My Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: Unrated / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.00 / 5.00
*** Disclaimer: I know the author personally and was privileged enough to read an earlier version of this title about a year ago. I picked up some typos and grammatical errors that had outwitted the spell checker and then followed its path to publication with bated breath. Thus, I am undoubtedly a little biased when asked my opinion about it! ***
Sophie Thibodeau is a relatively normal Graduate student when she first encounters Dylan Black on the slopes of Maine’s Mount Katahdin. Although he is a little controlling and unusual, she falls for his natural beauty and dynamic personality and they begin a passionate affair. Soon she realizes that she is pregnant and suddenly her world changes. Dylan insists that she break all connection to her friends and family and live with him and his strangely insular people in the town that he controls like a feudal lord. He becomes increasingly controlling and possessive and finally he takes her out into the woods one night to reveal his most intimate secret – he can transform into a wolf, as can some of his followers.
Terrified beyond belief, Sophie flees into the forest seeking to escape the ‘monsters’ behind her. Unfortunately, she crosses paths with Dylan’s previous lover, Sîan, who is jealous of Sophie’s pregnancy and more than a little unhinged. Seriously injured, Sophie persuades Sîan to let her leave and she crawls towards the safety of the Interstate, determined to protect her unborn child from all the threats that Rhuddin Village hides.
Sixteen years later, Sophie sees her son developing some worrying tendencies and she realizes that he has probably inherited more from his father than a few physical similarities. She decides that the only way to keep Joshua safe and well is to return to the one person that she has spent so long avoiding. Meanwhile, Dylan is on the brink of a war with the Guardians, the most ancient of his kind who see themselves as almost Gods. They want all of their kind to live under their direct control, but many, including Dylan, refuse to bend to their will and are prepared to fight to retain their freedom. War is coming to Dylan’s land and yet he needs to keep his family safe as well.
When a friend tells you that they are a writer and that they would like you to read their manuscript, it is rather difficult to know what to say in return. What if it is a pile of dreadful rubbish? What if you hate the characters, the setting, the dialogue, the plot, the genre, the way they keep using the word ‘sparkly’? How do you keep your friendship intact after they have laid their soul bare to you and you have looked at it and then wanted to gouge your eyes out with spoons? How do you tactfully tell someone that you hate their baby and think it should be burned on the spot and then the ashes should be buried at the bottom of deep, deep mineshaft just to make sure that they never see the light of day again? Will they ever speak to me again after I have killed their dream and then jumped up and down on its still warm corpse with spiky boots for several hours?
I know that these kinds of thoughts mean that I am a pessimist of the worst type, and I am exaggerating a little, but to say that I was worried about reading Jan’s manuscript is a massive understatement. I am known at our book group for being out-spoken and very vocal with my criticism, so I was sure that I could never hand this book back with a lukewarm appraisal. At the time, my friendship with Jan was at a very critical stage, like a tiny plant just beginning to get established, and it could have very easily been squashed by my tendency towards unintentional tactlessness.
Fortunately, my worries were groundless and I did not need to worry about destroying Jan’s fragile ego. Her writing grabbed me right away and I was intrigued by the story that she laid out. I knew that she wanted me to be especially critical of the dialogue that she had given to those characters born in the UK, but there was nothing that stuck out as inappropriate. I could hand the huge stack of papers back with a very honest, but enthusiastic, appraisal and feel good about it. Since then, I have continued to reassure Jan that I really do like her book and think that it is good: I am not sure if she truly, truly believes me, but I hope that this review will go some way to finally laying her doubts to rest.
The first thing that struck me about Celtic Moon was the choice of protagonist. Sophie is rather unusual for the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance that I have read because she is already a relatively mature woman. I say ‘relatively’ because she is quite a bit younger than me and I do not like thinking of myself as ‘older’ or ‘mature’! Not only is she in her mid to late thirties, but also she has already found the love of her life and had his child. She is well beyond the Happy Ever After that comes at the end of traditional Romance novels and living a normal life with all the associated difficult bits. In fact, the only near perfect aspect of her life is that she has such great relationships with her son and mother.
I was both intrigued and delighted by Sophie and her dilemmas. I am not a great fan of chick lit or general Romance titles, so I enjoyed reading about a woman who has to deal with more than just romantic angst and whether or not her nail varnish matches her handbag. Sophie has big, real life issues to overcome and she does it with great grit and determination. This is where Jan really sold me her book: Sophie is a strong woman throughout the whole story. I have grown to really rather hate those ‘strong’ female protagonists that are repeatedly described as such right up until the moment that the male hero turns up to save her from all the big, bad monsters and sweep her off her feet. If a woman is strong then she will remain so even if she has a man around to help out with fighting the coming apocalypse. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has male friends and helpers, but she is always as good as, if not better than, them in a straight fight against the Big Bad. She is the type of strong female that I can appreciate and empathize with and Sophie has a slight touch of Buffy about her.
One other aspect of Sophie that I really like is where she actually differs from Buffy: she is not special. She is not the Chosen One. She does not have special powers. She is not the unknowing last member of some super special tribe of uber-powerful warrior women with the ability to fire laser beams from her eyes. In short, she is not a Special Snowflake and I love her for it. She could be me or you or any of our friends: the only unusual thing about her is that she meets a man who happens to be able to shift into wolf. Again, this is against the usual trend in all manner of Fantasy fiction, but it helps to make this book stand out from the ‘pack’ (sorry, but I had to!).
Speaking of our Alpha male: he is also a pleasant surprise. He displays many of the typical Alpha characteristics that we see in Romance novels, but I can forgive him for his overbearing arrogance because he has good reason to be that way. He is nearly two thousand years old and has stayed outside of human society for much of that time, so he can be forgiven for being a little unusual. He is heavily influenced by the traumas of his past and also by the Wolf inside him. As pack leader, he feels responsible for all his people and his desire to find Sophie has always had to take a back seat to his need to keep the pack safe. He is a man with great strength of character who can, and does, chose the pack’s interest over his own. As Spock says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” and we see that Dylan can apply this logic even though his Wolf is calling out for its chosen Mate, Sophie.
This adds an unusually cool dynamic to the rekindled romance between our two lead characters. There is little doubt that they will eventually succumb to the powerful attraction between them, but they are not so weak-willed and self-centered as to allow their feelings endanger the people around them. When they do finally reunite, all the longing and self-denial adds to the emotional impact of the event and yet it has a truthful feel to it. This is not a fantastical encounter of spectacular gymnastics, improbable outcomes or impossible endurance. It is tender and honest, with a dash of desperate urgency thrown in for good measure.
Along with the unusual dynamic between our two lovers, we have strong family relationships on both sides of the aisle. Sophie’s family is small but very tightly knit. Her mother, Francine, is hilarious and has some really great moments, and yet she is as strong as her daughter: when things get difficult she simply rolls up her sleeves and does what is needed. She might have a bit of a grumble, but she will always support and protect her family. Dylan’s family is a little more difficult to read because we spend less time in their company, but there is a similarly strong bond between the three siblings. The extended family of the Pack also includes some strong personalities and interesting characters to keep Dylan on his toes and to make sure that he never takes his authority for granted. We will learn much more about Dylan’s brother and sister, Luc and Elen, in the second and third volumes of the Celtic Wolves Series because each title concentrates on one of the siblings. I look forward to getting a greater insight into their family dynamic.
The story itself follows a logical course as it carries our characters into great danger, building a feeling of threat that is very real. As you can tell, I felt deeply invested in these characters and so I really cared about their safety and well-being. I was impressed by the fearless way in which Jan did not provide a soft and safe ending for everyone: the Guardians are vicious in their attempts to ‘persuade’ the Pack to return to the old ways and they use any means necessary to get their message across. This leads to violent conflict and death, but not in a gratuitous and casual way. All the pain and suffering flows directly from the personalities and political ideals of the Guardians, but Jan does not pull her punches so be prepared for some shocking outcomes.
It seems that this review is in danger of becoming rather too massive, so I will draw to a close. I recommend Celtic Moon to anyone who enjoys Urban Fantasy with a little Romance thrown in. However, that romance does not follow the traditional path and our lovers are not only driven by their love for each other: they have more important things to worry about! Most importantly, I would praise Sophie as a real heroine, with inner strength and great courage, who is just an ordinary woman dealing with extraordinary problems.
If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of Celtic Moon, Signed and Dedicated by Jan, just send me an email at sue(dot)cccp(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject title "Celtic Moon Giveaway" including your full postal address.
I will draw a name at random on Monday September 23 at 12 noon. Good luck!