I joke that I write book reviews because I have to do something with these multiple degrees in literary criticism, but sometimes that means I want to come at book reviews from two completely different angles. This interesting debut novel is one of those instances. On one hand, this is a fun, sexy queer monster romance featuring a less frequently portrayed cryptid that has as much potential as the typical shifter or vampire hero. On the other, I appreciated that Dixon included “colonization” as one of the content warnings at the front of this novel. Though I can’t be sure I’m interpreting that warning in the way it was intended, I have definite opinions on how it influenced the scope of this story and its characters.
Before anyone thinks I’m trashing this book, there is certainly plenty I enjoyed. (After all, the reason I give so few low ratings is that I simply don’t finish books that I don’t enjoy, and I binge-read this one in a day.) True rural fantasy is a different beast from urban fantasy tropes that just happen to be set elsewhere than in a big city, and Dixon absolutely hits the mark here. I especially loved the “Gothic horror but make it Ohio” vibe, taking a location that is all too familiar to me and evoking a drastically different mood and quality to the setting. Dixon translates the relatively modern myth of the “Mothman” into an ancient being who imprints on a typical grad student. Ezra imprints on Gray right back, and while none of their relationship follows the traditional arc of a romance story, the interactions between them make for a compelling and exciting fantasy story. Though there is an unpredictable journey between Ezra and Gray getting their happily ever after, it is solidly entwined with a darker fantasy mystery that is steeped with the Appalachian mythology of the setting.
Alas, the “Appalachia” bit is where the book got the most concern from me. I do understand that the nominal culture referred to as such is very Euro-centric in how certain aspects and traditions were imported (colonized). However, the author missed an opportunity when every indication was that all the magic of the area was originally from Europe. No reference is made to either an intentional blending or antagonistic relationship with indigenous power. As much as I loved Gray’s particular mix of modern and old-fashioned, they are still very much a representation of the Anglo-Saxon aspects of “traditional” Appalachia. And for a cryptid that is so functionally American, and not even a century old, as the Mothman, it was much harder to accept this colonization of the legend when so much possibility exists for a mix of sources.
With all of those caveats and criticism, I still finished the book. I still enjoyed the characters and story of this solid debut publication. I even look forward to reading the promised next installment thanks to the excellent use of secondary characters and teases of future potential. But I also encourage potential readers to go into this series with the understanding that sometimes a content warning isn’t about what is included in a story, but instead an indication of a complete and jarring absence.