique than Torin’s, and it’s the one that really drew me into the book and kept me reading.
Moth does have its share of weaknesses. While Koyee is a great heroine with a lot of agency, a lot of other women in the book exist mostly as goads for the men. Even Torin’s best friend and maybe-love-interest, Bailey, who starts out as a strong character acting in her own right, eventually becomes not much more than a reason for Torin to do things. King Ceranor’s wife, during her brief appearance, is positively cringe-worthy. The book has some logic holes and plot holes as well, and though none of them are big enough to derail it, they feel a little disappointing when they show up. The political intrigues aren’t particularly intriguing, the fanatically religious villains are evil more or less just because, the writing can be a bit uneven, and there are some questionable formatting choices (no italics in the Kindle version I read) and typos.
More importantly, and this could be either a weakness or a strength depending on your tastes, Moth doesn’t hew to the realism and literary aspiration that’s in vogue in fantasy. There’s nothing here that would make a professor stand up and take note. And the book reads more like one of Tolkien’s fairy stories than one of the history-based, realistic narratives we’ve become more accustomed to. The numbers don’t feel based in reality, and the battle scenes take their cues more from Hollywood than from history.
But there’s room for that in the world of fantasy, as has been discussed on this site, and if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, you’ll be in for an enjoyable ride. The battle scenes, despite not being realistic, are breathless and exciting (I nearly let dinner burn while reading the climax). And while there’s not likely to be much here the reader hasn’t seen philosophically, there are questions that truly vex the naive characters at the heart of the book, and there’s plenty to be gained from watching them work through that.
In the end, I give Moth seven out of ten. Bonus points for a great opening and ending, for gorgeous descriptions and memorable scenes, for an interesting selection of point-of-view characters, and for Koyee Mai. Minus points for logic and plot holes, for using women too often as goads for men and never doing the reverse, for villains without much heart, and for a general feeling that it could have used more polish.