Thirteen Moons: A Review

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier is about Will Cooper, a bound boy outcast from his family after he is orphaned by his mother's death. As a bound boy Will falls in love with Claire, a mysterious Indian girl who is the charge of the conflicting character of Featherstone, a cruel and yet fatherly figure to Will. Will is also adopted into a nearby Cherokee tribe by Bear, a wise and kind Indian who clings desperately to the old ways and refuses to move his people from their home land. This novel is epic in the sense that it takes you from Will's boyhood into his old age. It is with Frazier's beautiful and descriptive language that this novel is told in, bring forth the time period so vividly that you feel as if you were there.

I will start off by saying that I adored adored adored Cold Mountain with an adulation that has made me reread the book (something I rarely do now-a-days because there are so many books on my TBR list) and push it onto anybody who shows the slightest interest in literature or reading. I was ecstatic when the movie was made and enjoyed that as well. With this is mind, I approached Frazier's long awaited sophomore novel with great anticipation and expectations. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by it. And I preface this with my adoration of Cold Mountain because perhaps I wouldn't have been so disappointed if I hadn't expected so much from the book. Not only did I expect it to be as intense as Cold Mountain but the storyline sounded wonderful and with all the elements that I usually love in stories. Learning about past times, an intense romance, war, different cultures and redemption. I expected a story that would pull me along by my heart so that I was desperate to keep reading the book, like I was with Cold Mountain. I do warn you, as you can probably already tell, I will compare this book to Cold Mountain often in order to make my point of what worked and didn't work for me in the novel, whether or not it is fair for me to do so, it's impossible for me to separate them at this point.

My first issue was with the point of view, Cold Mountain was in third person narrative and also gave the points of views of both Inman and Ada, which worked wonderful to develop their characters and to build the suspense of their love and their reunion. The intensity of Inman and Ada's love for each other was portrayed perfectly as a representation for other desires, such as Inman's desire to be home and Ada's desire for company and intimacy. Cold Mountain was wrought with desire, danger and heartbreak. Every character was vivid and well developed and the drive of the book was strongly and pulsing. Thirteen Moons was as opposite as you could get. The point of view was first person and I found the voice of Will Cooper to be inconsistent and a bit distant at times. I felt that we lost a lot of character development of some of the main characters such as Bear and Claire through Will's voice. Featherstone, in fact, is the only character that came to me vividly. Even Will's true character was lost on me and felt false. I truly wish the book had been in third person and I would have been interested to have Claire's point of view, though I would have been okay without it. Will's voice was neither convincing nor interesting and the story came out extremely flat to me. The relationship between Claire and him was even less convincing, I didn't feel Will's desire for her except for the first time he met her, and that worked because he'd just been sent out as a bound boy and was lost and lonely and the connection he made with her when he "won" her worked well. However, I never felt it again and much of the story's plot didn't make sense to me. He sometimes goes searching for her and other times doesn't? His search for Claire never seemed desperate or driven, it always seemed like, well, I guess I'll go search for her now because I don't have anything else to do. And Claire was never a person to me, she was a body in which Will coveted. I never once got a sense of who Claire was, she was an enigma, a representation of some sort of perfection that Will made her out to be, but she wasn't real to me and maybe never to Will either. It was an entirely flat romance and got tired and old.

Another issue I had with the book was that the conflict was nearly non-existent, which I find really difficult to achieve considering the book spans over the removal of the Indians to the West and the Civil War. The only time I felt true conflict was when Will and Bear's people were hunting down Charley, and it was from Charley's point of view (told through Will) that presented the conflict and drama. You felt Charley's pain and conflict, not Will's. All the other conflicts seemed glossed over by Will, a quick retelling of the events without letting you experience them. There were definitely not enough scenes and far too much summary in this novel for my tastes.

Overall I was most disappointed because Cold Mountain was such a rich and vivid book and Thirteen Moons was neither. It came out flat and uninspired, even though it had so much potential. I wanted to know Bear and Claire better. I wanted there to be true passion and tragedy between Claire and Will and with Bear's people. I wanted to truly feel Will's love for the Indians and his desire to find a home (I really didn't get this theme at all until I read a line about it near the end of the book). I wanted to experience the tragedy and drama of war, feel the fear of Claire that Will would die, or Will's fear that he'd never see her again. I tried really hard to enjoy this book, and while Frazier's writing was once again beautiful, the story was disappointing.

Now, things I enjoyed about the book. Of course the writing was superb, there's no denying that. With phrases such as:
Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall. Every bit stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing.
Often the phrases of description Frazier used were pure poetry and I got to know the land and the times of the 1800s very intimately. I know more about that time period than I did before reading the book and it has led me to be more interested in it. If nothing else, the novel is educational and detailed to an excruciating degree.

Overall, I think my opinion of this book is clear, not one of the worst books I've ever read, if nothing else, the amazing writing of Frazier and the history lesson makes the experience worth it, but definitely nothing to rave about. The good news? The movie rights have already been bought and I guarantee you that the movie will beef up the parts of the novel that were lacking, such as character development and of course the romance between Will and Claire, as well as the drama of war and the removal of the Indians. I look forward to the movie and hope it will fulfill the things that lacked in the novel so I can enjoy the story that was bursting with the potential to be one of the great stories written about that time period in our history.

For some different views on Thirteen Moons, feel free to visit here, here, here, here, and here.

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