Moth by Daniel Arenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read this book because, you know, it was free on Amazon, and it seemed like a good entry into Arenson’s oeuvre. This was, I believe, the first book that Arenson wrote and published… and unfortunately it shows.
Let’s recognize the good stuff: the setting is interesting and unique. The world is divided into two halves, a day half and a night half, following a poorly-understood catastrophe in the distant past which caused the world to stop turning. The night half of the world is expecially intriguing, as Arenson has built a fascinating culture and ecology based on a place that never sees sunlight, and he manages to convey most of how the night side works without resorting to infodump. There are some really beautifully described scenes, mostly on the night side of the world, and some excellent battles towards the end.
Furthermore, there are some very clever subversions and reversals of expectation in the presentation of the two halves. Initially we’re given to understand the inhabitants of the night as monsters, creatures who live in eternal darkness, but after a few chapters we move into the POV of one of the night-dwellers. From her perspective, the day-dwellers are demons of fire, creatures who inhabit the realm of blistering light and who emerge from the heat to kill for inscrutable reasons.
But there are numerous problems with the story. We start out in bog-standard Fantasyland, with characters who are pretty stock. We have the Clueless Farmboy who must become a warrior, the Tomgirl (complete with an foreshadowed romance with the Farmboy), a pair of Sidekicks distinguished solely by the fact that one is fat and the other is skinny, a Noble King, and an Evil Priest. All of the creativity seems to have gone into the night half of the world, but since half the story takes place in the day, that means that half of the book is dull and cliche.
The night half of the plot has its own problems: the protagonist of that half of the story leaves early on on a quest, but she’s then presented with a series of irrelevant obstacles which mostly serve to assure that she’s still in the place required by the plot when the end of the book comes. And there is a second subplot which takes place in the dark (which I won’t give details about because of spoilers), which shows up very late, never impacts the main story, and then abruptly closes with no resolution. I can only assume that that plot thread exists to set up elements of the sequel, but it doesn’t pull its weight in this book.
Overall, I would not recommend this book very highly, except as an introduction to the world. The good news, though, is that I’m reading some other books by Arenson, and they get better. Much better.