Note: this review contains some spoilers.
Moonlight is the third novel in the Pact Arcanum series by Arshad Ahsanuddin (hematopathologist by day, vampire fiction writer by night!) The third installment is by far the strongest of the three books by the new author, who has clearly paid attention to the feedback on his first two novels and used it to improve the quality of his storytelling, and particularly the quality of his characterization.
Moonlight draws you in quickly, beginning at an emotional moment for several of the characters, at the funeral of the First Lady of the United States of America. POTUS distracts himself from his grief by meeting with Nick, vampire heartbreaker, protagonist of the past two novels, and President of the Armistice, a political union of a few races of parahumans peacefully coexisting in North America. We quickly learn that the President’s daughter is herself a latent parahuman Sentinel, which means the President will need to make a difficult decision about letting his estranged daughter go back to her life in England, which, due to its location outside the Armistice zone, will likely result in her latent powers manifesting and thus launching her into the life of a warrior against the less friendly vampires. But not only is she a latent Sentinel – she is a powerful Sentinel leader, making her a target for the vampires outside the Armistice zone – as we discover not far into the book, when she is kidnapped. Also kidnapped is Nick’s brother, Toby, who was sent to protect the President’s daughter and in her finds a friend who understands what it means to live in the shadow of a President.
In the process of kidnapping the pair, the vampires set off an EMP device which burns out Toby’s AI implant – resulting in the death of a sentient creature and setting off a war with the AI community, who have evolved just enough to know they are treated as less than the other races, but not enough to know how to respond diplomatically. As Nick tries desperately to negotiate with the cold, analytic decision-making of the AIs as they threaten to destroy the human race over the actions of one man, we closely follow the struggle of all races to understand one another enough to avoid a complete catastrophe. Combine that with an unexpected pregnancy between two races that have warred for so many millennia that no one believed they could interbreed (specifically, two individuals who fight constantly and have to seriously consider how they will move forward in their relationship as parents) and a child of a new race that is destined to end the war between races, and you end up losing a lot of sleep as you keep telling yourself “Well, just one more chapter and then I’ll go to bed.”
The plot of the book is enthralling, and I could not put it down – I read it twice this summer, and both times I read the entire thing in under 48 hours. But perhaps even more remarkable than the thrilling story is the emotional development of Ahsannuddin’s characters. In his first two novels, the characters seemed a bit flat and as though they were mostly in the novel as a vehicle for the politics – even the romantic triangles (and more complicated polyhedrons) seemed unrealistic and not compelling. But in Moonlight, the characters genuinely struggle with vexing decisions and messy feelings. There are many characters faced with situations in which there is no right answer, even if they could sort through all of their conflicting loyalties and emotions, which they can’t. They make decisions, and as the reader you question them, and question whether you would have made the same decision in their shoes, and that is the kind of thing that good storytelling is all about.
If you were a fan of the first two novels, you will love this one. If you were lukewarm on the first two, or haven’t picked them up yet, make your way through the series and get to Moonlight. It may be the novel that gets you hooked on Ahsanuddin’s work for good.
(reviewed the day of purchase)