Goddess of the Night (Daughters of the Moon #1)

Goddess of the NightBy Lynne Ewing [LibraryThingAmazon]

Vanessa wishes she could be a normal highschooler, with normal concerns like zits and clothes and passing her classes…But she’s not. Instead, she’s got problems like the fact that whenever she gets excited or scared, she turns invisible. And her best friend can travel through time. And now someone has found out her secret, and all she knows is she’s in terrible danger…

When I was a wee young middle schooler, “Sailor Moon” was dubbed and aired in the US for the first time. I adored it, and since it coincided with my family’s first internet connection at home, I was able to research it in obsessive detail. I bring this up because not only did Goddess of the Night remind me of it thematically—the moon is mysterious and feminine, and a teenage girl has developed moon-themed powers with which to fight evil!—but also because “Sailor Moon” introduced me to what is occasionally referred to as the “Magical Girl” genre—that is, a series where a mostly-ordinary teenage girl (and often her BFFs) abruptly develops magical powers and have to use them for good, maintaining a double life and saving the world (usually with the help of some sort of mentor, who spews the mythology and exposition). And that is, of course, what Goddess is all about. And I am a sucker for Magical Girl stories—I wrote quite a few in my early teens, and still plot them on occasion—but unfortunately, Goddess just didn’t do it for me.

The book isn’t bad, it’s just flat. Vanessa is essentially an Everyteen. She wants to be normal and fit in, and yet feels like she doesn’t—but that’s odd, because every time we see her in the context of her peers, she fits in perfectly. She’s popular, she gets decent grades, the boy she has a crush on likes her back. We know she’s not normal, what with that whole uncontrollable invisibility problem, but she doesn’t get treated as at all odd by anyone, so her constant worry doesn’t ring true. But perhaps that’s just because we never get in her head. According to her author bio, Ewing is a screenplay writer, and it shows: the book reads as a log of events, without a lot of emotion or voice to the narrative—the story would have been better served either by developing that voice, or by appearing in a media where other elements—visuals, soundtrack—can be used to convey emotion.

In fact, Goddess (the first in a long-ish series) reads very much as a pilot episode of a TV show. You’ve got a multi-ethnic cast that represents a bunch of different teen archetypes; you’ve got a lot of stand-alone (dare I say, episodic) stories which build to a season—I mean series—finale, and a Big Bad who has minions to be defeated. I think it would work very well as a TV show, but translated to books, the formula doesn’t quite work. None of the characters are terribly well developed; the backstory for their powers isn’t very mysterious. And that’s just with regards to the episodic-like nature of the book—it also wasn’t helped by the awkward pacing or the not-terribly-dramatic climax. And it was obviously trying for an edgy tone (set in LA, lots of going to clubs, occasional references to the supporting characters’ drug use and random hookups), but failed, as it didn’t have much of a tone at all.

It hits another personal pet peeve of mine: a supporting character, Serena, tells Vanessa that she knows what’s going on and how to help…but rather than tell her, Serena insists that she can’t be the one to explain, it isn’t the right time and it isn’t her place to say, and that Vanessa should go meet someone mysterious with her. Of course Vanessa doesn’t, at that point, and later she does and all is revealed. My problem with this is that it’s a trope frequently used by authors to shoehorn some extra suspense into the narrative, but ultimately, it’s just a cheap trick and sloppy writing, unless there is a darned good reason why the secret can not be revealed at that moment. And like in so many cases, there was no reason at all. (Similarly, there’s a moment where Vanessa says that “they” gave her a necklace when she was born—an obvious dance around explaining anything about who gave it to her, since that’s important information that can’t be revealed so early on, but “they” is a really unnatural word to use when there’s absolutely no mention of who “they” are.)

So what did I like about the book? Well, it was pretty overtly feminist. It was about a group of girls who become best friends. They use magic powers to save the world, and tied closely to those powers is their self-confidence. The climax may be awkward, but it also makes it clear that what makes them Goddesses—aside from the magical powers, I mean—is their ability to walk into a room and own it. I can dig that. And oh, the book nearly opened with this:

Finally, she turned and started walking again, her bare feet steady on the cool cement. Her mother had warned her how danger it was to be out alone in Los Angeles at night. Now anger filled her and made a knot in her throat. It shouldn’t be dangerous. Girls had a right to enjoy the night, to run wild under the moon and stars, not stay home huddled behind bolted doors.

Using self-belief to save the world, and growing angry at the idea that girls shouldn’t walk alone at night—or rather, at the reason why girls are told not to be alone at night—are both non-subtle messages, and well-placed in a book that is obviously intended to appeal to girls in their early teens. (Hilariously, you can also tell exactly when the book was written by the amount of body glitter Vanessa applies. The copyright is 2000, which means it was probably written in 1998 or ’99. Ha.)

So overall…the book was obviously the beginning of a franchise, which probably would make a better TV show than novel series. I’m not shocked I’d never heard of it before. It was an easy, quick read, and fairly fun, but not terribly engaging. Goddess of the Night earns two and a half cupcakes.


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