Ever encounter one of those books that you really wished you’d enjoyed more than you had? For me, Toby Bishop‘s Airs Beneath the Moon was one of those books.
There’s something truly solid here, a pretty good foundation with some strong writing structurally speaking, with the exception of the fact that Bishop seems to think that a comma can always replace the word ‘and’. It can’t.
There’s also some fun support characters, like Hester Golden, who’s a good friend of young Lark, the heroine. And Phillipa Winter, a Horsemistress who the book spends a great deal of time on, is solid and likeable, if a bit Professor McGonagall-ish. I liked Lark’s brothers, too, though I didn’t see much of them.
The problem is the fact that this is advertised as a school atmosphere, against-the-odds kind of fantasy ala Mercedes Lackey‘s Arrows of the Queen or Tamora Pierce‘s The Magic Circle, and it’s not. Far too little of the book is spent on Lark, on getting to know her, on seeing her struggles with the other students or her growing friendship with Hester. It’s hard to sympathize with Lark, even when she’s being teased, because it all feels so one note. Far more time is spent on attempts of intrigue, following Phillipa Winter and occasionally the prince of the realm, William.
William might be the bad guy, but I found myself partially rooting for him, in spite of the fact that Bishop hastened to assure me that he was indeed Evil McHorsiekiller (though not enough for patricide, apparently). Frankly, I found that the ‘rules’ behind these winged horses made no sense. It’s never explained why only women can ride them. It’s never explained why the women who ride them shouldn’t have sex, because if they get pregnant it alters their scent or something, and their horses won’t allow them to ride. It’s never explained why these horses go crazy from this decision and have to be put down, because they can’t be bound to anyone else. Now, I love intriguing mysteries and being kept on tenterhooks, but not by something that seems utterly nonsensical.
Airs Beneath the Moon isn’t a bad book, but it’s not great either. There wasn’t enough to interest me, and I honestly can’t say whether I’d pick up the second one or not. I hate to say it, but if you’re in the mood for school fantasy, stick to Lackey or Pierce.