[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I'm definitely not a fan of present tense 3rd person narration, so it took me a while to finally get to this book. However, once I was immersed into the story, its plot unfurled and flew by quite fast, keeping me interested.
There's corporate warfare, and strange politics based on contracts voluntarily built on loopholes to allow a way out. There are trials fought to death in gruesome duels, in a society full of glitz and glamour, of parties and fancy clothes, of heaps of money pitched against the utter poverty of those whose shallowest breath is still counted and charged, driving them more and more into depth. An exquisite blend of blinding limelights obfuscating ugly shadows, and of soft shadows trying to stand against a destructive light.
Quite a few characters evolve in this first part of the “Luna” duology. The list at the beginning kind of made me fear I wouldn't find my way through them—and so, exerting the full strength of my usual spirit of contradiction, I decided not to read this list, to see if I could sort it out myself. Answer: yes, I could. Even though the language of this “new moon society” is full of terms borrowed from many cultures, the story still flowed in a way that let me understand who was who, who was married to whom, and who was doing what.
This same society is tremendously complex, old-fashioned and open at the same time. Alliances are drawn through arranged marriages, sometimes even between teenagers and adults fifteen years older than them (and wrapping one's mind around that is quite a feat); those same alliances, though, don't rest the least bit on traditional conventions. Men marry men if they like; some live in codified polyamory relationships; some decide to assume an identity based on neither femininity nor masculinity; some even go with pronouns related not to their gender but to their deeper self (especially the “wolves”: people influenced by the waxing and waning of the Earth). It's good to see relationships going in varied ways, and I thought it fitted a future society whose defining norms were in part similar to those we know, and in part so different.
It's, frankly, an overwhelming world, a microcosm full of its own self-aggrandised perception, dependent on Earth for some things, keeping Earth in a tight vise for others (Corta Hélio “lights Earth every day” through its helium-3 exports); as much open to it (“Jo Moonbeams” leave the blue planet on a very regular basis to come and work on the moon) as it is closed (moon people have basically two years before their bones become too brittle, and after that time, either they have to go back to Earth or decide to stay in space forever, since gravity would literally crush them). In a way, one novel—or two—isn't enough to explore all this, and it was a bit frustrating: inwardly, I was screaming for more.
The cast of characters reflect this society. They are ruthless, they are fighters each in their own way: Ariel in the courts, Lucas through his schemes, Carlinhos with his bikers and his knives, Marina with her Earthian strength and will to find a job to support her family... Even Lucasinho, through his little teenage rebellion that however allows him to understand what finding allies truly means. They dance in their own world, wary of the other families yet drawn to them out of necessity, to play the game of alliances, of betrayal, of selling and getting information, of trying to reconcile their real feelings to the fact they cannot afford to show anything, lest they be seen as weak. And the intrigue: a slash here, a blow there, events piling up on each other now and then, until the finale. All under the failing eye of Adriana Corta, the Founder, the Matriarch, fearing her children would fight for the remains of House Corta, and trying to remain as hard as she used to be when, as a young woman, she set out to found her own dynasty, the Fifth Dragon.
(I like Adriana. I first discovered her in a short story, which made me jump on the novel when it was on NetGalley. Her own narrative, her confession, highlighted the story of the Cortas, of how they rose to power, of their allies... and of the enemies they made along the way.)
On the downside, I wasn't too sold on the “reverse werewolf” idea: while interesting, it seemed to come out of nowhere (I was more interested in the other part of Wagner's story, to be honest). But maybe it'll play another part in the upcoming volume. There's also a soap opera side to all these relationships and backstabbing and guessing who's preparing what against whom, that was perhaps a bit “too much”. This said, since I still found myself rooting for some of the characters, and entrenched within the story, I am not going to complain: sometimes, “too much” is highly entertaining no matter what.
Conclusion: a few elements that I wasn't convinced by, but a world and a plot I definitely want to see through in the second book.