Saturday, July 20, 2019

Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand had been on my radar for years as an author whose books I saw in bookstores and had a vague idea that she was considered good. I finally got around to her this year and now I’m kicking myself for not having started sooner. This is the third of her novels I’ve read tand is as good in its way as the other two. All signs point to Hand being able to write just about anything. Wylding Hall is a folk horror fairy tale structured as an oral history. Generation Loss is a gothic punk rock take on the horror thriller. This is a straightforward fantasy.  She’s three for three in my book.

It begins as Sweeney Cassidy begins her first semester at the prestigious University of the Archangels and St. John the Divine, a sort of Ivy League school with ties to the Benandanti, a patriarchal society of wizards which has existed for centuries and is to the Illuminati what the Illuminati is to everyone else. It emerges that they are in an eons long struggle to keep an older matriarchal goddess worshiping religion suppressed. In an early class she meets Oliver and Angelica, scions of old families that are legacies at the school, and unwittingly the product of centuries of angling for a final confrontation between the two religious forces. They are supposed to fall in love. Sweeney falls for both of them and they for her and that throws a wrench in the works. I don’t want to spoil too much of the rest of it other than to say it doesn’t play out exactly as I expected, but plays out perfectly. Such a narrative begs for political readings, and they are there. But it never gets preachy.

The prose is excellent as I’ve come to expect from Hand. There is a little necessary place setting near the beginning, but it is not heavy handed. Once the ball is rolling the book moves quickly, despite its length. I love the structure of the book. Where a lot of novelists might have placed the final showdown and gone for a more obvious climax/hammering of the books themes it basically finishes the setup of the novel, and what could have been just a better version of The Magicians becomes something of a completely different order.

At this point, I think Generation Loss is still my favorite of the three Hand novels I’ve read so far, but all are of the type that rewards rereading, so that could change. This is an amazing book that I look forward to revisiting in a year or two after reading more of Hand’s work.


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