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Luna: Moon Rising
Luna Series #3
by Ian McDonald
Tor, $29.99, 448pp
Published: March 2019

I've enjoyed each book in this trilogy by Ian McDonald and this is a decent way to wrap it up, but I'm not entirely satisfied with it as a trilogy.

The first book, 'New Moon', features great worldbuilding, introducing us to a populated moon with a few key dynasties battling for dominance, sometimes literally, in a wild west culture where nothing is deemed illegal unless it involves a broken contract. We're introduced to a large ensemble cast, many members of which are promptly killed off, and I particularly appreciated the unsettled society that comes from a serious shift in power.

The second book, 'Wolf Moon', ditched a lot of the culture but settled down quickly to an intricate plot, focusing more on the characters and the action that they want or have to take. Everyone is manouevering to take advantage of everyone else, or simply to take a revenge. Some people play short safe games, some more ambitious long ones, but everyone seems to be playing and the board is a very large one indeed.

So, if the first book is a success of McDonald's imaginative worldbuilding, the second works best as a story of intrigue and action. I didn't care much about the characters in 'New Moon', enjoying their culture far more. I began to care in 'Wolf Moon' because the focus shifts towards a younger generation who are born into this world and aren't necessarily happy about what they've been gifted. I found that to be even more the case in the finalé, where the most interesting characters are left to figure out how to fix the moon.

I liked where McDonald took us but I'm not so sure about how he did it. The core set of characters here are more interesting than they've been, but not all them really have any point being there. I won't name them because that's spoiler territory, but some are featured strongly not because they're going to do anything but because how they're treated gives us a better picture of what's going to happen down the road, after this trilogy ends. I get that a little, but it still feels like a cheat.

We start out with a period of calm, many taking stock of the damage that two books worth of action have wrought on the Moon. Sure, the McKenzies keep on lashing out, but then that's what they do. It didn't take me long into book one to picture them as the House of Lancaster and the Cortas as the House of York and this Yorkshireman knows which side to be on there. Mostly, though, it seems like things are on pause for a moment.

Lucasinho is taken to the independent Farside Tech, seriously damaged. Luna goes with him, wearing a death's head mask as a statement. I love that. She has all the balls the Corta family need. So does Alexia, new to the Moon and thus a good avatar for us to look at the good and the bad in Lunar society. She revisits her Earthly career as Queen of Pipes for the barrio above the city. Ariel reasserts some prominence and finds some new magic moments in a court of law. Lucas, of course, is now running the Moon, but he's finding it a little different to his expectations and he's painted himself into corners he needs to escape.

And, for those paying attention, those are all Cortas. Re-reading my notes, I almost wondered if anyone else was taking part in this third book, but of course they are. Lots goes down at McKenzie Metals, the Suns really start to get active and the Vortonsovs and Asamoahs have key moments too, but it's an oddly Corta flavoured moon this time out, given that they're the Dragon that was almost entirely wiped out.

We even get a lot with Marina, a sort of honorary Corta, as she struggles to adapt to life back on Earth. Interestingly, it isn't as much the month that she has to spend in a wheelchair as her muscles try to adapt to full Earth gravity again, but the way that she's received by family and especially the various neighbours, given that she's now seen with distrust as someone from up there, maybe even a spy, rather than a returning local who's been away a while.

Perhaps I shouldn't complain about how this ends up because reality doesn't play to everyone's expectations. People who have importance lose it. Others, who enter as wildcards, are gamechangers. Not everyone with a part to play within a story gets something to do at the end of it, even assuming they've have survived that long. Sometimes we can track a major player throughout, while others arrive and depart for their moments in the spotlight. Not all achieve their potential. Some overachieve, some drift away. As every one of these examples comes into play here, maybe McDonald has imposed a sense of firm reality on his imaginative creation. We've merely been conditioned by other lesser novelists to expect something else, something more convenient.

That's only one reason, albeit a major one, why I enjoyed each book here as an individual novel but had problems with the trilogy. This isn't the ending I wanted, though I liked where McDonald took us and the grand changes that a three book story arc wrought. I wanted more from this and that character and he opted out of going there with some and ignored others, even amongst those who survived the impressive death count. Some of them get magnificent scenes here, one very specific murder in particular, but then vanish again.

And I found that I wanted more. The big story is complete but there are so many little stories left hanging. It's almost inviting a TV series to come along and take care of all of that. And I believe that's where I started on these reviews, because the trilogy was optioned after the first book. I have no idea what's become of that but HBO could do a lot worse than adapting it and continuing it forwards and sideways. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For other titles by Ian McDonald click here

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