Dec 11

Book Review: Feast

Feast (Harvest of Dreams #1)Feast by Merrie Destefano

This novel takes the sexy supernatural trope and adds enough of a spin that people who like this subgenre will likely find this refreshing and new. Alas, FEAST does not put enough of a spin on it to catapult it out of the ordinary for people like me, who are a little jaded and weary of the sexy supernatural.

Mad Mac is reeling from a divorce, and she takes her young son Tucker to Ticonderonaga Falls, a resort town she’d visited as a child. She hopes that there she’ll be able to overcome her writer’s block and create another award winning comic that will put her back on the path to success. This used up my first piece of goodwill. I dislike reading books about authors, and a comic book author is close enough. Authors in novels get awards and six-figure advances as often as ordinary people get parking tickets, and while I’m as much a fan of wish-fulfillment fantasy as the next gal, it just hit me wrong. I see it too often.  Still, she’s not just a writer, she’s also a single mother with a wounded heart and a nine-year-old son to care for, so she’s got something other than her hordes of adoring fans.

The second main character is Ash, who is the lord of the desmesne, so to speak. He’s also some kind of supernatural creature. I actually liked that Destefano didn’t say what kind he was. His people are sometimes called “darklings”.  They fly, but they can shapeshift as well. They can turn into smoke, they can carry people off into the air. Basically, they’re pretty creepy. They feed off people’s dreams, and so Mad Mac is an enticing tidbit to them, since she’s a walking dream-factory. Ash also likes her because she’s pretty.

There are other characters in this novel as well. Ash has a half-human daughter, Elspeth*, and several cousins who are in town for the “Hunt” which takes place around Halloween. Apparently, that’s when they go whole hog and hunt people down, putting them to sleep and drinking from their dreams for their sustenence. Ash goes on about how they’re not supposed to kill people, just sup from them a little bit, but that goes wrong pretty early on when his cousins accidentally kill someone. Later on they kill people un-accidentally.

My main complaint with this novel is that the prose was florid and overblown. Many times I rolled my eyes and said “blah blah blah” which is what I do when a book takes itself too seriously. It had too many adjetives, and way too many overblown metaphors for my taste. Randomly chosen example:

“I could smell it, layers of shadow, the heady fragrance of hte forest at dusk. The scent hung in the air like droplets of water, sparkling, spinning. She had to walk through the mist to get her card and her eyelids blinked like she was fighting a dream.”

This is just her picking up her credit card from the front desk. When she actually encounters magic, it gets even thicker.

Second complain was that there are so many characters that none of them are fully fleshed out. Except for Elspeth who is “standard teen,” the non-Ash darklings are pretty much interchangeable to me. Some of them are bad, but they are mostly bad because they want to take over Ash’s territory (and he’s the “good” guy). They are also bad because they kill people. Ash doesn’t kill people, but he imprisons them, so he’s not exactly a pillar of morality either. Basically, they’re all parasites for whom the best they can do is not kill their human host. I kind of sided with the humans who took shotguns to them.

So much of the magic I felt was just thrown at me without any rules. There’s a “Legend” that gets sung over the town, but is it all the time, or just on Halloween? Can ordinary people hear it? What the hell is a “Legend keeper” and why does it matter? I got that Ash kind of felt bad about having imprisoned an entire family for generations, but why did him releasing that family mean that he lost control of the town? And there’s this character named “Hunter” who may or may not be a darkling, who pulls out some major magic later on, but his motives make no sense.

Mad Mac could have been a lot better fleshed out. Maybe this is her second book or something. She’s got these comic book characters, who are supposed to be so cool, but I don’t know anything about them so I have to take it on faith from the tertiary characters who stand around to talk about how cool she is. And I could have empathized that she’s got a wounded heart and wants love again, but Ash is no prize. He’s a bad father, he drove one of his wives to suicide, and he carried his grief for his first wife to unreasonable extremes. Yes, it’s awful to have someone you love die, but after a hundred years or so, you should just suck it up and drive on. I wanted to tell Madeline that Ash is the last thing she needs in her life. Didn’t she just run away from an asshole whose beauty was only skin deep? Does she really want to mess up her life like that again? He’s a parasite who aspires to…not kill the people he’s feasting off of. Hardly a keeper.

There were some aspects of this that I thought super cool. The way Ash’s first wife died was hilarious, in a black and morbid sort of way. I also liked that dogs can become werebeasts by biting darklings. It’s etymologically incorrect, but still kind of cool.

This would make a great movie, if you like the kind of movie that has lots of action scenes and hot actors in tight leather outfits but doesn’t actually make sense when you try to describe the plot to your friend after the fact. If you just want a romance with a supernatural hottie and a woman kind of like you (but Eisner-winning) this may satisfy. If you want cohesive, comprehensible worldbuilding and characters that are fully fleshed out, this will likely disappoint you.

* <rant>Elspeth has a human mother and a darkling father (Ash). She doesn’t have all the abilities of a darkling, but she has many of them. She is half darkling, half human. At one point, Ash’s cousin is twirling his mustache and outlining all the nefarious deeds he’s planning, and he says he wants to keep Mad Mac as a slave and take Elspeth as a bride, and make more half-human darklings.
Basic biology: if two creatures can create fertile offspring, they are, by definition, the same species. If they are not the same species, Elspeth is a mule. If they are the same species, then darklings are humans and vice versa. Humans can’t shapeshift. Ergo, Elspeth is likely infertile.  Why does this bother me so much? I don’t know. It just does.</rant>

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