Review: Moonshine is a 1920s Take on 2000s Paranormal Romance Trends


Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Setting: New York City, 1920
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Published: May 11th 2010 by Griffin
Summary: Moonshine is book one in the Zephyr Hollis series, a reimagining of the social struggles of the 1920s in a world of Others. Zephyr is a hunter-turned-activist known around New York City as “the vampire suffragette.” At the behest of the mysterious and charming Amir, Zephyr takes on a case that gets her caught up in the business of the vampire mafia right when vampires are getting addicted to a new street drug.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review does not contain spoilers.


As someone who enjoys the odd dip into paranormal romance, Moonshine had been on my radar for a couple of years. I lost track of it because it’s not available on Kindle or through my library system. But when I read the synopsis for Johnson’s upcoming release, Trouble the Saints, I was so enthused I had to track down this book from a decade ago. I discovered, surprise, this book does indeed feel like it was written a decade ago.

There is more than a passing resemblance between the plot of Moonshine and a certain Southern vampire mystery series. The vampires-coming-out-of-the-coffin premise makes for super fun paranormal fiction, and Moonshine does a great job of exploring concepts of Other prejudice while also highlighting real-life prejudices of race, class, and sex. But a full exploration of these weighty themes aren’t the purpose of this book—it’s a paranormal romance driven by action and adventure. 

Everything about Moonshine adds up to a reading experience I could’ve loved but ultimately just sort of liked. I found myself unable to connect with Zephyr because she’s too many types in one—like Sookie, she has a special immunity to vampire control and she used to be Buffy but now she’s more of a Hermione. And this doesn’t function as layers so much as plot convenience. We’re in Zephyr’s head the whole time, and her thoughts oscillate between charming 20s slang to super modern colloquialisms. The romance is the real draw to this genre but, lust aside, I didn’t buy the connection. The visuals around Amir’s Otherness are great, and I can see how the sequel would explore their connection in a deeper way, but I’m not sure if I’ll get there. The vibrancy promised by the premise didn’t quite deliver.

That said, it’s been ten years and this book is basically out of print. I have no doubt at all that Johnson has grown as a writer since publishing Moonshine, and a lot the writing gives me a ton of faith—I am still just as jazzed for Trouble the Saints.