Book Reviews





Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun - review

“I did it for the best reason in the world: love."

Title: Black Moon: A Novel
Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Hogarth
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here


Insomnia is an epidemic. The world is slowly succumbing to sleeplessness and, as the human brain deteriorates in insomniacs deprived of sleep for weeks, those that still have the ability to dream are increasingly in danger. Bodies litter the streets, suicides are on the rise and everybody wants a cure. Meanwhile, Biggs' insomniac wife is missing, Lila's parents want to kill her, Chase has all the pills in the world to help him sleep but not the one he needs and Felicia is taking a massive leap of faith...


The idea behind this novel is amazing. As soon as I heard the premise of the plot I just knew I had to read it; kind of sci-fi but not, insomnia is a wholly possible threat and I think it is the echo of "this could really happen" that really suckers you into the story this novel has to tell.

Black Moon got off to a great start. Chapters are told from the point of views of four characters: Biggs, Lila, Felicia and Chase, all coping with a different effect of the insomnia epidemic. Their voices were very independent and I quickly warmed to Lila, Felicia and Chase. I found it harder to identify with Biggs. I didn't like him much and I think it's because he seemed quite mollifying to the extent of patronising at the very beginning.

I really enjoyed seeing how the world was subtly changing with the effects of sleeplessness - the most interesting thing being the curious syntax and speech of the sleep deprived. Hallucinations and killer jealousy also play a large part in the personalities of the insomniacs. I loved seeing what extremes were drawn from sleeplessness, it's such an unexplored subject in books and had a lot of possibilities. I was at once happy and a bit disappointed that Black Moon resembles something of a zombie novel, though. I love zombies, and the sleepless have the stumbling shuffle and the tunnel-visioned rage that are zombie tropes. I was just hoping for this new subject to be explored differently, I think.

Although Black Moon has a plot interesting enough to take you to right up to the last pages, I found the structure and pacing a bit frustrating. The book would leave a character at a cliff hanger as the POV changes, only to pick up their story again much later than the event we had left them at. We would then be told what happened and how they got out of their predicaments in something of a memory/retelling. It removed me from the action and left me in despair sometimes at the giant plot leaps being made. In one instance, a character is hallucinating madly, had just swallowed a whole pot of pills and was surrounded by murderous insomniacs... next, they're safe and sound in a lab. WHAT?!

There is also one other point I can't quite decide on... and that is dreams. In real life, listening to people's dreams is boring. In books not about sleep, that have character's dreams retold, I more often than not skip them as they probably have no real relevance. However, in a book about sleep, and about how the lack of dreaming capability has introduced insanity, I felt compelled to read them. But like in many books before, in Black Moon dreams still have no real meaning, they don't drive the plot and are something of a whimsical tangent. I expected a bit more, truth be told.

These points, coupled with the fact that the reader never finds out a lot of the answers they are holding out for, left me with a bit of a bitter aftertaste by the end. Which is a shame considering the amount of promise I felt the book had, and still felt it had at the half way mark.


Black Moon has a very strong premise and and intriguing beginning but falls a little flat by the end as readers are left wanting and the plot takes giant leaps. Still, a very good plot idea that I would love to see explored further. I would certainly read more books by Kenneth Calhoun in the future.


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