A Spirited Debut: Jasmine Gower’s Moonshine

Here’s something that you don’t know about me: I’m a little fascinated with the Roaring Twenties. I know that it was a tremendously difficult period for so many people, but something about the flappers, jazz clubs, and speakeasies always catches my fancy. So when I was browsing NetGalley and came across a novel that seemed to be set in a post-apocalyptic version of that time period, I was almost instantly hooked.

Moonshine (2018)
Written by: Jasmine Gower
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 320 (Kindle)
Publisher: Angry Robot

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

Why I Chose It: As I mentioned above, I have a fascination with the Roaring Twenties, so a magical, post-apocalyptic version of such looked too good to pass up. Furthermore, Angry Robot publishes some of the most creative genre fantasy that I’ve read in recent years, and when I noticed that they were behind this project, I was doubly interested.

The premise:

In the flourishing metropolis of Soot City (a warped version of 1920s Chicago), progressive ideals reign and the old ways of magic and liquid mana are forbidden. Daisy Dell is a Modern Girl — stylish, educated and independent — keen to establish herself in the city but reluctant to give up the taboo magic inherited from her grandmother.

Her new job takes her to unexpected places, and she gets more attention than she had hoped for. When bounty hunters start combing the city for magicians, Daisy must decide whether to stay with her new employer — even if it means revealing the grim source of her occult powers.

Extremely mild spoilers


Discussion: I will begin by saying that this is another of those books where the setting and characters were more important to me than the plot. The driving plot line, involving assassins and political intrigue, wasn’t boring, but it didn’t captivate my interest enough to keep me up reading long past my bedtime. As such, days would go by when I would absentmindedly start reading something else, having virtually forgotten about my friends in Soot City.

When I found my way back to them, it was always an enjoyable time. The characters are all lively, strong-willed individuals who have come a long way to get where they are. There’s a healthy dose of diversity among the cast, which I appreciate a great deal. Characters from a wide variety of ethnicities and races (such as ogres and even fairies) are present. So is a wide spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. All of this is simply accepted. The only discrimination present is against those who wish to use magic, and then it doesn’t matter what you look like or who you like to go to bed with in the eyes of the public. If you’re a magic user in Soot City, the public largely despises you.

A portion of this has to do with the creation of a magical potion known as mana. Magicians use the substance to replenish themselves. Mundane citizens simply enjoy drinking the illegal beverage, leading to the Prohibition-era atmosphere of the novel (and the title). As with actual Prohibition, speakeasies have popped up throughout Soot City, where bartenders serve up more than just gin.

The novel discusses several societal problems that are present here in the real world: the threat of gentrification, politicians carelessly using (and even creating) tragedies for their own personal gain, and the dangers of addiction. One doesn’t have to look too far to see these things plaguing today’s world. Gower does a good job of weaving these conflicts into her story and giving the reader some idea of what happens on the other side of such policies. The gentrification issue in particular stood out to me. Yes, a character may be an assassin, but she also wants little more than to save her home from being purchased out from under her. This desire to keep a home that has been in her family for several generations is what drives her to take on such unsavory work. It’s a stark example of what people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive.

My one criticism is that the plot does drag a bit. As I mentioned above, there were days when I wouldn’t pick up the book at all. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t in a hurry to find out what happened next. There are plenty of books where I have simply enjoyed wandering around with the characters and watching what happened next, because I liked and cared for them. However, there was always something compelling that kept me coming back. In this case, there wasn’t enough urgency or concern over the looming danger. The characters may have felt it, but I never truly did.

In conclusion: I don’t regret reading Gower’s debut. Her writing style was tailored so perfectly for the time period that this book implies — almost a fantasy by way of F. Scott Fitzgerald — and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with in the future. Moonshine soaks the reader in its heady atmosphere and that is enough for me to want to revisit it.

Moonshine is available today! Happy Release Day to Jasmine Gower and Angry Robot!

2 Comments

  • Lane Robins February 7, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    This sounds interesting! I read a book with a similar premise (though without the fairies and ogres) but they took a different direction with it. So now I want to read this one to see how it compares to Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic.
    Plus, gorgeous cover. And I am also a sucker for fantasy in the roaring twenties. Have you read Libba Bray’s The Diviners?

    Reply
    • Casey Price February 7, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      No, I haven’t! I have heard of it, and I’ve read some of her other books, so I’ll have to check it out.

      Reply

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