Young witch Araina has noticed the world slowly fading during her last few years of magical apprenticeship: fewer crops, fewer animals, more war and disease, hard times for everyone. At last, her aunt and teacher dies, leaving her their cottage and the seemingly-simple order to bring two books to a colleague in the magical arts, somewhere a few days away. Those magical colleagues, however, are investigating the harm which is killing the world by degrees, and Araina is surprised to find herself called to repair that harm, and heal the world.
Rosemarie Montefusco’s A MOONSERPENT TALE has a clear, strong vision, delivered in confident prose. Especially as an original, standalone work, not billed as part of an epic series, the text succeeds in establishing a world that has obvious scope and complexity without belaboring that scope and complexity at the expense of character and plot. Araina herself is a well-drawn and appealing protagonist: human, imperfect, but with strength and conviction that endear her to the reader and propel her through the plot. Her occasional companions – a dour soldier with a murky past, a wise-cracking rogue of an elf, and the friendly pigeon upon whom he rides – are similarly well-drawn, entertaining, and believable. There are elements of the plot and world that could be better-explored (with some complications, the story is essentially a collection quest for some magical maguffins), but the text provides just enough information for the reader to understand the systems and the stakes before upsetting the status quo for an action-packed third act.
Overall, the prose itself is smooth, clear, and descriptive, and some phrases will strike a reader with real beauty, evoking “a basket of next-best things” or “the wick-held glow of a snuffed candle.” There are, however, some unusual constructions which are rarely outright wrong but do grate on the ear. Verbs are consistently “nouned,” even when proper constructions exist: “an exhale” or “his exclaims” should be “an exhalation” and “his exclamations;” a phrase like “with a slow uncurl of her back” should be restructured as “slowly uncurling her back.” There also remain some straightforward typographical errors, though rarely: missing close-quotes, missing words, or homophonic errors like “hurtle” for “hurdle.” Though these issues never really impede comprehension, they do detract from the otherwise-beautiful prose. Even with these cosmetic concerns about the language, A MOONSERPENT TALE still has all the essential ingredients necessary for a compelling read: well-drawn characters; a vibrant fantasy world (which won’t ask its readers to tremble in awe of monologues about ancient kings or endure lengthy passages in invented languages); a comprehensible and satisfying plot; and in the end, plenty of charm to keep the reader turning the pages.
With compelling protagonists, strong prose, and a lot of heart, Rosemarie Montefusco’s A MOONSERPENT TALE stands out as a shining example of original fantasy.
~Dan Accardi for IndieReader