The Seventh Moon by Marius Gabriel
Reviewed by Anna Belfrage
See below for information about the giveaway!
Set a book on the Malay Peninsula in 1941, and most readers will understand they’re in for quite the journey into the darkness and horrors of war. Add to the location a beautiful Eurasian woman and her young child, forced to flee to Singapore due to the advancing Japanese, and personally I am quite hooked.
It is late in 1941 when Francine’s English husband orders her to take their daughter to Singapore. He cannot accompany her – he has a mine to run – and besides, he is quite convinced the British soldiers will soon have the Japanese on the run. Francine is not as convinced: her Chinese relatives speak in hushed voices of an unstoppable war machine, of atrocities on a huge scale. But she is young and intimidated by her husband, so when he tells her to stop worrying and get going she does, having wrested a promise from him that he’ll meet up with them early in January.
Singapore is in chaos. Mr. Gabriel paints a vivid picture of the situation in Singapore in the weeks prior to its fall, complete with racist British who sniff at having a “half breed” staying with them at Raffles. Bombings, panicked troops, people attempting to find berths home, Japanese planes that bomb the few vessels that escape, blackouts, hours spent in shelters – and as an utter contrast, the elegant and hoity-toity New Year’s celebration at Raffles, where Francine is wooed by recently wounded, severely disillusioned, Clive Napier.
Francine’s husband never comes to Singapore. She is forced to leave Raffles – British people need her room, and she is brutally evicted to fend for herself and her daughter, Ruth. Luckily, Clive is there to help her, and for some weeks more Francine and her daughter can cling to some semblance of civilised life in a world turned upside down by war.
Ultimately, Francine and Clive must flee for their lives, ending up in Sarawak. Ruth is severely ill, they’ve lost almost all their belongings, and the Japanese are a day’s march away. Neither Clive nor Francine have any illusions as to their fate should they be captured, and the only way to evade the Japanese is by trekking straight across Sarawak, a perilous and exhausting journey. Impossible to do when burdened with a young, ailing child, and so Francine is forced to make an agonised decision.
We fast forward to the late 1960s. Francine Lawrence is a successful businesswoman, a person who lives a compartmentalised life while flitting from one part of her business empire to the other. She is cool and unemotional – a woman in control of her life and destiny. A very lonely woman, still struggling with the consequences of the decision she took close to thirty years earlier. Enter Sakura Ueda, a young damaged woman who potentially could be Francine’s daughter. Very, very potentially, especially seeing as Francine has credible proof Ruth is dead…
With Sakura, violence and war yet again enter Francine’s life. Once again, she is obliged to call on Clive for help, despite not having spoken to him in close to two decades. Once again, she must return to Asia to lay her demons at rest.
What happens next is a page turner. To reveal the twisting, convoluted plot would be to do future readers a disservice, but let’s just say it is fast paced, pushing Francine and her companions well beyond human endurance. Set against the backdrop of the expanding war in Vietnam, the resulting chaos in the neighbouring countries and the seedier aspects of the drug trade, the reader hurtles along from one location to the other, accompanying Francine and company deeper and deeper into the war-torn interior of Indochina.
The Seventh Moon is a plot-driven rather than character-based novel. At times, I would have wanted some more introspection, moments of reflection – if nothing else as a welcome relief to all the action. Because of the initial chapters set in the 1940s, the reader has insight into the complexity of Francine’s personality, thereby understanding why she behaves as she does. Sakura, however, remains an enigma: the product of horrific experiences, she has difficulties relating to other people – and to this reader. I suspect, however, that this is intentional: Mr. Gabriel wants to keep the reader wondering about who – and what – Sakura is. Fortunately, these two women have somewhat more accessible male co-protagonists, first and foremost Clive, but also Vietnam veteran Clay Munro, who in many ways I perceive to be the most developed of the various points of view in the novel.
The Seventh Moon’s true strength lies in Mr. Gabriel’s prose. Effortlessly, he transports us to the exotic settings of Asia or to the murkier parts of New York. Elegantly, he describes the political background, giving enough context for the reader to understand, not so much as to bog the story down. I was particularly impressed by the descriptions of the first weeks of 1942 in Singapore, complete with bombings, dead, blood and grime – but also tender moments in the tropical night, little instances of normality in a world that was crumbling fast. And talking about tender moments, Mr. Gabriel gets a five-star rating for the beautifully written intimate scene rather late in the book.
At times, I struggled with the formatting: The Seventh Moon is written in long, long chapters with no breaks in paragraphs – not even when the point of view shifts. This detracted from the overall reading experience. I would also have wanted a less abrupt and more conclusive ending – in fact, after all the emotional upheaval Mr. Gabriel put me through, I feel entitled to some closure, but that may be due to a personal preference for tidy (and happy) endings, while other readers may find things end just as they should. Having said that, The Seventh Moon proved quite impossible to put down, and for those in search of some hours of nail-biting excitement, I can more than recommend this book!
The author has so generously offered a copy of The Seventh Moon for a freebie! If you would like a chance to win, simply comment below or at this blog entry's associated Facebook thread.
About the author
Marius Gabriel is the author of six books, most of which are set in the 19th or early 20th century. He is fascinated by historical settings and has lived in various exotic locations, which leads to him enjoying combining the two. At present, Mr. Gabriel is living in Cairo where he is working on a seventh book. Find out more about Marius Gabriel by visiting his Amazon page. The Seventh Moon is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.
Anna Belfrage is the author of seven published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab above.