Friday, September 30, 2022

"Moonshadow's Guardian" by Dianna Gunn--Fiction Review

Today Obscurists, we’re taking on a fantasy horror story, “Moonshadow’s Guardian” by Dianna Gunn.

Dianna Gunn

What I love about this book:

The first thing I love about this book is that Gunn’s main character Riana is a super long-lived character, and there are several other similarly long-lived characters in this story that I think Gunn depicts uncommonly well. I’ve said on this blog before that it’s tricky to depict a character who has lived for centuries or even millennia—and make them feel as though they’ve lived for thousands of years. Gunn, though, without bringing the narrative to an absolute standstill, makes it clear that Riana has lived multiple lives over the long years.

I rather enjoy the moral complexity in this story. None of the principal characters are pure good or evil—even the story’s chief antagonist. Mind you, straight-up evil shit does happen in this story, but the perceived correctness or wrongness of the character’s actions are subject to debate, and the morality of their choices, combined with their motives, is a matter of point of view. No one in this story holds a moral high ground above the other characters. 

The consequences in this story are sudden and harsh, which takes a bit of fearless writing to not just hurt one’s darlings but murder them, and I appreciated that quality in Gunn’s writing. Punches are definitely not pulled in this story.

What I don’t love about this book:

I often say that using a first-person perspective is a bold choice, and this novel is in first person. Other than a few key emotional moments that could be argued justified the creative choice—I didn’t feel it added much. To play devil’s advocate, though, the first-person perspective certainly facilitated people reminiscing about the past. Building off that point, if you’re not a fan of flashbacks, well, tough news, lots of flashbacks in this story.

I appreciate an excellent dark and brutal story as much as the next person. What I often find to be wearying are drawn-out torture scenes. There are a few of those in this story, too, especially when it comes to Riana’s memories of the demon realm or the compulsion. It’s not the violence that gets me. I’m just bored by anything that feels like a kid with a magnifying glass and an ant hill.

This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Author’s Website:

***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Our story begins with a little girl and her mother on a mysterious journey. It doesn’t go well after the mother tells her daughter that she is actually the daughter of a god and is, in fact, a demon. Soon she will transform into her true form. Despite her mother’s best magical efforts, her daughter breaks loose from the binding and kills her mother after transforming.

Thousands of years later, Riana, still tormented by her father, Loki, was that little girl who discovered she was a demon. Riana is being punished for past failures when her father offers her a mission that, if she is successful, she’ll earn her freedom.

Riana will be serving King Jacob Vonstone VIII, and her task is to save the kingdom of Moonshadow. It sounds straightforward, but nothing is straightforward with Loki. Before Riana can make her way to Moonshadow though to start her assignment, Loki has another surprise for her—a dragon, to be specific. The Dragon, Rolf, is a surprisingly gentle soul and very friendly.

Soon they fly off together to Moonshadow and meet with the King and his family. The King needs Riana to stop a plague that is killing his subjects and his wife and son. The Vonstones suspect a group of people called the Telars, who have magical powers that are focused on mental control. The plague the Telars are suspected of creating gruesomely and slowly strangles its victims to death.

This isn’t the first time Riana has served the Vonstones. She knows several of the family members personally because many of the Vonstones choose to become vampires to live on eternally. Riana wastes no time investigating the odd happenings in Moonshadow, along with Rolf, and their efforts are joined by the King’s brother, Andre, a recently created vampire.

Their investigations take them to the swamp where the Telars were banished by Moonshadow. Riana’s and Andre’s objective is to glean whether or not they were involved in the creation of the plague. They eventually capture a mute Telar leader who can only speak by using her mental powers. The Telar leader reveals that another ancient sorceress, the last survivor of a dead queendom that has an ax to grind with Moonshadow, is behind everything.

The King orders Riana and Andre to take a small company of soldiers to kill the sorceress, despite Riana’s protests that it would be faster if only she, Andre, and Rolf went. The King doesn’t relent and forces them to go about it his way.

The journey is perilous, and many of Riana’s and Andre’s men die on the expedition. Riana and Andre do eventually confront the sorceress whose goal in seeking revenge against Moonshadow was ultimately so she could rebuild her queendom and free the Telars. The plague is making those goals possible, and in the end, after Andre destroys the artifact keeping the sorceress alive while Riana fights and distracts her, the plague is ended.

It does not come without a cost, Rolf was killed in the conflict, and Andre was severely wounded and stuck in a comatose state. Loki eventually returns to Riana to offer her a mortal life which would be a kind of freedom. However, Riana realizes that she is in love with Andre, and he would live on eternally if he woke up. So she makes a new contract with Loki to stay in the mortal realm as a demon. She wouldn’t be bound to a person but to Moonshadow itself.

Soon after, Andre wakes up, and Riana tells him she wants to be with him.


I’m not so certain why Loki is in this story. A god of mischief, sure, why not? But everything else in this novel seems to be original creations—and then there’s Norse god Loki, too. It was distracting because I kept reading into it more than it was.

In any case, I thought “Moonshadow’s Guardian” was a good fantasy novel, and I liked how the slow-burn romantic subplot in it never distracted from the main plot. The plot of this novel is intricately put together, and there’s an engaging mystery at its core. This is a book that I feel does worldbuilding well—there is a lot of it in this story, but I never felt lectured to or that it stalled the story. Gunn moves the story along nicely, and I felt like there was always a reason for why she was telling us something. It didn’t feel like worldbuilding, for worldbuilding’s sake. 

The fights in this story are brutal and to the point. Gunn keeps the mid-fight banter to a minimum which I never knew was a preference of mine until I experienced stories where fights were also long, drawn-out conversations between characters. I felt the last battle against the ultimate antagonist of this story wasn’t exactly lacking per se, but I had hoped for more.

Parting thoughts:

An aspect of this story that I liked more and more upon reflection was that vampires are present in this novel without it becoming a vampire novel. They’re just fantastical characters that exist within this universe, and we’re spared for the most part of the vampire novel’s preoccupation with what it’s like to be a vampire.

Maybe it’s because the main character isn’t a vampire but a demon, and we’re primarily focused on what her life as a Demon was like, but I enjoyed skipping past the angst of being a creature of the night or one of the damned. It left this story to focus only on what I find are the more interesting aspects of vampires.

I also enjoyed the angle that everyone knows about vampires, and they aren’t so much afraid of them as night hunters of men and women, but as a thing, certain people end up becoming and live essentially forever after their transformation. What I feel is at play here is that no matter how fantastical, it becomes commonplace when something becomes well known.

No comments:

Post a Comment