The Dark Moon is the first book in The Guardian Cycle, a series of five books by Julia Gray, which I picked up at random some time ago. I’ve put off reading it for some time, but I finally found time in my hectic reading schedule to finish it. The book revolves around the crippled and weak Terrel, the secret twin brother of the the emperor’s firstborn son, Jax. There was a prophecy surrounding the emperor’s child, saying that he would become the Guardian, a saviour for their people. Yet the prophecy did not state that there would be two children, and rather than admit the prophecies could be wrong Terrel is imprisoned at birth and raised in an asylum for the insane, nobody willing to believe that Terrel could possibly be the Guardian. As Terrel discovers the secrets of the land and the mysterious Dark Moons he begins to discover abilities within himself, eventually journeying out into the wide world for the first time in his life.
The first thing I noticed as a was reading it was just how many fantasy clichés it fulfils. The hero is heavily implied to be a chosen one, though the matter is twisted somewhat by the ambiguity as to whether or not it is he or Jax who is the Guardian. Yet the heavy role of prophecy is still a cliché in itself and not one I’m particularly fond of. It gives the work a deterministic feel, that ultimately everything will go according to some divine plan, the only dramatic tension coming from the fact that neither characters or we as an audience understand it yet. They basically outright say that the hero will defeat the villain and/or save the day and negate a lot of the narrative tension and I feel this is the case with this novel.
A lot of the characters are also quite cliché as well. Not only is Terrel implied to be a chosen one, but there is also has the whole being a lost prince thing going for him which is pretty much one of the standard fantasy tropes and one which I’m simply sick of seeing. Jax seems to be the stereotypical evil twin. Even though the novel toys with the idea that there may be more to him than that the ending shows that he has a definite mean streak to him. I don’t know if he will redeem himself in later novels or not but in this novel on its own he is a definite evil twin and his reasons for being evil towards his brother seem to be motivated by selfishness and pragmatism. Characters who seem mean for the sake of being mean don’t really mesh well with me and at the moment I can only see Jax as a petty twin brother who doesn’t want to share the limelight.
With regards to the supporting characters they made a nice twist by having most of them be ghosts, with a combination of recently dead characters and people who have been dead for many years featuring amongst Terrel’s support network of spirits. There is also his love interest Alyssa, who isn’t dead but can communicate with him through dreams and follows him around by possessing animals. As a character I felt a lot of them were boring, especially since most of them were dead. I felt that it would have been better if Terrel had at least one living companion with him throughout the novel, at least one who wasn’t possessing animals to travel with him. I felt like Terrel was kinda lonely since he never had any actual travelling companions except for spirits and it the real world conflict seemed lessoned since Terrel was always so wrapped up in talking to his spirit friends that the real world people were sort of glossed over.
The plot as a whole didn’t do a lot for me either. It felt kind of boring since it seemed to move at a snail’s pace. I never felt like there was any real danger to Terrel, which is partially tied in to the themes of prophecy since you know he is going to get out of most of those scrapes so he can do whatever he is destined to do. The twist ending with Jax’s betrayal was a nice addition but the climax of the novel before that seemed a bit too leisurely and not really all that threatening to any of the characters. It was also quite confusing as to who the antagonist of the novel was, as the Dark Moon was set up as a threat yet it never seemed to do anything except create strange natural phenomena. It wasn’t until the end that I started to get a feel for the direction the series wanted to go.
Overall I couldn’t help but feel that this was just another generic fantasy book with a lot of clichés abound. It plays around with them just enough to briefly hold your interest but only for a few seconds at most. I couldn’t get to grips with the book’s main plot at all and I felt like it was little more than an extended prologue for the rest of the series. A bit of a disappointing read overall, but as always I will continue with the series. I hope that the other instalments may provide some kind of improvement.
IN A WORD: BORING