Moonlight, Tiger, and Smoke
Taken from their families and raised to be assassins, Moonlight and Tiger are the perfect weapons and secret lovers. Even when they are sent into service with different clans, their love remains pure and strong until a more insidious threat divides them.
When Moonlight realizes his master is manipulating people for his own ends, the discovery threatens not only Tiger, but their entire society. Betrayed by a fellow assassin, the men are tortured and broken. If their love and their people are going to survive, one of them will have to defy everything he knows and stand up for the only thing he believes is real: Love.
This novel was an unexpected delight. I wasn’t too sure about it going in as the blurb didn’t pull me in too strongly. The boys, soon renamed as Moonlight and Tiger, are taken from their families, along with four other children, at age six to pay debt to a mysterious organization. They are raised to be assassins, and as they grow older, they are split up into the various divisions that they are naturally suited for, training in this new division with specialized skills. Tiger is Iron Tribe — the ones that seem to do the killing for this Shadow group. Moonlight is Rose Tribe, trained to be the sexual weapons for Shadow. And Smoke, the next most important of the six boys, joins Feather Tribe, a sort of diplomatic corps for Shadow.
Moonlight and Smoke form an instant connection upon meeting after being kidnapped. That connection grows as they age, evolving into a true and deep love. But, as they are in separate tribes, they are not to see each other. Even if they could, there are supposed to be no romantic relationships among agents.
This book was an interesting read as it was very reminiscent of Warchild by Karin Lowachee, a favourite book of mine, that also followed children kidnapped and trained. Given that comparison, I held Moonlight, Tiger, and Smoke to some pretty high standards. I’m pleased to say that it did a good job of reaching for those standards. I quickly came to know and love the characters — they were vividly created. The book occasionally jumps forward several years at a time, and does so in an effective way — we suddenly catch up with the (often surprising) changes that the characters have undergone and how this does or does not affect the pre-existing relationship.
I did find the Shadow (their organisation) a bit hazy and undefined. I wasn’t quite sure who they were or even what their purpose was. We see them and the work they do, but we don’t know why they do it. Are they removing agents from enemy organisations? Are they sort of scouring society of its ills? Is it something else going on? We don’t really find out until close to the end that they believe they are an agency of good that is attempting to remove the bad from the world — and that the organization has lost its way. But because this is unclear for most of the book, the “enemy” is also unclear, which creates a bit of a structural weakness to the book.
The setting, especially in terms of time, is a bit unclear, too. They are trained in a setting that seems far back, but then they interact with the wider world in what seems to be the present, and then the final few pages (which is sort of “this is what happened after the book ended”) seems to indicate it happened in the past. I’m still uncertain. The use of cellphones would indicate its present day, but the use of a wood stove to heat an elementary school would indicate its the past.
And the only other weak point was the use of magic. The head of Shadow is often referred to as a wizard, but we never really get any sense of magic until close to the end. Even then, it seems to be more of a power transfer from one person to the other and not much beyond that. So, in the end, the use of magic seemed to be a bit out of place — this story could have stood just as strong, perhaps even stronger, if the magic weren’t included.
But this story is about more than plot. This story is about characters and the love they have for one another. And that, Connie Bailey has done extremely well. (Side note: She writes the gay sex scenes very well, too. They are quite hot.) The reader really gets to know the characters and care for them. And even though the details of the plot are a bit hazy, it is still exciting and carries the reader along for the ride.