Moongazer
by Marianne Mancusi, fantasy (2007)
Shomi, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52725-7


I know Marianne Mancusi can't do anything about this, but I wish the publisher hasn't published Moongazer right after Liz Maverick's Wired. Both stories have many fundamental similarities: first person narration, a heroine caught in bewildering shifting realities, and two men vying for her trust if not affections. Perhaps a reader can't be blamed if she can't help comparing both books?

Still, Moongazer has a stronger romantic component than Wired and a less conceptual storyline, which will be good or bad depending on how you like your urban fantasy stories. While Wired deals with time-travel and time paradigm thingies, Moongazer deals with... well, let's just say that this one is more comparable to Total Recall than The Terminator, if we are to use Arnold Schwarzenegger movies as points of comparison. It's all about The Matrix-style issue of reality versus dream here.

You see, heroine Skye Brown is an MMORPG designer, working on what seems like a female-oriented World of Warcraft game crossed with The Sims. I shudder to imagine what happens when all those overpowered Warlocks and Hunters in World of Warcraft start being all lovey-dovey The Sims-style to take on those poor other classes so perhaps it is for the best that Skye finds herself transported to what seems like another reality before she ruins MMORPG forever.

If you ask Dawn Grey (he's the hero, by the way), Skye is actually Mariah Quinn, the leader of a bunch of rebels called the Eclipsers. The Eclipsers are disenfranchised members of the lower class called the Dark Siders. The world they all live in is called Terra, a post-apocalyptic version of Earth where humans seek refuge underground and build wondrous cities beneath the now inhospitable surface of the planet. The Eclipsers are a bunch of rebels going against the corrupt government. Recently, the government launches a program called "Moongazing". Apparently researchers have discovered an alternate dimension thingy where they can send people to this dimension, which resembles Earth back when people can live on the surface. The sun! The beach! Needless to say, those who have money pay big bucks to "gaze at the moon". What happened to Mariah was that she started out trying to investigate this program only to eventually betray the Eclipsers for a permanent passport to the "moon". She is brought back to Terra by the actions of some Eclipsers led by the matronly Glenda. Dawn however cannot forgive Mariah for her betrayal. Unfortunately, Skye has no memory of any of this.

If you ask Brother Duske, a prominent member of the Circle of Eight that runs the place, Skye has accidentally arrived from Earth to this new world, Terra, and he understandably would love to help her get back to Earth.

Oh dear, so who can Skye trust in this situation? Which reality is the real one? The one on Earth or the one on Terra?

Moongazer starts out pretty slow in its first few chapters with the author often trying to create an atmosphere of suspense often at the expense of logic. For example, when Dawn first meets Skye, he claims to hate her and wants her to get away from his sight. By this point he's actually crying, the poor dear. Then, he whips out his weapon and asks Skye to follow him or else. The tears are quickly gone and are replaced by sneers and patronizing condescension. My impression of this scene is that poor Dawn must be schizophrenic or something. The heroine is confused by Dawn's behavior. She's not the only one.

However, when Skye meets Brother Duske, things pick up considerably and this story has me at the edge of my seat as I keep turning the pages. The pacing picks up considerably, the suspense begins eating at me, and the world building is too intriguing indeed. There are some problems, such as Skye still thinking that Terra may be a different planet or dimension or whatever from Earth despite seeing a Starbucks around the place. I know there are rumors out there about Starbucks being secretly run by evil aliens hoping to enslave all humans, but come on now. Still, Ms Mancusi weaves a most intriguing story that forces me to stop thinking too much and just flow along with the flow.

Skye can be gullible at times, but given that she's in a situation that she can barely begin to understand, that's only to be expected. Then again, nothing can excuse that Starbucks things if you ask me. On the whole, she's a decent heroine. Ms Mancusi does a pretty good job in my opinion of letting me live the story through Skye's point of view. Dawn doesn't really come alive to me, but he starts out a pretty tedious brat straight out from a young adult novel and ends up a pretty melodramatic guy when it comes to love and all (in a good way, of course) so he's not too bad. Just boring.

But the greatest strength of Moongazer is how Ms Mancusi sweeps me up into her story and just won't let go. This story is most engaging and interesting. I can't say I am bored even once while reading it. The world-building is interesting, but there are many fundamental questions that go unanswered. But given that Skye doesn't have much opportunity to go on a tour around Terra and information dissemination in this story is limited to what she learns from other people around her, I probably can't expect too much in the first place. I wonder about the preoccupation of the people in this story with the moon, though. I'd think guys missing life on the surface of the Earth will be more fixated on the sun.

Like Wired, Moongazer attempts to do something that has never been done before in the romance genre and to an extent it succeeds very well. This is a most entertaining story despite having the occasional very obvious flaws because I'm having too much fun. If Marianne Mancusi wants to "Shomi" a good time - sorry, that's terrible, I know - she does so with style here.

Rating: 88


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