Publication Date: May 16, 2014
In Condor Moon by Tanna Thornburg, Rima hoped to start a new life in California, but when her father back in Arizona has a heart attack and her sister is flitting around the world, Rima must return to Arizona to care for him. In the interest of supporting herself, she finds a job doing an environmental assessment for a highly contested potential mining operation. Rima soon realizes that her position may pose a threat to her life. But she may not be in this alone.
A first-time author writing a series novel faces a difficult task. How much does the author tell the reader from the start, and how much does an author show the reader in the course of the story?
There’s an odd flow to the start of Condor Moon. The story opens with five-year-old Rima and her ability to see auras, a skill that her mother lets her know is hereditary. We jump from a frightened five-year-old Rima comforted by her mother to the character as an adult, divorced woman looking at making massive changes in her life. She’s thinking of relocating to California and working a temporary job in that state to get a sense of what she wants. Rima is also ready to entertain romance and is working with the figurative “fish that got away”. Thornburg is playing a long game and takes her time introducing her protagonist to her audience. The narrative flow in the first quarter of Condor Moon is frequently worded in a way that sounds halting, awkward and, in a few cases, repetitive to the reader’s mental ear.
Despite a very slow start, Thornburg’s passion for nature and knowledge of the job that her character performs shines. As the author returns Rima to Arizona and settles her into a world and job she clearly knows very well, she becomes more comfortable in her subject and that comfort reflects in her narrative flow. The magic of nature shines in Thornburg’s writing and the reader has the sense that the author shares her character’s awe in its beauty. There is a visceral sense in the depiction of Arizona for the reader. An introduction of a love as deep as any other Rima or the author might experience in the space, wildlife and unique features of the state.
When Rima and Wick meet, Thornburg takes the opportunity to introduce the reader to Apache culture and stories. As with Rima, the author takes her time introducing readers to this glimpsed and sometimes talked about character. When a sniper shoots at Rima and Wick, they bond over stories from the Apache information, introducing the reader to information they might not have before encountered, but led this reader to believe we’d see again as the series, and perhaps this book progressed. Thornburg may not yet have practiced elegance in concealing what comes next in her story, but she has a clear plan in where she’s going and the message that story conveys.
The romance and thriller story line in Condor Moon balanced perfectly. Neither discredits or detracts from the other and the point of the novel is not who removes their pants and how fast. Condor Moon is a wish list checked, set-a-strong-base sort of novel.
The evil in Condor Moon is very specific and very clear from the start. As with most series novels, the first is a very personal case and while the “eco-monster” of Condor Moon may have a name, the feeling of the text is that this is what people in Rima’s situation face, every-day corruption and deceit, and we as caretakers of the planet must protect endangered plants and animals. While Iris Johansen tends to write murder mysteries with protagonists in forensic fields, Thornburg’s Condor Moon shares a spirit of activism with the more prolific novelist.
Condor Moon was as much about the journey as the end and when this reader arrived at that final page, I wanted to read on. What is Rima doing next? I enjoyed Condor Moon immensely and look forward to seeing where Tanna Thornburg takes the Rima Larkin series.
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