Another spooky urban fantasy, Feast by Merrie Destefano offers an unlikely interpretation of mythical chupacabras and one isolated town’s dangerous encounters with them. Madeline MacFadden is a recent divorcee, single mom, and uninspired horror writer – but she has fond memories of her childhood summers spent at Ticonderoga Falls, and so she and her nine-year-old son trek there together in the hopes of reinvigorating Maddie’s creativity. But as Maddie finds inspiration in her old haunts in the woods, she also starts to find that some of her most horrific and fantastic dreams as a child might actually be memories.
Confusing point-of-view changes
The premise behind the book sounds promising, right? Mysterious monsters, a stifled writer/single mother and her relationship with a young son – this is all good, dark, creepy stuff to work with. Unfortunately, the plot is muddled by frequent point-of-view changes (think every few pages) that don’t often seem necessary, as well as a convoluted timeline that spans decades.
To make matters worse, Ash, the main male lead (also a mysterious monster – hint: chupacabra), suffered some sort of tragedy and curse long ago that is never made entirely clear. We know, vaguely, that he’s tied to Maddie’s small town. We know he’s somehow in charge of the other mysterious monsters. But the details? They’re a lot fuzzier, and some terms – Guardian, Legend Keeper – were tossed about without any actual explanation or, seemingly, relevance. Feast feels like a much larger story squished into a small package – and not in a good, “this is fantastic world-building” way, but in a confusing, poorly-thought-out way.
A forced romance
Few urban fantasies go on for long without some sort of romantic tension or interest being introduced. Feast is no exception. The difference, though, is that the romance between Ash and Maddie is completely unconvincing: Ash is still hung up over his long lost love, while Maddie is in the middle of a divorce and, until the last third of the book, shows absolutely no interest in her mysterious monster friend. If this were a series, maybe this kind of awkward romance would be forgivable since I could expect it to develop more realistically in the following books – but it’s unclear whether Feast is the start of a series or not, and as a standalone (if that’s what it is) this romance simply doesn’t work.
Another major problem in the romance department: we don’t have much idea of what Ash looks like to Maddie in his true form (that is, when he’s not shapeshifting). How am I supposed to fantasize about a sizzling couple if I can’t picture the man in my head?
Darklings or chupacabras – huh?
Although I’ve been referring to the monsters as chupacabras in this review, Destefanos generally uses the term ‘Darkling’ in her novel (though she also calls them chupacabras and shapeshifters).
You heard me. Darkling.
Call me crazy, but anything that ends with a ‘ling’ just isn’t particularly scary. Darkling sounds cute and fuzzy. Ash and his often murderous friends are anything but (unless they choose to shapeshift into bunnies, I suppose). Many of these supernatural creatures’ traits – shapeshifting, dream-eating, social hierarchy – seem pulled out of thin air and remain largely unexplained for the course of the novel. Although vampires and werewolves are no more believable than Destefano’s Darklings, at least the former two creatures have a long and solid history to draw upon. These Darklings are hardly chupacabras and do not remotely resemble anything else. Their insubstantial description and lack of real-world mythological counterpart made Feast feel equally insubstantial and abstract; I couldn’t get a feel for the Darklings’ physical presence or, more importantly, their physical threat to the forest’s human inhabitants.
Destefano is, in fact, a good writer
The only redeeming factor of Feast is that Destefano is a talented writer and many of the descriptions and action sequences are put together flawlessly, so long as you don’t look too deeply into characterization or plot. My dissatisfaction with Feast hasn’t put me off of her other novels, and I’ll likely take another chance on her work again if I come across it.
Why should you read this book?
Feast is a confusing, mediocre urban fantasy with a romance that falls flat at the last minute. Although Destefano shows talent as an author, this is not her best book; I’d recommend reading her more acclaimed Resurrection Chronicles.