It's been a long time since I've read Dark Moon from start to finish, so I thought that it would be nice to revisit something for once. I think I must have gotten this at a time where I wanted to branch out into more adult fantasy books than I had previously tried reading. Quite possibly I just wanted to save Dark Moon from an ignominious fate at the bottom of a bin, as it would appear that I bought this from my high school library, sans barcode for scanning. If anything made me realise just how long I've owned this, then that stamp on the front plate was it.
In the world of Dark Moon, there were once three ancient races. The last of them, the Eldarin, vanished only a few years before, leaving behind only a fist-sized pearl, a magical artifact of great untapped power. It falls into the hands of a Duke name Sirano, a sorcerer determined to unlock the secrets of the Pearl and the power that it wields, even as the other city-states are consumed in a war to possess it. But the Duke's experimentation comes at a heavy price, as it causes the return of the most bloodthirsty and war-like of the ancient races, the Daroth, who will stop at nothing to wipe out all other species.
When I think of your prototypical '80s-style sword-and-sorcery novel, Dark Moon pretty much ticks all the boxes. Lots of violence and detailed battle scenes? Check. A legendary hero or two that the rest of the cast rally around? Check. Sex that is both unabashed and yet almost chaste in its sheer lack of detail? Check. The fact that it was written in 1996 is almost immaterial. There's just something about a book like this that has me scanning the text to find the biggest, most thick-set warrior in the cast and paste a young Arnold Schwarzenegger's face onto him, only with better acting. I'm not saying that as a bad thing. There is something about the setting and the style of writing that I find I can settle into with little to no effort, even if the efforts are somewhat less than stellar. It's surprisingly comforting. Thankfully, Dark Moon is nothing if not a real solid example of decent sword-and-sorcery, with some decent character depth that brings it above the rank and file.
Primary among those characters are three (technically four) main heroes. First, there is Duvodas, a musician whose childhood living amongst the Eldarin has given him great power in healing and peaceful magics, but who must keep his distance from negative emotions and impulses in order for it to continue working. Second is Karis, the warrior-woman known as much for her flawless record as a strategist as she is for her many lovers. Finally, there is Tarantio, the solitary swordsman whose deadly reputation is built largely on the talents of Dace, the violent soul with whom he shares a body. There are a great many other members of the cast, but those are the three that are probably most important to the plot overall. And for the most part, I am pretty impressed with their character arcs, with nothing feeling grossly out of place. I will say that the interactions with love interests do feel a bit rushed and truncated, but really that could be said of any of the romantic relationships presented here. I would have preferred some more development on that front, but it's never really the main focus so I find that I don't really mind the oversight so much.
The battles come surprisingly thick and fast, so it's probably a good thing that they are by-and-large really skilfully written. The Daroth are an enemy that are nicely judged in regards to threat level. They are difficult enough to kill that superior numbers cease to be a big factor in how evenly the two sides are matched, but not so powerful that the heroes cannot conceive of defeating them. Combined with their alien biology, they make for a fascinating foe. Plus I have a soft spot for siege weaponry, so their inclusion was a nice thing to see.
I may have a soft spot for fantasy, sword-and-sorcery specifically, but this is a book well-written enough that I am happy to recommend it to those looking for a comfortable read. The characterisation is solid, only marred slightly by a tendency to rush the more romantic scenes. And the battles are well conceived and executed, which is a blessing considering how often they turn up. 4/5
Next review: Nobody True by James Herbert.