The third and final installment in Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy doesn’t feel like an ending. It leaves more storylines open than it closes: an anticipated reunion never occurs, a prodigal son is remade but doesn’t, well, do anything, and the anticipated social upheaval the story promises is never really seen. But looking back, it could be that the reunion itself wasn’t important, the prodigal son played his role, and the upheaval came when the Moon’s factions and saw that Earth wanted to eliminate all of them and stopped governing by knife-fight. Nothing draws rivals together like a common foe.
Some background for those new to the series or just returning to it. Ian McDonald’s moon is a colony governed by five families, an earth-oriented corporate conglomerate, and a legal system where contracts are the only recognized law. Residents with no contract quickly find themselves with too little oxygen, and mutual combat can legitimately settle disputes. Two of the “Five Dragons” run resource extraction empires, with the Corta family mining helium3 and the MacKenzies more traditional metals. When their mutual enmity turns to open hostility, the other three —the Vorontsovs (specializing in space travel), the Suns (AI and robotics), and the Asamoahs (food production and biology)—vie to advance their interests. The feudal political system resulting from these monopolistic mercantile families’ incestuous marriages and endless court intrigue intrigue provide fertile ground for MacDonald’s story.
Moon rising follow’s Ariana Corta’s three surviving children: Lucas, the second son who returns to the moon in triumph at the end of book two. Ariel, the aromantic lawyer who finds herself in love and reluctantly comes to dominate the Moon’s politics. Wagnar, the half-brother who lives with a “wolf-pack”with the similarly bipolar, who embrace their difference and draw strength from, well, howling at the Earth and sleeping naked in a pile together.
The best storylines in this third installment follow the two traumatized Corta siblings (Robson and Luna)as they manage the burden of their family name. Be warned, following their arc requires a glossary of key players and their interrelationships. Seriously, do we really need Darius, Denny and Duncan MacKenzie?
Robson begins the book in hiding with his uncle Wagnar. Though happy to be an unknown outcast at school, he’s made a close friend, Haider, who learns about Robson’s Corta parentage and betrays his anonymity. Robson ends up as a hostage to Bryce MacKenzie as a result, an obvious homage to Baron Harkonnen who deserves a similar fate to the original.
The end of the second book takes Luna through her main trauma: while fleeing across the Moon’s surface from a MacKenzie attack on the Asamoah’s main city, her cousin Lucasinho gives her the last of his air. She manages to rescue him before he dies, but not before hypoxia takes a toll. His resulting brain damage drives much of the third book’s plot: who will have custody of Lucasinho, and how will the University of Farside repair his memory? Luna refuses to leave her hero’s side and adopts bodily markings to let everyone know just how serious she is about seeing him to safety. As an escape from her precarious situation, she experiments with combinations of flavours—think strawberry, mint and cardamom—that to me are the most vivid sensory passages I’ve read in recent memory. More importantly, they brilliantly demonstrate her youth and immaturity, in spite of the horror she’s endured.
The worst storyline, by far, follows Alexia Corta, a distant earth-born cousin who joins Lucas on his return to earth in book two and becomes his Hand. She’s unlikable and her parts of the story are generally uninteresting, save for her encounter with the Moon’s dispossessed. Moreover, she seems to me unnecessary for the plot. The book would’ve been better without her.
It’s not a terrible ending to this trilogy, given how well it wraps up a story burdened with a few too many characters and storylines in earlier installments. But it also leaves MacDonald the option to continue this universe’s story, as several traumatized, soon-to-be powerful protagonist children find (relative) safety in its final chapters. After all, the Luna series has been a commercial success, and CBS is reportedly begun developing it into a show.
The society MacDonald describes in these books is a fantastic imagining of what a populated industrial colony on the Moon might become. Though this third book is not as good as the second, which was not as good as the first, the series is worth reading if only to find out why baking cakes on the moon has so much potential.