Jericho Moon, by Matthew Woodring Stover

jericho-moon-by-matthew-woodring-stover review coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Roc
Published: 1998
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Heather Hunt

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Within the first 200 pages of Jericho Moon, I was anticipating giving this historical fantasy novel a high rating. Stover has certainly done his homework on ancient history and the religions of groups as varied as Irish Picts, Greeks, Canaanites, and Israelites. And his integration of historical figures, such as Joshua, Rahab, and the cities of Jericho and Jerusalem (Jebusi) is intriguing and factually accurate.

His writing is also quite good. The three main characters, who were first seen in Stover’s novel, “Iron Dawn,” are all well-drawn individuals with distinct personalities. His descriptions of the ancient Canaanite/Israeli landscape with its rugged hills and yawning desert wilderness are evocative and transporting. And for those who like action, Stover does not disappoint. Most of the 519 pages are saturated with literally gut-wrenching action.

Herein lay the beginnings of my discontent, however. The vividness of Stover’s descriptions of violence are X-rated, so a little bit goes a long way. There’s far more than a little bit here. This is the “Saving Private Ryan” of the historical fantasy world. There are so many disturbingly graphic depictions of flint axes hacking off limbs and daggers being plunged into guts and ripping upward to spill intestines and puncture hearts that they distract from the story.

Just as in war movies, in which one brief violence-filled battle should serve to represent the whole bloody mess, this book should describe one or two scenes in detail to establish the characters and the times, and then be more matter-of-fact in later scenes. But just as movies often tend to go overboard with the violence, so too does this otherwise well-plotted novel.

There are lots of twists and turns in the novel’s story and Stover does a good job of keeping the reader guessing. He also succeeds in creating real-life ambiguities in a story in which the good guys and bad guys could have been easily caricatured in black and white terms.

Unfortunately, his main character becomes a bit too over-the-top for me, and I ceased to sympathize with her about three-quarters of the way through the book. Her foul mouth and violent ways become tedious and childish. Too speak in movie terms again, she is a character without an arc. She achieves some of her goals by the end of the story, but her essential character seems unchanged. She doesn’t grow up.

Stover is a good writer. But this story is ultimately unfulfilling.

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