Moonshine is an adult decopunk fantasy book set in Soot City, a place inspired by Chicago during the 1920s – if only magic had been banned instead of alcohol and Chicago had a lot more volcanoes.
I picked it up mostly because of its cover and because I knew there was an aromantic (ownvoices) major side character in it, but as I had heard nothing about it, I went into it with very low expectations. I wasn’t disappointed, but I think this had the potential to be a lot better.
Let’s start with what I liked: this book is just as bright and colorful as the cover made me think. The cover is the best part of the book, and I don’t mean that in a bad way: John Coulthart’s illustrations are phenomenal and I think I may like this cover even more than Under the Pendulum Sun‘s (which is one of my favorites ever). It represents the book’s content perfectly, because Moonshine is a book about beautiful, dangerous parties in which the only ugly thing is the price of magic.
What really worked for me was the portrayal of bigots and how bigotry itself works. Who doesn’t want to read about queer friends forming their own communities and protecting each other against bigots? This book said a lot of interesting things about that and it reminded me (in a good way) of Creatures of Want and Ruin, another 1920-inspired book I read earlier this month that had a completely different tone but similar themes.
The portrayal of the main antagonist herself was really interesting, as it’s clear that she’s just an instrument of bigoted rich people. There are a lot of terrible things that happen in this book, from shootings to torture, and while none of it is ever really explicit, I liked how Moonshine talked about what poor and marginalized people have to do just to survive.
I also really appreciated the diversity: while the main character’s sexuality and ethnicity are never stated outright, she’s brown-skinned and I read her as queer. There are also (explicitly, this time) polyamorous side characters, a fat side character, an f/f couple, and two trans side characters (one is a trans woman, the other is genderfluid). Some of them are also people of color. Then there’s Andre, the disabled aromantic bisexual character and the main reason I read this book. I love finding stories in which there are aro characters who are not asexual, and Andre explicitly isn’t: there’s only one sex scene in this book, which is m/m, and Andre is one of the two men.
However, I didn’t love that Andre was the only one who is bad at understanding other people’s emotions. At some point Daisy even says that Andre has “a heart like a machine”. I just… eh. I don’t think it would have affected me had this book been told in Andre’s PoV, but as it was Andre’s main character trait, I was a bit iffy on that. But I’m still glad I found another aro book.
My main problem with Moonshine was the main character, Daisy Dell. I really liked her – she’s an independent “Modern Girl” (which I think is their name for Flappers) who may be a bit naive but isn’t a coward, and doesn’t have a romantic subplot.
However, she was very passive, she didn’t make any decisions that had a direct repercussion on the plot until the last 20 pages, and I finished the book wondering why she was the main character. She didn’t have a character arc, not really.
Also, for a book in which several characters are addicts, it… barely talked about the consequences of addiction? I’m glad this book had a lighter tone that it could have had, but I think it should have explored this topic more.
I often thought Moonshine needed more editing, as the narration often tells the reader things that are obvious from the dialogue or from what had just been said by the narration itself, and sometimes I would have deleted whole paragraphs of that. I liked the writing – it was the perfect balance between “not too modern” and “readable” and the dialogues didn’t feel forced to me.
(But was it necessary to have so many characters whose names started with an A? There were at least three and I kept confusing them.)
My rating: ★★★½