Ian McDonald concludes the LUNA trilogy with Luna: Moon Rising (2019), finishing many of the stories begun in Luna: New Moon and continued in Luna: Wolf Moon while leaving the futures of his characters and the Moon itself open for rampant speculation. This review will contain some inevitable spoilers for the ending of Luna: Wolf Moon, in particular, but I’ll try to make them as brief as possible, sticking primarily to the details provided in McDonald’s sum-up at Moon Rising’s beginning.
The moon wants to kill you. ~(Luna: New Moon)
The moon is in chaos: Lucas Corta is now the Eagle of the Moon and his Brazilian-born Iron Hand, Alexia Corta, unleashed Adriana Corta’s secret code hiding within the Mackenzie family’s foundry-train, killing the CEO of Mackenzie Metals (among uncountable other lives) and sparking civil war among the Mackenzies. Lucas’ son, Lucasinho, is nearly dead after fleeing across the lunar surface with Luna Corta, whose life he saved by giving her the last of his oxygen, and who now paints her face in the half-rictus of Dona Luna and carries the Corta family blades as Lucasinho’s personal bodyguard. Ariel Corta, adjusting to life as a paraplegic without the assistance of her trusted assistant, Marina Calzaghe, continues to make deals and set the rumor mill ablaze while preparing to fight Lucas for control of the Moon.
The Mackenzies plot revenge, and carry it out through every method at their disposal: kidnapping, murder, emotional blackmail and extortion, a little light genocide, etc. At the same time, the surviving key members of the Mackenzie family look to the ways in which they can guide the Moon’s future; the Asamoahs of Twé protect themselves by cementing strategic alliances and fortifying their marvelous, impossibly-alive city; Lady Sun schemes and bides her time while communicating with various representatives of the Lunar Mandate Authority and Earth-based concerns; and the Vorontsov family pretends to occupy the middle-ground between Earth and the Moon in their lunar-orbiting ships, but they’ve got just as much to gain or lose as any other of the formerly-Five Dragons. The Mackenzies, Asamoahs, Suns, and Vorontsovs each have specific plans for the days, lunes, and years after they’ve taken control and set their family’s puppet in the seat of the Eagle of the Moon, but what do the Cortas want?
The moon was hope. ~(Luna: Wolf Moon)
Interestingly, Moon Rising is the first glimpse we get of the far side of the Moon, which harbors a massive, politically neutral outpost: The University of Farside. Here is where every conceivable type of research can be undertaken without interference from either Earth-based governments and consortia or lunar-based Families and their interminable power struggles, despite the fact that the University is populated with plenty of Mackenzies and others. In addition, the University has its own elite protection and killing specialists, called ghazis, and Dakota Kaur Mackenzie is assigned to watch over Lucasinho and the few Cortas who join him at Farside while experimental procedures attempt to restore the boy to something like normal. She’s brilliant, lethal, equally quick with a joke or a blade, and perfectly matched to the Cortas, who continue to value family solidarity above all else.
The moon has no ghosts … The moon is ghosts all the way down. ~(Luna: Moon Rising)
Meanwhile, interludes show Marina back on Earth among her family, enduring the painful and emotionally devastating readjustment to standard gravity and breathable atmosphere. Tensions are running high, however, and she discovers that having spent time as a Jo Moonbeam has serious consequences — not only for her physical and mental health, but for the safety of her loved ones. People on Earth resent the Moon for, among other things, holding all the cards with regard to helium production and energy availability, and their frustrations are at a boiling point. I would have liked to spend a little more time on Earth in order to get a clearer picture of how the world has changed (or not) thanks to lunar development, climate change, and other factors.
McDonald’s near-future lunar society is a fascinating one, and his vision remains cognizant that the glitter and opulence enjoyed by the upper crust of society is entirely reliant on the continued subjugation and near-forced labor of the far more numerous, but less economically gifted, poorer classes. In an ironic but scientifically-appropriate inversion, the more money you have, the farther away from the Moon’s surface you live, in order to better protect you from the ever-present dangers of solar radiation. The characters who choose to see and experience the poverty-stricken bairros and connect with the residents who struggle every day to earn enough credits for essentials like oxygen and water are the ones most worthy of respect. The characters who only care about themselves and their fortunes and legacies are, naturally, the ones most in need of their just desserts.
Moon Rising functions best as the third and final act of a sweeping, dynastic, three-act tale which provides ample opportunities for readers to voyeuristically thrill along with unimaginably wealthy and powerful people creating double-, triple-, even quadruple-crosses in their endless pursuits of wealth, power, and influence. The Cortas get the most attention, though the other four Families are featured with varying degrees of significance and success. McDonald relies heavily on strata upon strata of subtleties, significant looks, and things-left-unsaid, which can occasionally be maddening until something happens two or three (or even ten) chapters later and the true intent can be glimpsed.
For the most part, affairs are wrapped up in satisfying ways, though a plot-line involving the artificial intelligence known as the Three August Ones made me think that I need to re-read the LUNA trilogy in a single sitting, to be sure whether I understand their involvement and effect on how the trilogy wraps up. (The same can be said for some other character actions and interactions, as well.) Marina’s storyline concludes beautifully, in such a way that evokes Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, but I would have liked a touch more finality or clarity. I won’t breathe a word about who lives to see the end of Moon Rising, of course, but I thought it was a fitting conclusion for all involved parties and for the future of the Moon, itself.
McDonald’s novels are always thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measures; he knows the best and worst intentions that lurk within his characters’ hearts, and he’s not afraid to explore the darker, nastier corners of the human mind or human society. At the same time, there’s a pervading sense of optimism within the LUNA trilogy, a belief that better days are ahead, and I finished New Moon hoping that McDonald will return to this setting, or perhaps the far-flung descendants of the Five Dragons, in later works.