Ian McDonald’s new series, Luna (review copies from Gollancz), has all the red-in-tooth-and-claw politics and excitement of I Claudius, the Borgias and the Medicis rolled into one glorious bundle of politics, wealth and violence. Both of the first two books, Luna: New Moon, and Luna: Wolf Moon (just published) are fabulous.
In McDonald’s world, the Moon has been colonised, and it is controlled by five powerful families, known as the Dragons. These families control resources that an increasingly fragile Earth is dependent on, but they are bitter rivals, jockeying for position. Many of those families are now on their third generation, with the physical changes wrought by the Moon meaning that individuals are trapped within its environment. After two years someone from Earth is no longer able to return, but those born there are unable to survive elsewhere. The Dragons are fabulously wealthy, but the gap between rich and poor is wide, with other individuals eking out an existence, competing for contracts to make a life. This is a place run by contract, where there is no other civil or criminal law and disputes can be settled by trial by combat.
Both books follow the fortunes of the Corta family. Founded by Brazilian matriarch Adriana Corta, the family has a monopoly on the production of helium, essential to power a failing Earth’s fusion reactors. But the Corta family are seen as upstarts by their chief rivals, the Mackenzie family, which dominates the mining of rare metals, but is jealous of the more profitable helium industry. The rivalries between the five Dragons are kept in careful balance by the Eagle, the representative of the Lunar Development Corporation, the governing entity in charge of the Moon, but the collapse of a planned dynastic marriage between Corta and Mackenzie triggers a chain reaction of events and reprisals that threatens to destroy the fragile lunar society. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling a complex plot that is a roller-coaster ride of violence, destruction, adventure and heroism.
In McDonald’s hands, the Luna books are a powerful exploration of frontier life. There are chances for great wealth and opportunity for those with the wisdom and determination to spot an opportunity and take advantage of it. But existence is fragile, and small events can wreak drastic changes in the circumstances of an individual. The Moon does not discriminate in who it offers opportunities to, or how it punishes them for their missteps.
McDonald’s Moon is a real melting pot of Earth culture and nations, all interwoven and viewed through a lunar lens. The five Dragons represent Australia, Russia, Ghana and China as well as the Cortas’ native Brazil. Sexuality is free and fluid within lunar society, and diversity is embedded in society. That leads to a broad range of fantastic characters, from powerful matriarchs, to playboy heirs straight from Made In Chelsea, to roughnecks out on the lunar surface.
Chief among that cast of characters is the fabulous Ariel Corta. High-flying divorce lawyer and society darling, she is charismatic, arrogant, vain and an alcoholic with a Martini habit. From her vintage Dior to her vertiginous heels she exudes sophistication, but underneath she is fragile. Her attention-grabbing professional persona conceals emotional neediness underneath it all. It’s wonderful to see such a fully-realised and flawed character taking such a leading role in a novel.
Goodreads rating: 5*