There are some books you can’t put down, and there are books you completely forget you were reading. Devil’s Moon is the latter. It’s not that there’s anything dramatically wrong with it; it’s just that so little happens that there’s not really anything right with it, either.
I am a bit stumped by what to write as my plot premise summary here. Basically, Sir David Ormiston, inexplicably nicknamed “Devil” (Dev is moderate, supportive, and reliable, not exactly Satanic traits), is assigned by the local lord to be the warden of the castle of Coklaw. Coklaw’s lord Rab Gledstanes died saving Dev’s life in a skirmish, and now Dev is in authority over Rab’s sister Robina (“Robby”) and her little brother, and Robby isn’t thrilled by this. Also, somebody buried some valuable coins outside the castle, and Robby finds them. And Robby can hear her dead twin’s voice. I’m not even kidding when I tell you that this gets you through over half of the book.
The book is packed with unnecessary scenes and pages of dialogue which should have been cut and replaced by a paragraph of narration. For instance, Dev goes to see the regional lord, the Douglas, and learns that the Douglas is worried about security at Coklaw. Then Dev goes home to see his father and gets the suggestion that Dev lobby to be the warden. Then, Dev goes to see another lord and get his backing to be warden. Then Dev goes back to the Douglas and convinces him to appoint Dev warden. All of this keeps the protagonists separated and doesn’t advance the character development of Dev. Why not have Dev arrive in the first scene already appointed, and write briefly, “Dev came backed with the authority of the Douglas. He was a compromise candidate, coming from a family that wasn’t too powerful to give a border castle, but who had proved himself in battle. It had taken some negotiation, and Dev had even had to bring in the backing of another lord, but now he was here to take control. Robina wasn’t going to like it, but then, she wasn’t going to have a choice.” Congratulations, I’ve just saved you two hundred pages.
A lot of the reason for this high word count is filler. At one point, a lord describes another lord to Dev: “[Archie’s] father always made the decisions, so Archie still hesitates to make his own. Because he left the Scottish army in France, declared himself too sick to go back, and persuaded his father to return in his place, I think he feels guilty that his father died there, making Archie the fifth earl.” First of all, Dev already knows all of this, so he shouldn’t care. Second, I don’t know this, but I also don’t care – this is a tangential supporting character. Third, nobody talks like this – not in today, and not in medieval times, either.
So the book is meandering. Are the scenes themselves worth reading? Actually, in a gentle and bland way, they are. As I said, Dev is a nice guy. He is respectful of Robina and tries to make the transition to his authority as smooth as possible for her. Similarly, he steps in to help Robby’s nine-year-old brother Benjy learn to be a lord. Robina comes off as extremely young and unrealistic, engaging in implausible activities (leading cattle raids) and making stupid choices (insisting on walking outside the walls by herself). Her reasons for not telling Dev about the coins are hazy. On the other hand, she matures a bit.
Just when the story was securing itself a C-, something really obnoxious would push it back down. The reason they are pushed into marriage is so nonsensical I read it three times trying to figure out what I had missed. When Dev says he could do worse than to marry her, Robina tries to slap him, and when he accuses her of jealousy, she throws a box at him. I despise “feisty” violence in heroines. The author never explained why Robina was able to talk to her dead twin, and nothing significant even came of it. It was jarring and weird to have that supernatural element in an otherwise bland historical. The paragraphs of unimportant, empty writing grew more annoying as they accumulated.
I only remembered to finish this book because I found myself without wifi and noticed that I’d downloaded it to my Kindle app. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.