Book Review: Celtic Moon by Jan DeLima

So state of things: still working on my novel, but hitting a funk; trying to work on blog posts for the Fable Online; there was a small hiccup in the formatting of Volume II, but it should be on the way soon; oh, and I’m working on a poem for some crazy reason. We’ll see if I end up doing anything with it.

But even with all of that, I needed to take a break and do some reading. Seeing as my job is near the main library (w00t!), I decided to head down there and find something to read.

Now, one of the things I do like doing as a writer is grab things that aren’t necessarily in my precise writing genre but still fit within the larger genre/sub-genre mold I’m going for. Basically, since I write romantic fantasy (or romantasy) in a spec-fic/urban fiction specific way, I like going for romantic fantasy that’s rural or epic. I want to see how others work with the tropes, but don’t want to steal plot ideas, you know?

Reason why this is important is because I went directly to new fantasy paperbacks section in the library. And found this:

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Looked pretty neat. The blurb intrigued me too:

For centuries, Cormack has lived between worlds—a man trapped in the body of a wolf, shunned by humans and shifters alike. Only one person has ever welcomed his company: Elen, a kindred outcast who is feared by others of her ancient Celtic race for her strange healing abilities. Cormack has always valued Elen’s kindness and understanding, but after a desperate act of friendship causes Elen to free him from his curse, he realizes he wants more. He wants all of her—completely and forever.

Except before Cormack can win Elen’s heart, Pendaran, the evil leader of the Guardians, captures her, determined to manipulate her incredible power to aid him in his twisted war against the shapeshifting tribes. Now Cormack must use all of his skills as a warrior and a wolf to save the woman he loves—before Pendaran’s vile schemes destroy them all…

Okay. So probably a bit more romantic than I was going for, but it sounds pretty epic here.

But. It’s not the first book of the series. And I’m one of those that has to read the rest of the series. I hate picking up in the middle. But hey! The library has the rest of the series.

…it’s here that I must confess my own idiocy. So taken was I of that first blurb, for book three, that I didn’t look at the blurbs for the rest of the series. That probably would have saved me a lot of headache here.

Which is how I ended up reading this:

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Let’s just say that the only reason why this book didn’t get pitched is because it’s a library book. And the only reason why I finished it was because it became a long list of things I don’t want to do. Ever.

Well, that reason and that I’d have an epic rant for this blog.

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(Unfortunately, as a basic user, I can’t embed gifs. But please enjoy the linked reactions at your pleasure.)

Couple of notes at this point. There will be spoilers because there’s a lot of rant worthy stuff as the book goes on. Also, I realize that Romance is like wine: everybody’s got their own preference. This one is definitely not mine. So if you like Second Chance, Secret Baby, and Alpha Male, you might enjoy this book.

So let’s start with the blurb:

Sophie Thibodeau has been on the run from the father of her son for more than fifteen years. Now her son, Joshua, is changing, and her greatest fears are about to be realized. He’s going to end up being just like his father—a man who can change into a wolf.

Dylan Black has been hunting for Sophie since the night she ran from him—an obsession he cannot afford in the midst of an impending war. Dylan controls Rhuddin Village, an isolated town in Maine where he lives with an ancient Celtic tribe. One of the few of his clan who can still shift into a wolf, he must protect his people from the Guardians, vicious warriors who seek to destroy them.

When Sophie and Dylan come together for the sake of their son, their reunion reignites the fierce passion they once shared. For the first time in years, Dylan’s lost family is within his grasp. But will he lose them all over again? Are Joshua and Sophie strong enough to fight alongside Dylan in battle? Nothing less than the fate of his tribe depends on it…

Really wish I had read that before reading the book.

The good here: the world building. Sooo many good ideas. The basic external plot is that way, way back one of the Celtic goddesses created shape shifters to protect and guard her son, who’s on this plane. They began to grow and build tribes/families, but eventually realized that their powers were being “diluted”: shifters are born in less numbers compared to straight human or wolf children. Their solution? Kill anybody who isn’t a shifter.

Well. Okay then.

But, this means that some folks flee the originals and go set up shop elsewhere, which leads to a great basis for any plot.

There’s also somewhat direct intervention by the gods (see the reference to the goddess’s son above), magical weapons, and a really interesting solution to the Mayfly Romance problem (her son’s blood in the womb has granted the FMC a longer life span). Whenever the story focused on these elements, I got really excited and interested.

However, these elements were really only 10, maybe 20, percent of the book. The rest of the time was spent on the awful romance.

Let’s start with time frames here. The entire book is resolved over the course of a week. The period of time that the couple has been separated before that? Sixteen years. And they split for some very, very good reasons that are never really overcome, just basically accepted. By her.

How in the hell am I supposed to buy that in less than a week (because they’re pretty much a sealed deal before the week is done) they even remotely trust each other enough to declare love when the base reason for her initial flight isn’t addressed?

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Getting ahead of myself.

Book begins with introducing our two crises: Dylan, the leader of a village of shifters and their families, has discovered that his village may be being observed by the Guardians, shifter purists who are even older than him, and calls for a meeting of other leaders who are trying to operate freely of the Guardians. Meanwhile, Sophie, long estranged wife spouse partner it’s complicated to Dylan, calls after sixteen years. Their son appears to be a shifter and is trying to go through his first change. We’re also given a hint at the violence that accompanied Sophie’s leaving.

Dylan tells her that she has to “come home” or their kid will die. This, however, seems to be a lie, which he justifies to his sister as being for the best to get his family home. Please note that we’re supposed to like this guy.

There’s a bit of filler with Sophie travelling and just summarizing the village’s reaction to the upcoming meeting, but that’s mainly to split up the flashbacks to why Sophie fled. It’s easiest just to tell the full story (a bit more gets fleshed out later in the book) so the summary version:

Sophie came to the village as a wildlife biologist to help introduce caribou to the region and rented the lake cabin they have there. One thing led to another, and she’s head over heels for the village leader. They exchange vows in front of the lake, which she thought was sweet but non-binding, and then finds she’s pregnant. Some time after that she finds out via an obituary that her father has died. Why wasn’t she told directly? Because, apparently, she was so guarded that she couldn’t even access a phone. She demands to be allowed to go to the funeral, saying she’ll leave anyway if not allowed.

He tells her no. That, at minimum, she’s going to stay there until she gives birth, at which point she can leave, but without their child. He then backs his threat up by changing in front of her and revealing the secret in full.

Sophie, understandably, flees at that point. She gets lucky and evades capture by the guys who were out for this fiasco, but a jealous female of the group finds Sophie instead. Said female threatens Sophie’s life directly, giving her some dreadful scars in the process. Sophie escapes by lying about the baby’s father and goes into hiding.

….yeah. This is the shit that we’re supposed to just overlook. She was treated brutally, kept as a prisoner, and then had her child threatened.

And he’s the love interest.

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Anyway. So she’s back now, and we get a grand tour, during which the son doles out the rest of the back story, and Dylan reveals the fact that they exchanged vows and considers Sophie and he wed because they were in his church. As in standing in front of the lake and stuff.

This basically highlights the major issue with the entire romance: it’s based entirely on what Dylan wants and believes. They’re wed because they went through a ceremony in his village: Sophie states she views it as simply a romantic gesture (no real word on whether or not she believed that at the time). They’re mates because his word is his bond (never mind she has no reason to trust him). They can’t leave because that’s the only way he knows to keep everyone safe. His attitude is okay because he was born in the mid-300s.

It’s infuriating.

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It’s at this point that they take son to get a checkup to see if he’s really a shifter or not. While waiting, Sophie gets a large part of the information she should have gotten 16 years ago. You know, the whole “I’m an immortal shape shifter from Wales, born in the 300s, and I have a shit-ton load of enemies” talk. And Sophie’s all like “that explains so much”.

Oh and this little gem is here:

The time for lies had ended the moment Sophie had reentered his territory.

She was never leaving again.

This is a constant thing from him. Either she isn’t leaving, or he’s going to what’s his by right, or she will understand him.

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And I get it. He’s supposed to be the Alpha Male. But at no point does he actually consider her feelings.

When it’s revealed that her claim of poor treatment was true? It’s a blatant disrespect of his authority.

When she states that she wants to live apart from him because she doesn’t consider them husband and wife? She can’t understand how it was to be apart from his family.

When it comes to pleasuring her? Whenever he basically pleases.

I’m serious on that last one. The first night they’re there, after it’s revealed that, yes, she was mistreated by his people, Dylan comes to the house and coerces a kiss out of her which leads to a longer makeout session. When she goes running the next morning (an act which is interpreted as running away), the scene ends with him making her scream his name, despite them just having argued and him just sending the guards off. And then later, he promises not to walk in on her at night only to, hours later, say that she’d better come to him herself soon, because he may not be able to hold himself back.

Ugh.

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After the charming chase scene on the second morning, Sophie comes back to the lake house to find her mother waiting for her. Her mother who has now found out that Sophie had exchanged vows with Dylan. However, Mom still doesn’t know the truth about the village, so has she presses for what really happened, Sophie states, rightly, that “she lost her freedom has Dylan’s wife.”

And this is the charming response we get:

“Sweetheart,” Francine said in a tone that would have been condescending if it hadn’t been laced with concern. “What do you think marriage is? Sunshine and roses?” She snorted, a feminine snort, but a snort all the same. “Your freedom ended the day you spoke your vows and accepted that man has your husband.”

And that, dear readers, was when I wanted to throw the book.

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And it gets worse after that. Since Sophie can’t explain without revealing the secret, she’s left at a loss to actually explain. Mom keeps pushing the point that, basically, unless there was good reason, like Dylan actually hurting them, then Sophie shouldn’t have left. And after Dylan reveals the secret, the whole issue is dropped. Seriously. Mom never pursues the real reason why Sophie left, Sophie never explains, it’s all just dropped.

This is a horrible sentiment. Getting married means that it’s okay to keep your spouse locked away from the world? Getting married is defined by only one side of the relationship? I mean, wtf.

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Sophie had legitimate reason to leave him. Married or not, the fact that he kept significant facts away from her, kept her imprisoned, and then threatened to take their child would be grounds for annulment even in the Catholic Church.

But everybody in this book acts like she was the one to make the biggest mistake. This is her error to clean up. In fact, she’s the one who ends up asking for his forgiveness.

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And it really sucks. Sophie is, on paper, such a strong character. She’s been on the run, learning survival skills and functioning under the radar. She talks back to Dylan. She gets a kick-ass ancient weapon. She fights shape shifters.

But she’s the one who has to go to Dylan. Beyond the night Dylan comes into the lake house (which was more about satisfying his needs than actually trying to fix things with her), every move has Sophie losing more independence. She comes to the village. After the marriage talk (and yes, Sophie makes the requisite statement of “he’s the only one I’ll truly love” during that), she gets manipulated into moving into the clan hall, into what would have been the son’s nursery (complete with broken cradle to remind us of how much she messed up!). She’s the one who approaches Dylan that night (night two there!) to beg forgiveness, make amends, and, yes, sleep with him.

Dylan basically postures, declares how much he’s been hurt, declares how much he needs and wants her, and metes out punishment to those who harmed his wife to show how he’s changed, but still puts the burden on her to decide how tough those punishments are because nothing says “I’m the leader” like “here’s the real source of your punishment”.

Fortunately, with them consummating things, that basically ends the romance drama. You know, only 200 pages into a 280 page book. The last bit covers the external plot where we get to see the meeting of the clans, an attack on the village (caused by Sophie’s arrival because the jealous female got banished for her attack on Sophie and then went to the nearest representative of the bad guys and revealed info), Sophie gets kidnapped, then released via virtue of the introduction of the female for the next book’s relationship, and then Dylan kills the nearby representative of the bad guys. Book ends with a funeral for Sophie’s mother (she got killed in the attack on the village) and Dylan finally offering Sophie an honest choice in leaving.

Well, kind of honest. It’s obvious at this point that she’s not going to leave, but we have to have the confirmation.

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There’s one other rage point here that I passed over in order to treat it individually. The “villain”. Honestly, the Guardians don’t really come into play much besides being just referenced, so it’s hard to really even consider this guy an antagonist, but there you go.

So the villain here is a guy named Math. He’s a shifter who’s aligned with the Guardians but living in the US. Anytime he’s mentioned, it’s indicated that there’s something not quite right with him. That he has certain… predilections. But that has nothing to do with why he attacks Dylan’s home or anything. Math attacks because he finds out from the exiled woman that Dylan’s sister is a particular type of healer and is the source of much of the village’s good fortune. So he’s going to kidnap her.

You’d think that would be the basis of the confrontation between Dylan and Math. That and Sophie’s kidnapping. That we’d get some righteous fight over not kidnapping women.

Nope. Dylan walk in on Math having sex with another dude. And basically goes, oh, the rumors were true. And then takes Math’s head off.

Yep. The great crime he gets killed over seems to be the fact that he’s gay.

Honestly, the real crime to their race is the fact that Math didn’t even bother mating his wife (the last female shifter born and the next relationship focus for the next book), which I can get with so few shifter children being born, but that doesn’t even really come up. Like at all when he’s mentioned. He’s a bad dude, not because he tortures and kills folk (like the exiled woman) or that he leads sneak attacks or kidnaps people, nope, we’re really bad because the rumors are true and he’s gay.

Honestly, Dylan comes off as a coward here.

So, that’s the book. Asshole hero who blames his behavior on his inner wolf. A strong woman who bends over backwards to the point of becoming a mattress. Inconsequential villains. The idea that abuse is okay as long as you’re married.

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And here’s the thing: it would have been okay if it had developed the external plot more. If that had driven them together and made them actually rely on each other like actual pack mates, then I would’ve been cool with it (and honestly, I think a lot of the inherent macho-ism would’ve been resolved). Fuck, if Dylan, at any point, had approached Sophie with a full apology and not just a “I am partially at fault”, I would’ve been okay. If he had approached her at all like an equal (which he claims to finally view her as at one point), I would’ve been okay.

As it is, it feels like a throwback to a 1950’s mentality, only set in modern times and excused by the fact of “well, he’s just that old”. I’m sorry. No. He’s got a cellphone, he can figure out how to treat a modern woman without misogyny.

The other two books are going to remain unread, and they’re all going back to the library. And I’m going to go find a better book to cleanse my reading pallet.

Maybe this:

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At least that one takes time to build the romance.

Also, why can’t I write this much in one sitting on my own stories? Gah.

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