The Cold Moons by Aeron Clement

Aeron Clement is a Welsh author who is known for his only published book, The Cold Moons. Very little is known about Clement – many websites incorrectly call him an American author, and he is often mistakenly called a science fiction writer.

He was born in Swansea and had been a director of a civil engineering company and had also been an accountant. He achieved “Best Great Dane” at Cruft’s – the worlds biggest dog show – during the seventies, and was a member of different animal preservation groups in Britain. His wife, Jill Clement, provided the cover and internal illustrations for his book. Together they had two daughters, Allyson and Caroline.

That is about all that is known of Aeron Clement.

The Cold Moons was born from his love for natural history, and his strong beliefs in animal welfare. Despite being an anthropomorphic fantasy, it is actually based on real historical events. During the seventies an extensive badger eradication program was established based on the fears that Bovine Tuberculosis was spread from badgers. Farms with high rates of BTB were found to have large badger populations which were carriers of the disease. Wild badger populations were decimated and almost driven to extinction before studies revealed that the cattle were spreading TB to the badgers, and legislation was introduced to protect badgers which were now an endangered animal.

The book begins with one such eradication of a badgers den, or sett; the entrances are closed off and the badgers are killed via poisonous gas. One badger, after witnessing the deaths of his family and kin escapes and embarks on a quest to warn nearby badger colonies. The stress of his journey and his grief is too much for him, and he dies, but not before spreading the warning.

It’s a strong start to the book – the main character, Bamber, is instantly likable, and after watching his mate and his cubs die, the reader is instantly pulled into a world of grief and imperative. Unfortunately, the second chapter then wrenches us from the story by quoting a factual newspaper article and then giving us a tonne of exposition and the background around badger exterminations. The book does this several times more, telling us in a montage of fictional newspaper articles the “human element” of the story, and this is about as distracting from the book as a Stan Lee cameo is in a Marvel film. It completely eliminates the illusion of fantasy.

Chapter three sees us return to the story of Bamber, which sadly seems a little contrived, as Bamber becomes the love interest of a walk-on character who only exists in this chapter and then vanishes with no mark on the world, and then in chapter four Bamber dies. Now we have a new main character. But try not to get attached, as he also dies in chapter eleven, and chapter twelve sees a new protagonist take over.

The new protagonist, Beaufort, leads his cadre of badgers across the countryside and through a myriad of atrocities and tragedies to find the promised land – Elysia. They must survive harsh winter, the humans with their guns and hunting dogs, and of course their own kind. One of the badgers, Kronos, is the obvious antagonist from the beginning – and eventually becomes quite an entertaining villain and generates some quite thrilling scenes. But sadly, most character development is slow, subtle or non-existent in this book.

The book genuinely does have a fantastic story, but unfortunately it takes so long to make any lasting emotional connections to characters that the book is half over by the time you do – and it is a long book. The story is a beautiful exploration of the UK forests and mountains, and one can tell reading this book that Clement certainly loves nature, and has studied a lot about badgers.

Again, this is also a downside to the book. Clement gets often gets so lost in his constant descriptions, that the story periodically becomes grocery lists where he names every species of flower, tree, butterfly and bird. These parts are tedious to read through, and sometimes one will find ones self skimming through pages in an effort to find where the story went.

There were larch trees, hanging their dark green tassels, the white-flowered gean, the white-blossomed hawthorn, the fringed white petals of the chestnut tinged with crimson. There were shrubs and bushes that would provide them with a delicious harvest in times to come, the red cloudberry, cranberry and strawberry, and the blue-black berries from bramble and elder. Beaufort marveled at the loveliness that was the touch of Logos where even the grasses in their different shades of green sparkled with emerald intensity, the meadow fescue, the sweetgrass, cat’s-tail grass, cock’sfoot, rye grass, tar grass, reed grass, and the tufted hair. He saw round-leaved willows near the sparkling stream, trees that bore great catkins and were loved by the butterflies.

The page then continues in this fashion to name the species of butterflies and flowers in the forest in a very precise and detailed fashion.

Another quirk of this book is the size of the paragraphs. Some are over a page long – reading The Cold Moons is similar to slogging through the verbosity of Wuthering Heights with it’s multitude of dithering and wandering sentences that contain every form of punctuation known to man, except the full stop. There are two predominant reasons his paragraphs are so enormous – grocery lists, and in a strange story telling technique, he uses no dialogue throughout the entire book. Every story teller knows you “show, don’t tell.” Here, Clement ignores this completely and ‘tells’ the entire book.

One could argue it’s his way of keeping the animals “non-morphic,” but that idea is contradicted by two unusual concepts in his book: politics and religion. The badgers have a complicated heirarchal type society which allows the villain, Kronos, to scheme and manipulate his way through the ranks and into the council. Clement’s writing style let’s down what could have been fantastic opportunities for character development by telling us about the meetings and debates, rather than letting us hear the dialogue and witness the badgers interacting like genuine characters.

Also, with no warning whatsoever, the badgers in The Cold Moons praise their God – Logos – quite often, and make mention of Asgard, Sheol, Ahriman, Capricorn, The Devil, and of course Logos. There is a very cosmopolitan mix of religious references here, from Middle Persion to Hebrew to Nordic.

Logos is the badgers deity. Interestingly, though adopted into Judeo-Christian beliefs, Logos was initially a Greek philospophical ideal – a principle of order and knowledge. This was interpreted differently by philosophers and theologists for hundreds of years. Unfortunately for this book, as there is no pretext for religion and no prologue explaining some great badger creation myth, these references fall flat and feel forced, adding nothing to the story.

Logos isn’t the only Greek influence in this book. A lot of badgers have names derived from Greek Titans and proto-gods and historical figures, there are Grecian influences in their society and beliefs, and some of the character’s roles even mirror their namesakes from mythological stories. But despite this, the book itself is more of a modern-classic retelling of The Jewish Exodus. The Badgers are fleeing to their holy promised land, guided by a leader who set down their rules, and they are tested and challenged whilst in the wilderness, before making it to Elysia. The villain, Kronos, even acts the role of Lucifer – he lies and betrays and offers the badgers temptations, ‘brainwashing’ them to serve him and prevent them from ever reaching the holy lands.

But despite the allegory, despite the strange editorial decisions, and despite the many obvious flaws in the story telling – The Cold Moons is very enjoyable. A slow first half is rewarded by an exciting middle, and though perhaps anti-climactic, the ending is satisfying. Stylistically it lacks what a book needs to be described as a “good book”, but in it’s substance it has enough to still be an entertaining and often emotional read.

Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys anthropomorphic or animal fantasies, or just enjoys a moving drama as well.

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