There are a lot of different kinds of post-apocalyptic novels, from Fahrenheit 451 to Hiero’s Journey. Jon Mollison has graced us with a story much more in the spirit of Hiero’s Journey with A Moon Full of Stars.
Rome is a young apprentice hunter. Being a village hunter is all he wants to do, but he isn’t very good at it. He is very close to relegation to the fields. His fellow apprentice hunter Warsaw, on the other hand, is already one of the best hunters in the village, despite his age. Rome and Warsaw separately return from their most recent hunting trip bigger issues. Badger-faced men have sacked the village and marched the survivors off in bondage. Indomitable, Rome and Warsaw set out to rescue their friends and family against all odds.
A Moon Full of Star is clever in both its storytelling and worldbuilding, rotating among multiple (all very pulpy) subgenres. I will avoid details to avoid spoiling anything.
I love that stuff, but I won’t talk about it, I will laud Mollison’s characterization of Rome and Warsaw instead. Rome and Warsaw each have their own distinct character arc, both individual and in relation to each other. They are also very different characters: Rome a dreamer and Warsaw a man of action. Pulling off even two character arcs in under two hundred pages can be tough. Pulling off converging character arcs is tough. And it is particularly tough, in my experience, to pull off two characters so different and designed to contrast. The natural tendency of the reader is to like one more and to root for that character over the other. Mollison nudges the reader toward identifying with Rome by telling the beginning from his POV and giving us a window into Rome’s dim view of Warsaw. Warsaw easily could have been a character I never came to identify with or root for. An uber-competent character, he also could have easily have turned into a Mary Sue. But Rome’s abilities prove just as valuable. What Mollison does with those two characters shows tremendous craft, if subtly.
Mollison is also wonderfully subtle in seeding his story with political and philosophical themes. Mollison recognizes a light touch is more likely to enhance the story, rather than distract from it.
If I have a single complaint, it is that Mollison may be too subtle. There is some cool worldbuilding, with badger-faced men and literal horsemen (i.e., a sort of centaur) appearing in the first several pages. The later stuff is welcome, but it has precedent. A post-apocalyptic America—here, between the Rockies and Mississippi—is certainly not new ground. Mollison again takes a light touch hinting at the world before, presenting things as they would be seen by people with no cultural knowledge of their history we are living while still giving us enough clues to piece things together. It never gets cutesy, but maybe it should! The worldbuilding and the action could have stood to be a little more bonkers. I compared A Moon Full of Stars to Hiero’s Journey above, but it would be easy to take that comparison too far. Hiero’s Journey is a book that is completely bonkers, and I love it for it.
4 of 5 Stars.