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The world of Hunter's Moon, David Devereux's debut novel, is one of magic, demons, and covert operations, a world in which a group of witches called the Enlightened Sisterhood are planning to assassinate Britain's Prime Minister. The novel's hero, Jack, is a gun-wielding sorcerer secret agent—"a magician by profession and a bastard by disposition" (p. 14)—and is expected to save the day and get the girl, so to speak, in this supernatural thriller. Action, adventure, murder, sex, and torture abound as Jack brazenly navigates the mystery of the Sisterhood's plot, and through all the twists and turns, we see the world through the eyes of the hero as he carries out his mission.

But Jack is not your typical hero. Usually, the hero in this sort of genre fiction has a deep understanding of good and evil and works to make things right in the world; they serve as our moral compass. Jack, however, is more or less along for the ride, defeating people he is told to defeat, and killing, torturing, or otherwise manipulating most of the other characters in the book. While he is obviously very good at his job, he's missing any sense of social responsibility; he just wants a drink and a pretty lady at the end of the day, like any self-respecting wage slave, and doesn't care who he has to hurt to reach this objective.

This all changes with the arrival of Annie, Jack's partner for his current mission, a rookie in the secret government organization they work for who has gone undercover and infiltrated the ranks of the Enlightened Sisterhood to provide Jack with much-needed information about the Sisterhood's current endeavors. Jack feels protective of her at first, and as their relationship deepens he even ends up in bed with her, and so he is pained—against his better wishes, of course—when she becomes brainwashed by the leader of the Sisterhood, a dangerous ex-CIA agent with a penchant for mind control named Candace Alder. Subsequently Annie disappears, presumably to help the Sisterhood with their mission to kill the Prime Minister. Even her attempt to murder Jack (when he has arrived to rescue her) does not dissuade him from continuing to try to save her while he simultaneously stops the Sisterhood from carrying out their mission.

It is Jack's desire to save Annie that drives the action in the latter half of Hunter's Moon, which would otherwise be a simple procedural of a highly competent agent systematically overpowering the group of women he has been assigned to eliminate. "Getting Annie out would be the challenge, though," Jack notes (p. 90), thus raising the stakes and preparing the reader for a quest that even our infallible hero has no precedent for. And infallible he is: Devereux does little to show that Jack is human, choosing instead to impress us with Jack's power and his astounding ability to get out of every situation without even a scratch while those around him fail miserably, and suffer for it. Even during a climactic face-to-face with Candace Alder, Jack only appears to become victim to her mind control tactics which have proven all-powerful for everyone else that she has unleashed them on. He suddenly breaks free and turns the tables of this confrontation, which should have been his major trial—during which we would see him suffer and then dramatically overcome his circumstances. His escape here is almost miraculous, earning our respect but maybe not our interest.

The fact that Jack's objective is to eliminate a group of women is no accident. Hunter's Moon ultimately presents an imbalanced conflict between men and women, introducing us to a hyper-masculine hero who demonizes women, manipulating them and torturing them and killing them. At one point Jack is even aroused after torturing one of the members of the Sisterhood, as though violence is his most intimate form of communication with women, an expression of sexual desire through a process of forceful domination. And when torturing another member of the Sisterhood, Jack notices "tears in her eyes as panic started to grip her. The combination of helplessness and suggestions was starting to play on basic fears from childhood: being alone, getting hurt and monsters in the dark—in this case the classic fairy-tale wolf" (p. 157). Even Jack sees himself as a monster, bent on extracting the very souls (sometimes literally) of his female victims.

Hunter's Moon explores the suppression of female will by masculine forces. Jack is at his best with women when simply engaging in consensual sex, but even then the relationship is strictly physical, one of giving and receiving, just the utilization and casting aside of the female body without concern for the individual. Jack's boss gives him a simple command early in the novel: "Find these women, and stop them" (p. 104). This establishes the game as one of men against women, rightful power against rebellious dissent, a game of masculinity versus femininity in its crudest form: a male hero fighting a seemingly helpless cast of female villains, none of whom ever pose much of a threat to him. Only in his relationship with Annie do we see Jack show any real respect toward women, but it is fleeting and he is constantly justifying it, as though he is embarrassed and annoyed about caring for her. Jack is ultimately motivated by a fear of women, a desire to keep them submissive to him so as to retain his position of power, so when he is ultimately captured by the Sisterhood and his fate is in question, it seems as though female vengeance will finally be enacted—and this shift in power, more than any physical threat, nearly ruins him. But because he has been tested and nearly dominated by female forces, Devereux rewards his masculine hero with a "fantasy payback" (p. 179), even as Jack is haunted by Candace in his dreams.

In his investigations, Jack finds that the Sisterhood is really just a group of women brainwashed by Candace in order for her to carry out her personal political agenda. We begin to see Jack under a similar influence in the organization that he works for. The opening of the novel explains how he got involved with the group: "They said I had a talent, that I was smart enough and fit enough and enough of a shit that I could serve my country in a way most people never even get to hear about. And I did want to serve my country, didn't I?" (p. 14). He has convinced himself that it was always his choice, when really he has been following orders all along, completing missions because someone else wanted them completed. Throughout the novel he invents names for himself, assuming new identities and lying about where he came from; "not that far from the truth, which is always the best kind of lie" (p. 161) is an effective description of Jack's ongoing process of self-invention. In the end we are left with a character who has spent so much time trying to conceal his identity that we begin to wonder if he ever really had one at all.

Richard Larson is currently living in New York City, where he is finishing a degree at Hunter College and working in the film and publishing industries. He also writes short stories, which have appeared in various places, and he blogs at http://rlarson.typepad.com.



Richard Larson's short stories have appeared in ChiZine, Electric Velocipede, Pindeldyboz, Vibrant Gray, and others. He also reviews books and movies, and he blogs at http://rlarson.typepad.com. He is currently a graduate student at New York University.
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