Beneath the Raven's Moon, by Emily LaForge

>> Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm very much into gothics, and Beneath the Raven's Moon (excerpt), by Emily LaForge sounded interesting, even if the review I read was unenthusiastic.

When the Raven swallows the moon, darkness descends and sometimes people die...

That's what Catherine Carmichael was told as a child growing up at Ravenswood, the forbidding mansion built by her grandfather on a remote peninsula in upstate New York. Now, twenty years after her father's sudden disappearance and her mother's spiriting young Catherine away to safety, she returns to the shadowy old manor for the reading of her eccentric uncle's will. There, amid ghostly servants and disturbing houseguests, she must confront a legacy of evil ­ and an urbane, dark-haired stranger who sparks in her the passion she needs to unlock her family's secrets and banish forever the darkness from Ravenswood and her own heart.
As I mentioned, I love gothics and I have a very, very high tolerance for them, but though I did find some pleasure in reading Beneath the Raven's Moon, its problems were too much even for me, and my grade would be a C.

The book starts out quite engaging. The setup is fascinating, an old castle in upstate New York, with a famous horror author's family and friends gathered together for the reading of his will. He sets out a game for them, requiring them to discover clues to old secrets related to them to get the money, and that's when things start getting interesting.

The things that happen are interesting, and I kept turning pages like crazy just to find out what on earth was going on here, but there's so much, and such momentous things, too, that it gets to be excessive. I quickly became a little numb. I'm guessing the book would have been chillier if the author had been a bit more moderate here.

Another problem was the narrator, who I never really warmed up to. I very much like first person POV, and in gothics, this is undoubtedly what works best, but the basic condition for 1st person to work is that the narrator is interesting. Catherine never was, she never really came alive to me, in spite of the fact that this wasn't only 1st person, but 1st person, present tense narration, which one would think would make the narrator more immediate to the reader. I found Catherine a bit boring and quite foolish in her choices. Plus, she had absolutely no sense of humour, so it all became quite dreary. There's a romance here, too, but not knowing the heroine or her love interest, I found it hard to care.

Speaking of foolish choices, that was another of my main problems with the book. LaForge set up a situation which none of the characters liked being in, and made them stay there just because. Maybe stranding them there in a huge snowstorm for the entire book would be a cliché (it would!), but it's even worse when people who don't have any reasons to be staying in the house do so in spite of finding it disturbing and it being perfectly possible for them to sleep in a motel nearby.

The worst thing about the book, though, was the ending. OVER THE TOP (yup, all caps, it deserves it), and crossing the line from gothic into horror, gorey and violent. It featured my worst kind of villain, a completely insane one, whose motives were impossible to relate to. And, like the rest of the book, horrors and horrors and more horrors, piling up one on top of the others.

What this book did, mainly, was make me hungry for a good gothic.

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