The post-alpha hero? Jan DeLima’s Celtic Moon

celtic moon

Didn’t she get the bare midriff memo?

Celtic Moon is the first book in a new urban fantasy series published by ACE Penguin, home of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews and the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I can see why Celtic Moon is labelled UF: it’s got the worldbuilding, the shifters, the looming conflict between established enemies, the kick ass heroine, the many characters, and fewer pages than the norm devoted to the hero and heroine.  That said, there’s a very strong romantic storyline and each book will have its own couple with their own HEA.

I liked this one very much, but I know the author IRL, so this isn’t a review. I just wanted to mention something I find interesting about this book, from my perspective as a romance reader. At the bottom of this post are some links to others’ reviews.

Here’s the blurb:

Like father, like son…

Sophie Thibodeau has been on the run from the father of her son for more than fifteen years. Now her son, Joshua, is changing, and her greatest fears are about to be realized. He’s going to end up being just like his father—a man who can change into a wolf.

Dylan Black has been hunting for Sophie since the night she ran from him—an obsession he cannot afford in the midst of an impending war. Dylan controls Rhuddin Village, an isolated town in Maine where he lives with an ancient Celtic tribe. One of the few of his clan who can still shift into a wolf, he must protect his people from the Guardians, vicious warriors who seek to destroy them.

When Sophie and Dylan come together for the sake of their son, their reunion reignites the fierce passion they once shared. For the first time in years, Dylan’s lost family is within his grasp. But will he lose them all over again? Are Joshua and Sophie strong enough to fight alongside Dylan in battle? Nothing less than the fate of his tribe depends on it…

Sophie is thirty-six, the mother of a fifteen year old. Fifteen years ago, she was a wildlife biologist who crossed paths with Dylan in the Maine forest (!). They fell in love, she became pregnant, and when she realized what he was, and that she would not be allowed to have contact with the outside world, she fled: “in the end, no man was worth her soul. No man was worth living in fear for her child.” Ever since, she’s been moving from place to place with her son and her mother, training herself and Joshua to defend themselves. But when Joshua shows signs of being a shifter, Sophie knows she has to return to Dylan for help.

There are some flashbacks, but not many. Sophie was treated terribly by Dylan’s clan, domineered by Dylan himself, and ran to protect herself and her child. From Dylan’s perspective, Sophie betrayed him, failed to trust him, and didn’t even try to understand the rationale behind his rules. One thing I liked about Celtic Moon is that it doesn’t over-interpret what happened back then. It never really gives the reader an authoritative take on what went down, so the reader is free to make her own mind up about it.

I would actually like to read a prequel, to see how Dylan and Sophie met, fell in love and how it ended, but what we get in Celtic Moon is the bitter aftermath. Dylan and Sophie have to work through all of their issues, while helping Joshua through his change, all the while gearing up for potential baddies to descend on Rhuddin Village.

It’s almost like a view of happens after the HEA in some PNRs. Instead of the last chapter epiphany we get with some repentant alpha heroes in romance, it’s sort of a book length grovel.  Dylan realizes, “In retrospect, viewing past events from his wife’s perspective didn’t bear well in his favor.”

Joshua is a great character, an idealized but not annoyingly perfect teen whose interactions with his mother and newfound father seem pretty age appropriate. When Sophie and Dylan are stuck by negative emotions and confusion in their reconciliation, it’s often Joshua who provides the objective point of view that helps them move forward:

Tension eased from his son’s stance.

“You’re going about it all the wrong way, you know.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Dylan said, unashamed to ask for advice. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“Give Mom the choice to leave,” he said as if it were the simplest thing in the world to do. “She’ll choose us, like my grandmother did . . . but she needs to know she has the choice.”

“You don’t understand this yet,” Dylan tried to explain. “And a part of me hopes one day you will— and another part of me wants to spare you the anguish. As I’m sure you’re somewhat aware, our kind is compelled by the instincts of our wolves. When you were conceived, your mother became my mate. It goes against everything I am to let her go.”

“See . . . that’s what I’m talking about.” Joshua rolled his eyes. “Saying stuff like that will only freak Mom out.”

Dylan is willing to hear Joshua out, for the sake of their new relationship and his broken one with Sophie. Throughout the book, he gets better and better at making concessions, cooperating, realizing where he has overstepped. He’s about a thousand years old, and many of his attitudes about marriage haven’t progressed to the twenty-first century. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book-length reformation of the alpha hero before.

Sophie, too, eventually comes to appreciate how vulnerable Rhuddin Village is, and why Dylan is so protective of his people: “She began to understand why he turned a blind eye to their faults.” Sophie’s character has less of an arc. She’s almost completely defined by her love for her son, which makes sense given the plot, but also gives her fewer interesting wrinkles.

It’s been interesting to read some of the online comments about Celtic Moon. A few readers can’t forgive Sophie for taking off while pregnant with Joshua, and/or for staying away so long. I’m someone who hates the secret baby trope: I tend to get very irritated with heroines in contemporary romance novels who hide children from their fathers. Yet I felt very sympathetic to Sophie, probably because this is urban fantasy and a life in Rhuddin Village really is one of terrible danger.

With the “older” heroine, the teenage son as a significant character, and the marriage-in-trouble trope (also the Celtic mythology, which I haven’t mentioned, but which makes these “magic” shifters different from most others I’ve read) I think the author was doing a few interesting things in a UF/romance, and I wanted to bring the book to folks’ attention.

Some other reviews:

Mandi at Smexy Books gave it a B+

Book Chick city 3.5 stars

Average Goodreads rating is 3.97 stars (86 reviews)

RT Book Reviews 4.5 stars

Amazon rating average is 4 stars (13 reviews)

8 responses

  1. I just went and got it and read it based on your, um, discussion of it.

    I really liked it. This is quality work. I liked the fact it was about a paranormal couple, many years down the track, sorting themselves and their worlds out. I agree with you – I love the interesting things this author does with all the paranormal tropes, and look forward to reading more of her work.

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  2. There sheer numbers in new PNR has been overwhelming, so much that I’ve stopped reading blurbs in the hope of finding something worthwhile. Thanks for culling this one from the slush pile. You’ve sold me a book!

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    • lol, yes. Sorry: one of the casualties of moving from WordPress.org to WordPress.com was the loss of neat plugins, like a comments editor. You can always Tweet me for an edit. I hope you enjoy Celtic Moon.

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  3. Paranormal romance, to me represents the opportunity to interrogate romantic tropes through different lenses; the masterful hero carried to extremes, or to flip them entirely, in a way that mainstream romance very rarely does; what would a romance between creatures who aren’t sexually dimorphic and don’t have gender bias look like.

    Too many authors uncritically incorporate alpha tropes and ‘species behaviour’ and I’ve gone a bit sour on the genre of late.

    But this sounds more like my cup of tea, and it hadn’t been on my radar at all , so thanks. I’ll queue it up as reward for when I finish my next essay. (Reward for finishing the current essay is the latest Julia Spencer-Fleming!)

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    • I hope you like it. I don’t know what to make of PNR. In some ways, I think outdated tropes from historical and contemporary romance just migrated to PNR, so that in a sense it wasn’t genre-bending but kind of reactionary, with its super alpha heroes, mating, fate, rigid hierarchies with men at the top, etc. On the other hand, I agree with you that at a certain point the exaggeration of a trope becomes its other, and that introducing nonhuman protagonists opened up some new things. I’ll be interested to hear where you think this one falls in those terms.

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