Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances. If crazy-rich people behaving badly is your thing, then I have very good news for you, because Wolf Moon has all of that and much more.
There will be some spoilers for the end of New Moon in this review, but nothing more than what the book jacket’s description reveals.
Whereas in New Moon, “The Moon wants to kill you,” in Wolf Moon, “The moon was hope.” The Moon still wants to kill you, but it’s a cold, impersonal sort of killing, one that punishes frail meatbags for not respecting the laws of gravity or atmospheric pressure. The people are what you should fear, because they will kill you for any number of reasons: simply because they can, or for revenge or money, or to remove you as a political or personal obstacle. And there are so many ways to die on the Moon — running out of money for access to food and air is the cleanest option compared to what the Mackenzie clan’s knives are capable of, as an example. The blood-soaked finale of New Moon is nothing compared to the aftershocks of Wolf Moon’s Crucible-shattering cataclysm known as “Ironfall,” which comes out of nowhere and starts a chain-reaction of revenge killings and coups which leave all of lunar society in a shambles and so, so many corpses in its wake.
Somehow, Lucas Corta managed to escape the death squads that nearly obliterated his entire family in the previous book, and through a combination of his indomitable will and nearly-inexhaustible funds, he’s putting together a plan to avenge the Cortas and make the Moon theirs, once and for all. Ariel Corta, despite her broken spine, is doing her best to secure some safety and power for herself by working with the Lunar Development Corporation, while her bodyguard Marina Calzaghe privately counts down the days until she must return to Earth or stay on the Moon forever. The Mackenzies and the Suns, with Corta Helio out of the way, have declared open war on the rest of the Moon’s resources and familes, and don’t seem to care who they have to kill in order to come out on top. Meanwhile, there are internal struggles within the Mackenzie clan which threaten to tear it apart, the Asamoahs are trying to keep their heads above water, and the Vorontsovs are obviously up to something, though no one can get a handle on what. And the Cortas who, to my mind, have the highest potential for likeability — Robson, Luna, Lucasinho, and Wagner — just want to survive.
Wolf Moon is tremendously complex, as I would expect from any Ian McDonald novel, and the various machinations and plots-within-plots sometimes receive more focus than the characters planning them. Having a glossary of names and affiliations at the back of the book was helpful, as I couldn’t always remember whether characters hated one another or were working together (or both, simultaneously), and the family trees within the Five Dragons are more like a thicket of brambles. Like any dynastic struggle for dominance, it’s often best to simply sit back and enjoy the show without trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next or whose intentions are trustworthy, because everything could go right out the window at any moment.
Even though most of the characters are generally unlikeable and often are doing or planning to do terrible things, everything they do makes sense within the twisted internal logic of the corporate families they belong to, and I find that fascinating. The five families have their own approach to doing business or creating alliances, their own lunar specialties and sources of wealth, and their own ways of approaching or avoiding the other families. When things work, they work supremely well; when they don’t work because of intrigue, espionage, and murder, the seemingly-impregnable lunar cities of stone, steel, and glass are revealed to be as fragile as a house of cards.
McDonald concludes Wolf Moon with many more questions left unresolved than answered, and my hope is that the next book, currently titled Moon Rising and slated for an early 2019 release, will bring everything together into an absolute supernova of a finale.
Luna — (2015-2019) The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it’s being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon’s ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon’s near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did. As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation, Corta Helio, surrounded by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise. If the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.