The Stolen Moon of Londor, A. P. Stephens’ first book in The White Shadow Saga, is a traditional high fantasy that follows a band of adventurers–elven, dwarvish, and wizardly–on a quest to recover a magical object that will restore their pseudo-medieval land to prosperity. In this case, the magical object is one of the twin moons, and the moon’s absence has lately allowed mysterious evil forces to terrorize the land of Londor’s law-abiding citizens (and, of course, to provide foes for our questing adventurers).
If you made a list of every fantasy stereotype from the last thirty years, you’ll likely find some form of it in The Stolen Moon of Londor (though dragons and unicorns have yet to make an appearance). This novel has it all: haughty elves; bumpkin humans; an arrogant, ignorant prince; a rogue with the heart of gold; a wise old wizard; aggressive mistrust between races; bloodthirsty werewolves; a mysteriously vanished object of power; dark, unfathomable forces of undiluted evil… I could go on. Interestingly, the lone dwarf character in The Stolen Moon acts more like a hobbit than a dwarf–but even so, hobbits are not exactly a cutting-edge invention in fantasy these days.
Although Stephens does little to distinguish his fantasy races from their many appearances in other novels, Stephens does change up the story in one significant way by making the quest object a moon. This choice lends the novel a mythic quality, as the characters are not chasing some small magical sword or orb, but instead something so large it’s nearly impossible to imagine how someone could have stolen it at all. I wish that the other clichés were as deftly re-imagined.
Too many main characters
There is no one protagonist in this novel. There aren’t even two or three protagonists. Instead, The Stolen Moon of Londor gives an equal spotlight in a relatively short book to all nine of its adventurers; in fact, in some unfortunate cases, the viewpoint character changes even within the same paragraph. Because of this, many scenes lack focus and emotional punch even when it’s clear that there is potential for emotion in the event.
It’s also difficult to connect to any of the characters, who often feel one-dimensional and underdeveloped. Apart from Prince Arnanor, however, who remains shallow the entire time, most of the characters are strengthened over the course of the novel. Hopefully this indicates that the next book in the series, Shameless Wonders, will do a better job of developing the characters and representing them believably and emotionally.
Traditional style of writing
For the most part, the prose strives for that kind of lyrical formality found in older fantasy epics–at its best in the work of Tolkien; at its worst in every fantasy spoof you’ve ever read. At first I was surprised that Stephens had decided to go this stylistic route at all, since most fantasy writers today choose a lighter, contemporary tone, but Stephens’ traditional style suits the novel’s mythic and traditional structure. As for how well the novel achieves this goal of lyrical formality… well, it often succeeds quite handily, but at other times the novel descends into convoluted, awkward, and presumably unintentional hilarity.
The dialogue between the characters occasionally feels wooden, and their motivations are sometimes too obviously and bluntly made explicit in conversation. The dialogue especially suffers when it happens between villains and the protagonists; some of the villains are not particularly menacing and instead come across as goofy evil henchmen when they explain their plans to the adventurers. On the plus side, though, Stephens does a killer job with battle scenes, where the formal style disappears and our valiant adventures can get down to beating the crap out of baddies.
Why should you read this book?
The Stolen Moon of Londor is an uneven attempt at an epic adventure fantasy in the style of genre books from a decade or two ago. If you’ve missed the past few years’ lack of merry bands of warriors seeking magical objects, then reading this book may feel like you’re coming home again. The writing and character development, however, leave a lot to be desired. Fortunately, the book’s final chapters leave me hope that the series may improve as the author continues developing his craft.
Caleigh received a review copy courtesy of Fanda Books.