The Moon King, by Neil Williamson (book review).

May 29, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

‘The Moon King’ is Scottish author Neil Williamson’s debut novel. It is set in a fantasy kingdom called Glassholm, an island city defined by the fact that five centuries beforehand, their King dragged the Moon down from the heavens and tethered it a short distance above the city. The main consequence of this action is that the psychological mood of every Glassholmer is dominated by the phases of the Moon. Wild, raucous parties take place every time the Moon is full, while murders and suicides are two a penny when the Moon is new.

TheMoonKing

The story starts on the day after a full Moon, when local inventor Anton Dunn wakes up with a hideous hangover after getting trashed when his fiancée stood him up at the altar. He’s confused enough when he finds himself in bed, rather than in jail or the gutter but when servants enter and tell him that he’s the Lunane, the city’s supreme ruler, he thinks they must be joking or mad. He soon finds out that they’re not.

Meanwhile, young artist Lottie Blake is surprised to see Henrik, the man she had casual sex with on the previous Fullday, stand up at a public meeting and announce that, until a few days earlier, he was the Lunane! When the crowd tire of his confused ravings and turn against him, Lottie rescues him from a beating or worse and takes him in. However, when she tries to help him work out what has happened to him over the previous few months, most of which he cannot remember, what they learn could be very dangerous for both of them.

Elsewhere in the city John Mortlock, a former policeman turned Royal Palace security chief, gets into trouble when his men almost fail to stop an assassination attempt against the Lunane. Dark forces appear to be at work in the city, murdering police officers and others and Mortlock takes it on himself to find out if the murders are connected to the rising tide of opposition to the Lunane’s rule. Can he find out the truth before the next Darkday and prevent Glassholm from succumbing to a citizens’ revolt?

Williamson has created a fascinating setting for his story. The way in which the Moon’s monthly cycle from new to full and back again affects not only physical objects but also the inhabitants’ emotions is brilliantly realised, as we see fresh fruit going mouldy and otherwise well-adjusted individuals turning either suicidal or murderous as the Moon heads towards new. The fact that the residents of Glassholm are powerless to resist the Moon’s influence is strangely compelling, forcing the reader to continually reassess what they think they know about each person. Of course, none of this would make a blind bit of difference if you didn’t care about any of the characters. Thankfully, Williamson’s cast are a varied and interesting bunch and I quickly grew attached to Anton, Lottie and Mortlock, not least because each of them is trying to do the right thing, despite the circumstances they’ve found themselves in.

My one problem with the book is that it repeatedly seems to switch between genres, at one moment being an SF tale, at another steampunk and then fantasy. Genre flexibility can be a jolly good thing but, in this case, I found that it got in the way of my ability to understand the world of the story. The reason is that the entire story is premised on the physical idea of tethering the Moon to a particular place on the planet. At the beginning of the book, this idea seems to be explored in an SF way, promising some kind of rational explanation for how the Moon’s orbit had been altered and how this had led to the physical and mental consequences that dominate the lives of Glassholm’s inhabitants. However, this promise is not fulfilled. For much of the book, the setting is treated in the usual way of fantasy novels, basically saying, ‘this is how the world is, so get used to it.’ Then at the climax, there is another bout of pseudo-scientific steampunk physics. This certainly contributes to an exciting climax but left me more unclear than ever about how the story universe actually worked. If you’re not interested in physics, then this probably won’t make any difference to your enjoyment of the story. For this reader, however, it frustrated me, and took the shine off what was otherwise an extraordinarily entertaining debut novel. I guess you can’t have everything.

Minor moans aside, ‘The Moon King’ is a deeply impressive work from a talented writer. I look forward to seeing what Neil Williamson does next. Hats off also to NewCon Press for producing such a lovely looking book, featuring gorgeous cover art by Andy Bigwood. It’s great to see the small UK genre publishers producing material of this quality.

Patrick Mahon

May 2014

(pub: NewCon Press. 342 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907069-62-8)

check out website: www.newconpress.co.uk

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Category: Books, Scifi

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  1. The Moon King : One month in | ayeahmur | May 30, 2014

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