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Saturday, November 2, 2013


Author:  Jan De Lima
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Ace/Penguin
          Celtic Moon (9/2013) 
          Summer Moon (9/2014) 
          Autumn Moon (9/29/2015)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 10/28/15 to include a review of Autumn Moon, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels. 

                          NOVEL 3:  Autumn Moon                           
     For centuries, Cormack has lived between worlds—a man trapped in the body of a wolf, shunned by humans and shifters alike. Only one person has ever welcomed his company: Elen Black, a kindred outcast who is feared by others of her ancient Celtic race for her strange healing abilities. Cormack has always valued Elen’s kindness and understanding, but after a desperate act of friendship causes Elen to free him from his curse, he realizes he wants more. He wants all of her—completely and forever.

     Except before Cormack can win Elen’s heart, Pendaran, the evil leader of the Guardians, captures her, determined to manipulate her incredible power to aid him in his twisted war against the shapeshifting tribes. Now Cormack must use all of his skills as a warrior and a wolf to save the woman he loves—before Pendaran’s vile schemes destroy them all…

     As usual, this book has two related plot lines: the romance story and the action story. The romance between Cormack and Elen is complicated by the fact that for the previous 300 years, he has been been unable to shift into human form. For all that time, Elen was his constant companion, the only one who treated him like a sentient being. In his furry form, he even slept with her in her bed every night. Elen is a healer who has earned a Harvard medical degree and completed an apprenticeship under Maelorwen, the healer for Castell Avon (the setting for most of the action in Summer Moon). 

     When Elen (SPOILER ALERT) ripped the life from a Guardian in the previous book and gave it to Cormack, he was then able to shift into human form, but he had no idea how to be a humanhow to use his new body. Embarrassed by his inability to speak, to read, to use his hands, andin generalto behave like a human male, he stayed away from Elen until he felt that he had mastered most of the skills of being human. At one point, Cormack muses that "his ineptness during those first few weeks as a man hadn't been something he wanted Elen to witness." Of course, Cormack's rejection hurts Elen's feelings, and she jumps to the conclusion that he hates what she did to himtearing away someone else's life and forcing it on him (even though the life she took was one of villains and even though she knows deep down that he always wanted to be human). 

     In Autumn Moon, the two don't really get together and talk out their fears until midway through the book. And that's only because Dylan finally decides that enough is enough and assigns Cormack to be Elen's personal guard after Pendaran, the evil-to-the-core leader of the Guardians, summons Elen's spirit from her body and tries (unsuccessfully) to coerce her into bending to his will. Pendaran knows all about Elen's powers over nature, and he wants to use those powers to maintain and strengthen his position among the rest of the Guardians. 

     After Pendaran's unsuccessful spirit-world ploy with Elen, he concocts an even more diabolical plan and successfully kidnaps her and chains her in the depths of his dungeons. Cormack and Elen's brothers then set out to rescue her and punish Pendaran. The story plays out in a swirl of betrayal, magic spells, blood-based curses, beheadings, andultimatelythe requisite defeat of the villain and HEA for the lovers. However, the conflict with the rest of the Guardians is still unresolved, and several new romances are hinted at, all of which will be attended to in future books.

     DeLima weaves a slender story thread through the main plot, one that involves the fear and dislike that Dylan's non-shifting villagers (aka Hen Was) show in their interactions (actually, their avoidance of interactions) with Elen. They now know that she has immense powers, and so they are afraid of her and have stopped coming to her medical clinic. When Dylan asks Elen to represent him at a village party, Elen muses that "she felt like a fruit fly hovering over their pink punch: harmlessmost of the timebut they still wanted to bat her away." Eventually, Dylan is forced to deal with this issue. (Remember, back in book one, these same villagers treated Dylan's wife, Sophie, very badly. They may be on the side of the good guys, but sometimes they are not very nice people.)

     Taliesin mopes through a few scenes that are mostly filled with anguished interior monologues about the fact that every time he tries to keep bad things from happening to his friends, he causes them more trouble than if he'd just let things play out on their own. His role in this mythology is to keep the world in balance between good and evil, and even though he yearns to contribute to the "good" side whenever he has a vision of future violence, he has to keep himself from doing that. It's a hard-knock life for Taliesin.

     Merin (mother of Dylan, Elen, and Luc) plays a significant role in the story and begins to make peace with her children after all these years. I'm sure that we'll be seeing more of her, perhaps as a romantic heroine at some point.

Ms. Hafwen
     The most interesting character is the eccentric Ms. Hafwen, a pixie who can take the form of a winter wren. She has been teaching Elen how to control all of the elements, not just the earth, but also air, water, and fire. During the action part of the story, those skills come in quite handy. Ms. Hafwen herself is a quirky character who approaches Elen's lessons in a no-nonsense, my-way-or-the-highway" manner. Later in the book, we learn some additional facts about Ms. Hafwen that will probably be developed further in future books. Click HERE to read the prequel scene (not included in the paperback or e-book) in which Elen first meets Ms. Hafwen. 

     Although the world-building is creative and nicely executed, the love story is a bit tiredtoo familiar from many, many other paranormal romances. Elen and Cormack's road to romance follows a well-worn path strewn with constant misunderstandings, lots of jumping to wrong conclusions, and pages of angst-filled interior monologues, which are then followed by a series of sexy bedroom scenes after the two finally get their romantic act together. We've seen it all before…too many times.

     If you love to read anguished, passionate paranormal romances with a touch of action, you'll probably like this one. Because of the ongoing story arc (i.e., the escalating violence between the American shifters and the Guardians), I recommend that you read this book in the context of the first two. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the first chapters Autumn Moon. Click HERE to read the scene in Autumn Moon in which Elen and Cormack finally start getting back together.

     The primary characters in this series are shape-shifting wolves, but they don't call themselves werewolves. Their history is Celtic, going back to Ceridwenthe Welsh enchantress/goddess. Thousands of years ago, a handful of humans "were given the power to shift into wolves to protect Taliesin [Ceridwen's son], to live by his side, to raise [him] where she could not. She taught them how to see beyond our realm of existence, taught them how to pull power from other living things. They called themselves…Guardian." (p. 111) In the beginning, the Guardians' only duty was to guard Taliesin, but gradually they began to consider themselves the guardians of all wolf shifters. The 12 surviving Guardians are called the Originals, and they have formed a governing body called the Council of Ceridwen. 

     Other Guardians currently exist outside the Council, but they all must meet certain strict criteria: They must be descendants of Originals, be able to shift into wolf form, and be aligned with all Council policies. Unfortunately, over the centuries many of the descendants have lost the ability to shift, and the Originals despise them for this weakness, calling them Evil Bringers and either enslaving or executing them at will. Over time, many non-shifters escaped to America and settled there, where they have lived peacefully for centuries. 

     The second and third novels contain a "Glossary of Terms and Characters." Click HERE to view an on-line version of that Glossary

     The good guys of the series are the American shifters, who are scattered across the country in clans. The series begins with the group in Maine under the leadership of Dylan Black (aka Dylan ap Merin). Dylan's brother, Luc, and his sister, Elen, are members of his clan as are a large group of non-shifters who have sought sanctuary from the cruelty of the Originals. Dylan has a core of shifters, and they serve as his security force. 

     Here, Dylan explains the traits of his people to his human mate: "We are not allergic to silver….Nor are we compelled by the full moon. However, some of our elders still shift on the night of the dark moon to honor the goddess Ceridwen. I would not be surprised if the werewolf legend began with an unknown witness to a ritual, thousands of years ago." (p. 64) These shifters can be killed only by decapitation or by the removal or destruction of all of their internal organs (i.e., generally by fire or explosion). 

     Here are the starring couples for the first three books. 
            > Celtic Moon:  Dylan Black and Sophie Thibodeau
            > Summer Moon:  Luc Black and Rosa Alban
            > Autumn Moon:  Cormack and Elen Black 

                          NOVEL 1:  Celtic Moon                          
     As the book opens, one of Dylan's guards finds a Guardian's banner on the border of Dylan's land, which means that the Guardians are watching them and probably are planning an attack. Dylan's lands are full of healthy forests, meadows, and streams, and the Originals are always on the lookout for new and fertile territory. Just as Dylan and his people are beginning to gear up for possible warfare, he gets a phone call from his long-estranged wife, Sophie Thibodeau, who ran away from him fifteen years ago when she was four months pregnant with their child. Dylan has unsuccessfully searched for her ever since that time, but never found her. Now, she tells him that he has a teenage son named Joshua who is beginning to show signs of shifting. Dylan finds this hard to believe, since there have been no shifter births for more than 300 years. Still, this is a chance for Dylan to meet his son and get his wife back, so he tells Sophie that if she doesn't get Joshua back with his people, there is a chance that the boy might die (which is totally untrue, but serves as a scary motivation for Sophie). 

     As is usual in paranormal romances, the plot has two primary strands: the romance and the action. In the romance story line, Sophie and Dylan must learn to trust one another and to talk through all of the anguish of the past fifteen years. One big problem for me is that the author chose the name "Sophie" for her heroine and then made the romantic theme all about choices, obviously a direct reference to the iconic novel and film, Sophie's Choice. This is like beating the theme into the reader with a blunt instrument. After many, many situations in which Sophie requests, demands, and eventually gets to make various choices—and to make absolutely sure that we get the point—Dylan actually says to her, "It's a choice, Sophie." (p. 276) This seemingly minor detail actual became distracting to me, and it could have been avoided just by naming the woman Alyssa or Susanna...or anything else but Sophie. 

     Dylan's role in the romance plot is to come to grips with the fact that his own behavior was partly responsible for Sophie's escape from him. Back then, he believed that his people were treating Sophie well and refused to see that just the opposite was true—that many of them were being very cruel and insulting to her. He has to learn (from Joshua) how to maneuver Sophie back into trusting him and believing in him. (Naturally, he also has to learn to give her lots of choices.) 

     The romance plot also includes Joshua's introduction to his father and his successful integration into the shifter culture. Sophie is a fierce protector of her son, and she will do anything—even make nice with Dylan—to keep Joshua safe and happy. Joshua is a great character—a smart, funny kid who knows how to take care of himself and his mom. 

     The action plot revolves around Dylan's attempt to gather together the other leaders of the American shifter clans and prepare for possible attack by the Guardians. The real action doesn't occur until the very end of the book, but when it does, it is quite violent because beheading and organ destruction are the only ways to kill these shifters. 

     Obviously, the series story arc will continue to involve the rivalry between the American clans and the Originals. Two mysterious characters play a part in this friction, but in this book we get only a few hints as to their roles. Taliesin (aka Matthew Ayres, aka Sin) poses as a friendly neighbor as he protects Cait from danger, but historically, Taliesin's friendship usually results in death or tragedy for the one he protects, and that plays out in this book. Another sketched-in character is Merin, mother of Dylan, Luc, and Elen. They remember her as a cruel and heartless monster from whom they had to escape, but apparently she is working behind the scenes on some mysterious task. 

     This is a fresh take on shifter romance, particularly with the inclusion of the Celtic mythology and the way the wolves draw their power from nature. What's not new is the one-note malevolence of the ancients, who seem always to be the villains in every paranormal series. I just finished reading the latest book in Chloe Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES, and it's the same situation there. The old guard is corrupt and power mad and they want to control the youngsters. (Even if Dylan and his siblings are a thousand years old, they're considered young to the Originals.) All in all, though I enjoyed this first book and am looking forward to the next one. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Celtic Moon

                          NOVEL 2:  Summer Moon                           
NOTE: This series has a complex mythology based on ancient Celtic legends, so you may not want to start reading this series with this book. Most of the mythology is explained in book 1, or you can read my World-Building overview in this post. Also, Summer Moon contains a helpful "Glossary of Terms and Characters," but because some print editions have errors in the Glossary, you can click HERE to go to a corrected on-line version.

     The novel begins in the aftermath of the battle that ended book 1, which resulted in the death of Math, Rosa Alban's villainous Guardian husband. Just days later, Rosa is planning her escape from Castell Avon, the New Hampshire island fortress where she and Math guarded four Walkers, former messengers of Ceridwen who exist in a coma-like state and who have lost their power to walk between worlds. The Walkers are entombed in stone chambers where they pull energy from the earth to keep themselves barely alive. This power drain has turned Castell Avon into a dead zone, with no living plants or animalsjust mud and dust and dead trees.

     Rosa is determined to prevent the Guardians from taking over Castell Avon and to save herself from an upcoming fertility ritual during which she will be required to mate with a group of Guardians in the hope that one will impregnate her. That ceremony is to take place on Beltanethe Summer Moon of the book's title. Rosa is the last unmated pureblood female shifter, so the Guardians view her as a breeder who can provide them with future generations of pureblood Guardians. In book 1, Rosa helped Dylan's wife escape from Math, so he owes her a favor. When Rosa makes her escape from Castell Avon, she drives north to Dylan's headquarters where she asks him to gather his allies and help her take over Castell Avon and stand against the Guardians. In order to get around having to submit to the gang-rape at the fertility ritual, she explains to Dylan that if she were married and mated, she would not be eligible for the fertility ritual. When Rosa suggests that Luc (Dylan's brother) become her husband, he agrees, and the two go through a marriage ceremony, consummate their union, and head back to Castell Avon with their warriors. 

     Rosa can't stand to be touched by men because Math forced marriage on her when she was sixteenright after he killed her parents right in front of her. Since then, she has been fondled, groped, and propositioned by most of the males she has come in contact with. Being a very attractive woman and the only unmated pureblood shifter, she attracts males like a magnet, even though she doesn't want anything to do with them. Luc and Rosa agree that the consummation will be their only sexual contact unless, and until, Rosa specifically requests more. Predictably, Luc does such a good job introducing Rosa to alpha-wolf sex that she does want more…and more and more…but she is terrified of being controlled by yet another male, so the two try (unsuccessfully) to keep their hands off each other. (Never fear, there are plenty of sexy bedroom scenes.) 

     Luc is deeply conflicted about his lingering feelings for his long-dead human wife, Koko, and his newly aroused feelings about Rosa, resulting in a number of anguished interior monologues. The primary barrier in the Luc-Rosa relationship is Luc's refusal to cut his emotional ties to Koko, manifested by Luc's refusal to allow his huge chest tattoo of an owl (Koko's totem animal) to fade away and his refusal to run as a wolf with Rosa (because he promised Koko he would always run alone). An interesting aspect of the Luc and Koko story is the fact that Koko left an illustrated diary in which she proclaimed her love for Luc, grieved about their lack of children, and worried that he would forget her after her inevitable death. DeLima scatters samples of Koko's illustrated diary entries throughout the book. The diary is a welcome innovation on DeLima's part. We know that the primary romantic relationship in a romance novel is always impeded by some type of problem, but this is the first time I've seen a dead-wife-diary approachan innovation that is fresh and interesting. Click HERE to read an article in USA Today in which DeLima discusses the role of Koko as an antagonist in Summer MoonClick HERE to read on-line excerpts from Koko's diary with full-color illustrations. 

    The action part of the plot involves the Guardians, who want to take back control of Rosa, Castell Avon, and the Walkers. Additionally, they still want Elen (Luc and Dylan's sister) for her ability to manipulate nature. As the story plays out, someone new (named Audrey) turns up at Castell Avonyet another person the Guardians want to get their hands on. The book ends with the requisite showdown between the Guardians and Luc and Rosa's allies. 

     Playing a major role in this book is Taliesin ("Sin"), a Seer who is the son of Ceridwen. Taliesin was raised by the Guardians, who have always used their powers for "darkness, cruelty and prejudice against humans and weaker members of their race." Over the years, they used Taliesin's prophecies for their own gain. "It was no wonder that the man was touched in the head. He knew things, and usually not good things, It was a harsh burden to bear..." (p. 14) Taliesin has frequently interfered with the people and events in his prophecies in an attempt to prevent bad things from happening, but every time he does so, even worse things happen. At this point, he views himself as a monster, but he still can't stop himself from trying to change foretold events, resulting in disastrous repercussions every single time. 

     Also playing a larger role is Merin, the mother of Dylan, Luc, and Elen. Although her children believe her to be as hard-hearted and cruel as the rest of the Guardians, there have been hints that Merin is working behind the scenes on some kind of scheme against the Guardians. Her plans begin to play out in this book. 

     This is a solid follow-up to the first novel, with well-developed lead characters and interesting (and sometimes quirky) secondary characters. This time around, the Guardians are depicted in more depth, so they don't come across as the caricatures they were in book 1. I recommend that you read this book as a follow-up to book 1, not as a stand-alone. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Summer Moon. Click HERE to read DeLima's blog interview about Summer Moon on My Bookish Ways

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