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Book Review: Harvest Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Michelle Sagara, and Cameron Haley

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Harvest Moon is an anthology of stories, each with a very strong female lead, and all are in fantasy-based worlds. Each of the stories’ heroines has to overcome an obstacle to grow into her potential. In most cases those obstacles, if not handled correctly, could end in the heroines’ deaths. There are three different and unique worlds, and what binds them together are that they contain unique challenges their characters must overcome. Each story is set to occur under the phase of the moon called the Harvest Moon.

Persephone, our heroine in “A Tangled Web,” is a young woman, daughter of Demeter, a Goddess of Olympus — and she is in love. The problem is that her mother is the Goddess of Nature who refuses to believe she has grown up. When Persephone falls in love, she is ready for the next step, but she knows her mother will not approve her choice. Not only that, she will make it downright impossible for them to be together. She and her true love, Hades, have come up with a foolproof plan that will force Demeter into accepting their marriage. What they forget to take into account is the tradition, the power that shapes everything in the Five Hundred Kingdoms.

In an unexpected twist, Brunnhilde and her husband Leopold, visitors to Olympus, become a part of the plan. Brunnhilde is mistaken for Persephone and kidnapped by the God of death. Leopold must convince the Gods of Olympus to help him save her.

I love the setting of Olympus and that the Gods and Goddesses are also affected by the tradition. It adds a satisfying twist to the myths we grew up with. Mercedes Lackey’s characters are well thought out, and both Persephone and Brunnhilde are set as the heroines. I am not sure that Persephone is developed as strongly as most of her leads, so she does seem a bit weak. She is pushed around by her mother, and she seems to lack the sharpness that is usually instilled in her other female characters. On the other hand, Persephone’s mother is exactly what I would expect. She is spoiled and reckless, and in her anger and grief she forgets all that is important. Leopold is a brave and noble Prince and adds a warmth to the story. He is a human in a land of immortals.

In “Cast in Moonlight” by Michelle Sagara, we meet an amazing 13-year-old girl, Kaylin Naya. She is captured trying to kill Lord Grammayre, the commander of the Hawks, one of three groups in the city of Elantra that enforce the Emperor’s law. The Hawk lord, as he is known, sees something in this girl that is worth saving. She is small for her age, dirty, bruised, and covered with some type of runes or marks, covering her body. She is in rags and looks like she has not had a meal in some time. He makes a decision that will change the way investigations are done in the city.

Kaylin’s first day sets the course of her life with this group of enforcers, that will forever set her apart. She is present during an autopsy where three children her age have been killed. Prior to the actual autopsy, a mage is often called in to make sure magic has not been used. Ceridath Morlanne is that mage, and as he casts his spells to search for magic, Kaylin’s runes start burning. She is able to see the magic sigil of the mage whose magic is used. The problem begins when Ceridath claims no magic was used. During the resulting investigation, we find that Ceridath’s granddaughter has been kidnapped and he is blackmailed into giving false information. Kaylin is convinced that she must help save Ceridath’s grandaughter but little realizes that her abilities put her at risk, as she herself is pursued by a murderer.

Michelle Sagara has put together a new and unique world in Elantra. She describes the city and the dangers with great verve, and it is easy to picture the view.

Her characters are strong and each is well developed with distinct personalities. Kaylin is brave and strong, a child in a world she does not understand. She does not read and does not understand the different languages. She is bewildered by much of what she encounters, but because of her background she does not back down. She fights her fear and faces it down. She is also just learning that she has magic and is not yet sure what to do with it.

Teela, the Barrani, is initially irritated that she has to “baby sit” Kaylin, but as she sees and learns more, she begins to have a respect for Kaylin’s innate knowledge, as well as her developing abilities. Each of the supporting characters are unique and blend into a story that drags you along. It is a glimpse into a dark and unusual place where the innocent are often targeted.

 It is a wonderful, but dark story and I was sorry to see it end. I look forward to seeing more of her work in Cast in Shadow and Cast in Ruins.

In Cameron Haley’s work, “Retribution”, we meet a cynical and jaded Dominica Riley, known as Domino. She killed her first man at 12 years of age; it had became rather obvious that a young sorceress is not the best choice of a victim for a child predator. While killing him was easy, getting rid of his ghost was not. That was one of the first things she learned when she joined the gangsters and later became the lieutenant for Shanar Rashan.

Her meeting with Benny BenReaven, an Israeli gangster, was going as she expected… well, except for the part where he tried to use a gun to kill her. She is too good a sorceress to let that go. She uses her magic to kill Benny but not before he unleashes a Curse on her. And apparently this was not just any curse; he was able to use the power of his death to give it extra force.

She finds that Samuel, the angel of death, will be responsible to fulfill the curse. He made a visitation in the desert and assured her that she would have just three days before he carried out the curse, and that those three days would be her most miserable. As bodies begin to pile up and the gangsters begin to fight amongst themselves, she looks for a way to stop the curse. Will she find a way to stop the curse or will she perish?

Cameron Haley has made Domino a tough and smart mouthed character. She tries to find the humor in every situation. She also has a bit of a foul mouth so be aware that there will be some cursing. She is a self-made sorceress with a little training, but just enough to make her dangerous. She has worked her way up to second in command of the gangsters and that has put her at risk in the splintering of the crew.

Her nemesis, Samuel, is manifested as a tall, good looking guy and while his entire part in this story is to kill Domino, he is alternately funny and coy. He is also terrifying and can manifest himself in other forms and her three days are fraught with more danger and death as he continues to keep her miserable till her time is due.

I would recommend this book as a fun read after a hard day at work or even possibly curling up in front of a nice fire. Be aware that the second and third stories are a bit graphic, and that the third one also has a small amount of foul language. They are great stories and a satisfying read.

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About Leslie Wright

Leslie Wright is an author and blogger in the Northwest.