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Monday, August 28, 2017

"No Moon to Pray To" A New, Page-turner, Vampire Novel

This article appears at FrontPageMag here

Review of No Moon to Pray To, A New, Page-turner Vampire Novel

And Why FrontPageMag Readers Might Be Interested

I want to recommend a book to you. It's called No Moon to Pray To. It's a fun paperback, the kind of book you'd read on the beach, in the airport, or even, as I recently did, in a doctor's office while awaiting intimidating test results. The book sucked me in so thoroughly I almost forgot where I was and why. No Moon to Pray To is about vampires and Crusaders. I'm not a horror fan, but I enjoyed this book. Why should FrontPageMag run a review of a vampire novel? I'll tell you, below, but first let me tell you about the book.

A month back, I received an email from an educator. A friend of hers, she said, Jerry Guern, had self-published a book. Would I look at it? "Heck no," was, of course, my first thought. I have a religious devotion to good writing. I assumed I'd read a bit of her friend's book and savage it in my review and pointlessly hurt two people. And … vampires? Not only have I never read a vampire book cover-to-cover, I couldn't even sit through the classic 1931 Dracula, though I recognized Bela Lugosi as a genius.

But, other writers have helped my writing, and I want to "pay it forward." A review copy of No Moon to Pray To arrived in the mail. I honestly thought I'd open it up, read a page, find the predictable flaws I have too frequently found in self-published writing – and, sadly, even in published writing – and just mail the book back with a note about how busy I am.

The first paragraph wowed me. I felt professional awe. In the first six pages of No Moon to Pray To, author Jerry Guern exhibits the height of authorial audacity. This unknown writer attempts an account of one of the most famous events in history. An event that has been the subject of artists and writers from Rembrandt to Cecil B. DeMille to Bill O'Reilly. And, against all odds, Guern succeeds. He forces the reader to see and feel this familiar historical event in a new way. He wrung tears from my eyes. Guern writes this scene with such authority it's as if he lived it himself. He is intimate with the physical sensations of the key characters, and he knows their thoughts and motivations. Guern avoids any temptation to resort to high-fallutin' vocabulary to create his scene, an exotic one, distant in space and time from the reader. Guern provides the reader with the sense of touching the transcendent and he does this by using the same sort of everyday words one might use when talking to a plumber.

Could Guern maintain this quality for the length of a 312-page book? Yes. Guern displays the command of a born storyteller. Foreshadowings of future revelations are sprinkled throughout, keeping the reader engaged. Plot twists are never cheap or manipulative. In addition to surprising the reader, they satisfy. "Aha! I could believe that of that character!" Action, too, is not on the page just for action's sake. Action reveals character and causes the reader to loathe or love the actor.

Guern uses language with utmost economy. There's a scene where a character the reader had come to like kills another character the reader doesn't want to see die. I reread the scene three times. Once, to verify to myself that the scene was as portentous and yet as economically drawn as it seemed on first reading, second, to fully feel its impact, and third, to admire, and to learn from, Guern's skill.

No Moon to Pray To has two main characters. One, Enik, is a retired Crusader knight. Father Michael is a Catholic priest and member of a secretive order. The two cross paths in thirteenth-century Provence. Father Michael is on a mission against predatory, supernatural creatures. Enik has dedicated his post-Crusades career to protecting the peasants on his estate. They interact with Cardinal Graziani, a crafty elder who has had a big impact on both of their lives, and Klaus, a vampire.

All of these characters have mysterious, and, often, heartbreaking biographies that are revealed, bit by bit, keeping the reader eager to learn more.

I came to care about each character immediately and I remained invested in each one's fate through every plot twist, right up to the end of the book. Even after one character made a major turnaround, I still cared. I found myself thinking about each character and his choices after I closed the book's cover. What was the right thing for him to do? What else could he have done in that situation?

After mixing it up with some social justice warriors on Facebook, I immediately thought, "Wow, this is just like stumbling upon a nest of vampires!" The vampires of the book, and the characters' struggles, made for ready metaphors about essential struggles between good and evil, appearance versus reality, and selfless duty versus obedience only to one's ego or selfish desires. You won't want to know much more than this before you start reading.

I love description and I did wish for more. I know nothing about what Provence was like in the thirteenth century, and I would like to have been able to see, hear, and smell it more than I did through these pages. On the other hand, minimal description keeps the plot moving along briskly.

There was one aspect of the book that I did not like. About fifty pages in to No Moon to Pray To, I really missed female characters. The main characters are involved in epic struggle over highly important issues. I wish there were a woman I could identify with. Women are mentioned as sources of temptation or sexual satisfaction. Guys, if you are looking for a book depicting a world of manly men going about manly business with almost no women on scene, you may like this book.

Now, why did I ask FrontPageMag to post a review of a vampire book? Here's why. As I was reading No Moon to Pray To, I noted that it manifests all the qualities of a successful paperback novel. It is suspenseful, horrifying to a degree appropriate for its genre, engaging, with sympathetic characters. I had to ask, why would no one publish this? The educator who first contacted me told me that the author had an agent – and getting an agent is a major coup for a debut novelist these days – and yet no publisher would take the book.

I think their reason may be this. No Moon to Pray To takes Christianity, and, specifically, Catholicism, very seriously. The book makes no attempt to convert anyone to Christianity. Rather it is a horror novel about chasing after bloodsuckers and the hard choices one must make when doing such work. But its treatment of Catholicism is utterly different from what one finds in most pop culture.

I'm a Baby Boomer. Back in the day, when religious faith – anyone's religious faith – was discussed on TV, commentators used a certain reverent tone. That tone was almost like a uniform you wore, or a ritual in which we participated. In 2017, that ritualized respect when discussing religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, is a museum-piece, remembered only by geezers like me.

Listen when a late-night comedian like Bill Maher or John Oliver or even Stephen Colbert mentions the word "Catholic." If, like me, you are a Catholic, you brace for an obscene, gutter comment about priests and nuns. The audience often beats the comic to the punch, automatically making the kind of noises in response to the word "Catholic" that you might more reasonably expect in response to a word like "traitor" or "arsonist."

More and more I recognize that mainstream popular culture is replete with anti-Western-civilization memes. I think I'm sitting down to a few laughs after work and before bed and before I know it I am invited to laugh at obscene priest jokes and to embrace Islam as the religion of peace. I am supposed to go along quietly with implications that white people are somehow inherently imperialistic and that no non-Western nation has ever colonized or enslaved anyone or committed a genocide. I can't accept these premises and so I find myself seeking farther and farther afield even just for casual reading on the beach, in the airport, or in a doctor's office before receiving the results of a scary test.

Those of us who are on the pro-Western-Civilization side of today's culture wars don't read only serious news accounts or policy briefs. We also want to kick back and read page-turner paperbacks. We want to watch late-night comedians. We want to watch romantic comedies.

For all I know, in his next vampire book, Jerry Guern may skewer the Catholic Church. But I can say that No Moon to Pray To treats Jesus Christ as a man who endured torture in order to save mankind. Its most sympathetic character is a devout Christian. The Church exercises power for the good. And all of those things really shocked me as a reader of popular writing.

My favorite character in No Moon to Pray To reminded me much of the character that Gary Cooper played in movies like Sergeant York and High Noon. A man of traditional values, who hates violence, seeks no fame or confrontation, is manipulated by forces craftier than himself, but who, in the end, saves the day. This traditional model of masculine heroism is mocked, not favored, in contemporary pop culture.

And I have to wonder if that is why Guern could not find a home for his book that deserves publication by a major publisher. I am almost certain that had Guern played the Dan-Brown, Da Vinci Code card, and written a book exposing the secret that Jesus was really a vampire, Guern would have found a publisher. That's why I asked to be allowed to talk about No Moon to Pray To here. Because those of us who are pro-Western-civilization, and who don't want to swallow anti-Western-civilization memes in our late-night comedy, our classrooms, or our paperback novels, deserve pop culture.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

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