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Jericho Moon
Matthew Woodring Stover
Roc Books, 499 pages

Jericho Moon
Matthew Woodring Stover
Matthew Woodring Stover was born in 1962. He graduated in 1983 from Drake University and settled in Chicago. He works as a bartender in a private sports club but has spent time as an actor, theatrical producer, playwright, theatre co-founder. His first novel is Iron Dawn, also from Roc.

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A review by Regina Lynn Preciado

Jericho Moon is the sequel to Iron Dawn, and while you can enjoy the second novel without reading the first, I highly recommend starting at the beginning.

Both novels recount the adventures of three mercenaries-turned-heroes. Barra the Pict, a princess in her homeland of Albion, leads the group by virtue of her fierce fighting skills, her talent for strategies, and her short temper. Leucas of Athens provides the brawn and swordsmanship one would expect from a survivor of the battle of Troy. Kheperu of Thebes may look weak and fat, but his knowledge of the arcane and his sturdy staff make him as formidable as his companions.

Jericho Moon finds our heroes attempting a daring rescue of the prince of Jebusi and, in the process, becoming caught up in a holy war.

What Jericho Moon Offers

New Territory
The terrain is delightfully unfamiliar to readers accustomed to the Celtic landscape that dominates so many fantasy novels. It resonates with Biblical references: the Hittites, the Phoenicians, the deserts of Canaan, the sole survivor of the destruction of Jericho. Classical allusions abound as well, with the battle of Troy part of recent memory, and the decline of the Greek and Egyptian empires becoming evident to their own people.

I've never traveled in that area, but Stover writes convincingly enough that I had a firm sense of place as I read.

Realism (but in a good way)
Stover writes with rhythm and control, but he doesn't pull any punches, either. Without lapsing into gratuitous descriptions of gore, he evokes the realities of life in his characters' world. Blood stinks, urine stinks, feces stink, garbage stinks. Incense can choke or sweeten the air, while clean cool water seems the nectar of the gods to the desert travelers.

He also understands the reality of his characters' travel. They do not ride fine horses, dine on wine and cheese, or stay beautiful at all times:

"Filthy with dust, sweat, and the mud of six days' travel, Barra topped the rise. Her face was streaked with tears pricked by dry winds; they followed the purple swipes of fatigue below her eyes and trailed through the hollows of her cheeks. These new hollows had been pulled from hard marching on short rations, and her flesh had drawn tight over her skull. Her hair was no longer the color of a spectacular sunset; it had gone dirty brown and greasy with sweat and dust. Exhausted enough to ache in every bone, she nonetheless broke into an honestly happy grin at what she saw."
One of Stover's strongest points is how he refuses to fall into the good-versus-evil trap. There is no dark lord wishing to dominate the world, sending hordes of cruel minions out to overrun the human race. Instead, the foe here depends greatly on your point of view. If the novel were written from the other side you could still sympathize with the hero.

Joshua, the leader of the Hittites, believes himself driven by his god -- Yahweh -- to destroy Jebusi as his people destroyed Jericho twenty years before. Joshua hates the idea, resists it to the best of his ability, but is bound by faith and duty to carry out Yahweh's wishes. His dedication and leadership earn him your respect.

Meanwhile, Prince Agaz must protect Jebusi from Joshua's attack. Winning seems impossible and the only hope he sees is in the form of Barra and her team. He does not particularly wish to kill the Hittites but he must defend his city and his people. His dedication and leadership earn him your respect.

What Jericho Moon Needs


I don't mean explicit love scenes suitable for a bodice-ripper, I mean sexual tension. In Iron Dawn, Stover balanced his frank descriptions of bodily functions and battle carnage with earthly scenes that showed Barra's attraction to a particular captain. In this way we experienced both death and life, destructive and creative forces.

In Jericho Moon, the sexual and romantic feelings between Barra and Agaz seem forced. You don't feel the tension -- in writing classes it would be said that while Stover tells us they like each other, he doesn't show it.

When Barra says "Oh, it's real... I've been through plenty of close fights, with plenty of men, and none of them has ever made me feel..." I thought, What? Really? I'd never noticed her falling for Agaz beyond the occasional, almost gratuitous "She shook such thoughts away and concentrated on the problem at hand." Her struggle against getting involved with the captain in Iron Dawn is much more believable, much more obvious.

And without the sexual -- or, if you prefer, romantic -- tension, Jericho Moon reads like one long series of battles punctuated with moments of character bonding or comic relief. It lacks balance. The characters do have depth, but by the end of the book you get the feeling that something's missing.

Is It Worth Buying?

You bet. Stover is doing something that few, if any, other fantasy writers are, and he's doing it well. He's a good writer and tells a good story.

This is only his second novel. If he lives up to his promise, I think we will hear from him for many years to come.

Copyright © 1998 by Regina Lynn Preciado

Regina Lynn Preciado writes and edits for a living. Her short-lived film career began with a role as an extra in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition and ended with another in The Return of the Jedi: Special Edition. She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Or maybe a train engineer. Want to know more?

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