Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett
Published by Pocket Books, June 28, 2011.
Paperback of 360 pages at $7.99.
Why review it now? I received several books at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, and this was one of them. I wanted to read an urban fantasy and thought this might fit the bill.
The cover: Standing next to the entrance to the Tambuku Tiki Lounge, Arcadia stands tough. The image of her stops just at the appearance of her nose, allowing readers to visualize the rest of her face for themselves. Her hair is streaked with white, she wears a crescent moon necklace, and has a tattoo on her right arm. She looks pretty tough, and that’s exactly how she wants to come off, after reading the novel. This image influenced how I pictured Cady when she’s first introduced. Gorgeous coloring on the neon and the wet concrete make this image shine. Outstanding job by Tony Mauro. Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the back cover, “Being the spawn of two infamous occultists (and alleged murders) isn’t easy, but freewheeling magician Arcadia “Cady” Bell knows how to make the best of a crummy situation. After hiding out for seven years, she’s carved an incognito niche for herself slinging drinks at the demon-friendly Tambuku Tiki Lounge. But she receives an ultimatum when unexpected surveillance footage of her notorious parents surfaces: either prove their innocence or surrender herself. Unfortunately, the only witness to the crimes was an elusive Æthyric demon, and Cady has no idea how to find it. She teams up with Lon Butler, an enigmatic demonologist with a special talent for sexual spells and an arcane library of priceless stolen grimoires. Their research soon escalates into a storm of conflict involving missing police evidence, the decadent Hellfire Club, a ruthless bounty hunter, and a powerful occult society that operates way outside the law. If Cady can’t clear her family name soon, she’ll be forced to sacrifice her own life…and no amount of running will save her this time.” I wanted Urban Fantasy and this looks to deliver. I was a bit worried that this summary might have been giving too much of the story away, but it doesn’t. In fact, I would have deleted the descriptive “with a special talent for sexual spells” as that might have readers think that this book is loaded with sexual situations. There is some sex, but this makes Lon come off as a pervert, and he’s not. All in all, this gave enough of a tease to get me interested. Overall grade: A
The characters: Twenty-four year old Arcadia “Cady” Bell is a fun protagonist. She’s sassy, always trying to stay under the radar, and has been living a lie for seven years. Using a false name to keep some distance from her parents, she’s been surviving, waiting for them to contact her, and when she sees them on TV everything changes. She’s got some emotional baggage, as she was conceived in a ritual that was supposed to endow her with certain high level abilities, but she never gained those powers. She’s a good practitioner of magic, being mostly self-taught, and she’s always trying to learn a bit more. She doesn’t trust anyone easily, since they could sell her out to the authorities, so when attractive Lon Butler enters her life, he mixes up her emotions even more. He’s in his mid-thirties and has a very calm demeanor that belies what’s in him. She’s attracted to him, but can’t tell if he feels the same. As the book progresses these characters share their past and become a wonderful pair. This was not the “first-they-hate-each-other-then-become-friends-then-get-intimate” relationship. Bennett wisely goes a different route, and with their magical abilities, it’s difficult for the pair to truly keep their thoughts private. I was on the fence about Lon until a key moment in the book reveals a past that had me liking him enormously. I was rooting for the pair to be more than just a one-time hook up. Lon has a teenage son, from a former marriage, named Jupiter, or Jupe. As a teacher of middle school and high school students for 23 years, I can state with absolute authority that he is as real as any boy there is. Jupe was fun and not a cliché. He’s got his own ideas about the world, his father, and Cady that made him a complete character. There are several magical antagonists in the novel, with the mystery revolving around who has framed her parents. She believes that a demon, not her parents, was responsible for the killings of several heads of magical houses, but can’t locate the creature. Additionally, she has to learn who summoned this demon, as that is the person she wants to bring to justice. Additionally one house, Luxe Order–the megachurch of the magical world–is the house that demands her or her parents’ lives for the death of their leader. Every character and creature that Cady encountered was interesting and fun and made me want to spend time just listening to them talk. The action and mystery was just icing on the cake. Overall grade: A
The settings: The fictional Californian town of La Sirena is the primary setting of the novel, though it does go to more well known locations. It read as a mix of Newport and Malibu. There’s a very artistic community there and the downtown area is called the Village because several blocks have Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale exteriors (Solvang, anyone?). This was a very clever way to insert a believable fantasy element into the story without it seeming ridiculous. Cady has her own home, and it’s small, secluded, and has a basement, but the big home belongs to Lon, and readers will have to discover it on their own. Other locations include Jupe’s high school, a very interesting take on the Hellfire Club–that was excellently decadent, and a drive-in. I’ve lived in California all my life and it felt like I had been to these places. Overall grade: A
The action: This book had the perfect balance between character tension and physical action. Cady is always doubting she can trust anyone with details of her life, so the scenes where she and Lon began to reveal aspects of themselves to each had me riveted. The action scenes, including the bounty hunter (Wow! Was that a fight!), hunter demons, and various Earthbounds out to do her harm, were really well written. Having Cady as the narrator made the fighting more immediate and frantic. Very entertaining. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: I’m still kicking myself for not predicting the ending. Like a master–and this is her debut novel–Bennett has given every clue for the reader to predict what was going to happen, and I found myself making comments like Cady did on Page 336. Good twist and good character development. Overall grade: A+
The final line: Enjoyable, entertaining magic in the modern world with a heroine I’d follow anywhere. I’m pleased to see that there’s been a book a year following Arcadia’s adventures and I’m looking forward to reading them. Recommended. Overall grade: A