Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy
While I try to have an open mind when I read, I must admit that paranormals are one thing I tend to handle with snap judgments. I love ‘em or I hate ‘em within the first couple of paragraphs and rarely change my mind by reading further. Too often, I lose interest because the details are clumsy – too much explaining why the magic works, and too little focus on the cool things the magic can do. The story gets lost in all the mechanics.
So let me say right up front that Kathryne Kennedy is one heck of a world-builder. She opens Beneath the Thirteen Moons with a Seer who, accompanied by some kind of half-fish/half-monkey pet, is chewing zabbaroot to obtain Power before she kidnaps a Healer. In the hands of many – most? – writers, this kind of thing leaves me going, ‘What the heck is zabbaroot, am I really reading about a mer-chimp, and what else is in the TBR pile?’ But Ms. Kennedy weaves the fantasy details deftly into the story, never losing sight of the characters and their journey, which is, after all, what we’re interested in.
At its heart, this story is pretty universal: Mahri, a poor smuggler, needs to find someone with the medical skill necessary to save her village from an epidemic. She kidnaps Korl, who is not only a talented Healer, but a high-ranked member of the royal family. Though neither understands the other’s worldview, they must join forces to save not just Mahri’s village, but the entire kingdom. If you just change the names, you could make this a Regency, a space opera, a contemporary, a steampunk – you name it.
Mahri and Korl are fully-developed characters, with the personality quirks and faults that make them realistic and likable. Of course you know that, even while they disagree and distrust each other, there is going to be some heavy-duty attraction between them, and Ms. Kennedy delivers nice romantic touches. When Mahri protests that Korl’s people will not accept a ‘water rat’ as their princess, he growls, “I love you. Let that be enough for now,” and kisses her. Ohh, swoon. My description doesn’t do it justice – read it for yourself and you’ll see.
I do want to point out one problem I had with the book, although I don’t know if it is fair; Ms. Kennedy probably had nothing to do with it. But publicists need to recognize that people can be turned off by over-blown comparisons. They dare you to not like the book, and I unfortunately always rise to a dare. When the cover of B13M seemed to say that Ms. Kennedy was the next JK Rowling, my reaction was immediate: Oh, yeah? Prove it. And no, B13M is no Harry Potter. But it doesn’t need to be – it is perfectly delightful on its own terms.