Top critical review
Ok, but really nothing more than that
on 10 January 2016
Blue Moon Rising, by Simon R Green, was the book that first got me in to fantasy over twenty years ago. I remember enjoying some of his other fantasy works – Down Among the Dead Men, Blood and Honour, the Hawk and Fisher books. I read Beyond the Blue Moon when that one came out, and seem to remember thinking it was a good addition to the Forest Kingdom series. Then I heard that there was a third “Rupert and Julia” book in the set, with Once in a Blue Moon offering a final hurrah for the characters who first introduced me to fantasy fiction.
This one was... disappointing, and there’s a number of reasons for me saying so. Firstly, I’m not sure how much of a difference this would have made, but it’s not the book that’s advertised on its own back cover. The relevant section of the blurb reads as so:
Hawk and Fisher’s adult children, Jack and Gillian, have been kidnapped. They were taken by the Demon Prince, an old enemy from the Forest Kingdom who challenges the couple to one final battle for their lives. But Hawk and Fisher believe there’s another motive behind the abductions, one connected to a case they worked in Haven many years ago—a case they refuse to discuss.
Now, unless I missed it, there’s no kidnapping of Jack and Gillian, and no reference to an old Haven case. It’s like the blurb was written for the book that was meant to be published, but then the author took it in a different direction and no one thought to update the back cover. If this makes the book seem rushed, there are other areas within that give credence to the idea.
There are sections where the wrong characters are mentioned, in one scene it’s a bit like Gandalf and Sauron having a discussion at Orthanc and you read it thinking “surely that was meant to say Saruman there, not Sauron?”
There are also sections that are as good as duplicated, though I seem to recall finding something similar when reading one of the Hawk and Fisher omnibuses years ago, so maybe this is a genuine trait of the author. In Once in a Blue Moon, we are introduced to two creatures who act as avatars for opposing countries in conflict – the Green Man for the Forest Kingdom and the Red Heart for Redhart. These two are brought into the world in almost identical circumstances by opposite numbers from the two sides, it’s like the first to occur was simply copied and pasted later in the book with just the names and locations changed.
At least the Red Heart wasn’t just called the Red Man though. In Once in a Blue Moon we already have the Walking Man, the Stalking Man, the Burning Man and the aforementioned Green Man – and yes, there are passages where the Walking Man and the Stalking Man are both included, just to take the confusion levels up a notch.
Outside of these nitpickings, the writing style is, from what I remember, typical for Simon R Green, but here it doesn’t seem like that’s a positive. The first chapter is a good fifty pages and a large portion of it is just unnecessary filler. This chapter sets the scene, and sets Hawk and Fisher on their way from the Hero Academy and back to the Forest Kingdom (that’s the part the back cover blurb got right). Unfortunately, it’s mostly just made up of one liners and passages that are there just to say how awesome the Hero Academy is, or how unbeatable Hawk and Fisher are.
For this last part, there’s not a vast amount to back up the claim for those who haven’t previously experienced Hawk and Fisher, or their alter-egos Rupert and Julia. There’s a few little action sequences that are less than memorable, and there’s a section detailing how the two (plus both of their not-kidnapped offspring) go nonchalantly through a tournament of the greatest warriors and come out completely and unbelievably unscathed. Too much however relies on the reader being told that these are great warriors and the reader asking no questions.
In this sense, I would say Once in a Blue Moon is definitely not a book to pick up out of sequence. It’s not for those who haven’t read (and enjoyed) the rest of the Forest Kingdom series, and indeed probably its only redeeming feature is the closure it gives to some of the characters. There’s a satisfactory ending not just for Hawk and Fisher / Rupert and Julia, but also for some others first mentioned back in Blue Moon Rising. The best is the ending for one (or two, depending on how you look at it) newly introduced characters, even if it does come across as a little too coincidental, almost rushed in at the last to tie up a little loose end raised early in this book.
The story itself is ok but not great – the one advertised on the back cover might have been a better one but we’ll never know. New characters that are introduced are a bit one dimensional for the most part. Jack, Gillian and their children (also not kidnapped), Richard, Catherine and the Champion of Redhart all lack a little body. Probably the only new introduction with a bit more to him is the Sombre Warrior, but he is too underused and his most interesting part (his backstory) is brushed over far too quickly.
There’s romance in the book, but not very good romance. We start out by seeing a chapter largely devoted to explaining how deeply in love Catherine and the Champion are, a chapter where the biggest surprise is the failure to start it with “Once upon a time”, so sugar coated are the words within. Despite this, Catherine’s head is turned at practically the click of fingers and she’s suddenly and devotedly in love with a man she said she could and would never love. There’s no wooing, no great seduction, just a switch flicked and away we go. To reverse a popular meme, even Twilight must surely be a better love story than this (full disclosure: I have never read any of the Twilight books or seen any of the films, so perhaps there’s still hope for Once in a Blue Moon yet).
Overall, and especially when following Hawk and Fisher to the Forest Kingdom, there’s just too much swagger and not enough substance. It’s almost like the main characters (magical talking dog-slash-comedy-sidekick included) take a helicopter ride to convenient points in the story, pick up someone new and ride on to the next spot. It’s just all a little too convenient and not detailed enough.