A Moonserpent Tale
by Rosemarie Montefusco
Print Length: 352 pages
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
Danger, adventure, magic, and romance: What else could you want out of a high fantasy?
A Moonserpent Tale tracks a young witch (Araina), her guide (Sol), an elf, and a pigeon on a quest through a barren, peril-fraught land.
Each has their own reasons for heading out on the journey, from Sol’s duty as a soldier to Araina’s mixed bag of grief and low self-esteem. The book skillfully weaves convincing personalities and their authentic motivations with the story’s plot; it all hangs together nicely.
While delivering some spell books and a magical artifact to a friend at a nearby witch community, Araina’s latent magical ability manifests. Thus, she is the best choice for an important mission the coven needs to staff. A militaristic force seeks seven magical artifacts, hidden throughout the land, to wield even greater power. And something is wrong with nature itself, the land and its plants blighted. Are these events connected in some way?
Araina is reluctant but eventually is convinced to try to find the artifacts. Accompanying her is a soldier, Sol, who knows the territory. He is tasked with the role of guide and guard. Araina will, however, face unexpected psychological and emotional traumas alone. Another helper is Den, a diminutive elf who flies around on a pigeon. Araina had helped him out of a scrap along the trail to the witch settlement, and Den says he has nothing better to do than to come along. With Pidgie’s help, he can provide quick aerial surveillance of their route ahead.
But things don’t go too smoothly for Araina and company. The countryside is thick with warring armies, brigands, and hostile enclaves. And threatening spirits. To make matters worse, supplies run low and living off the land is near-impossible due to the blighted vegetation.
Along the way, the characters grow, change, and develop through a number of challenges. They bond as a team and then must deal with the heartache of misunderstanding and betrayal. A Moonserpent Tale’s sweet, slow-burn romance is perfect for these characters in this situation.
The book’s worldbuilding is thorough and thoughtful, and the description is immersive. For example, Araina, a seaside dweller her whole life, slips off alone to visit a harbor:
“The witch closed her eyes, wanting only to hear, smell, feel, and imagine it her own. She tried to envision it with gulls and harbor seals and without the massive ships, the racket of loading and unloading, the wafts of tobacco, and the grumbling, chuckling, and griping throughout the air. The sheen from the water, breaking the darkness behind her eyelids, almost led her there…”
Stakes are high, both for the world and the characters’ personal lives. Decisions always have real consequences, both emotional and practical, such as the emotional repercussions of killing an enemy or a near miss with danger. These people don’t just shake it off. They talk about their feelings and those feelings inform future actions.
I suspected that everyone, even minor characters, had a complete backstory, but the details are only unfurled as needed. Yet there is a richness to the narrative, as that background informs each step of the way.
Clearly this is Araina’s story. It’s a delight to see her development as she tries, fails, and suffers consequence consistent with her choices. The reader roots for her and engages with her struggles.
The book skillfully handles an omniscient point of view, always clear and never pulling the reader out of the narrative. The voice of the story has a wonderful, folkloric tone perfect for the material. Each character also speaks in a voice well suited to their personality and background. Den the elf is quite a curmudgeonly charmer. “Pfft, gotta be more choosy with job offers. But eh, looks like Miss moon snake lived through somethin’ else. If that don’t call for’a drink to celebrate, hat to see what else it’s gonna take, General.”
Readers who enjoy character-driven fantasy fiction such as the fantasy novels of Lois McMaster Bujold will be impressed with A Moonserpent Tale. This is a tale both thoughtful and entertaining, a true pleasure to read.
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