Don’t Pine for the Moonshine
Fleeting Saunter (2022)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for ReaderViews (02/2023)
Che Sauntioga’s “Don’t Pine for the Moonshine” is a new, different kind of fantasy. Instead of wizards and faeries or vampires and werewolves, we have a parallel-like universe with humans—some of whom possess magic and some who do not. Ten and Ginger are two non-magical individuals who have been selected by a famous moonshiner for a very important job: engineer a fake ghost of another musician. There’s just one complication: as far as they know, this other moonshiner is not yet dead. Ten, who works as a “downer” to break up other people’s relationships for a living, and Ginger, a young, perhaps too-generous woman who has never had to work a job in her life are about as different as two people can be. Despite their polar opposite personalities and upbringings, however, they soon find that maybe their goals aren’t altogether different. In a world where magical discrimination is on the rise, contriving up fake hauntings may possibly be the least of their worries.
“Don’t Pine for the Moonshine” is a humorous, magical fantasy story on the surface. Flindering is a horse-shoe shaped nation separated by a channel of water. On one side is Low Flindering, and the other is High Flindering. Each has its own different illegalities, restrictions, and social hierarchies. Ten is from the Low. Ginger is from the High. Ginger is from a highly affluent family and earns her income as a result of a trust fund from which she receives (and impulsively gives away) regular allowances. Ten appears to be of the middle, working class and wants nothing more than to escape city life and be a land manager somewhere quieter and with far, far fewer people. Ten and Ginger are likeable, identifiable main characters whose contrasting personalities manage to blend together to form a strong partnership and the growth of a begrudging kind of kinship.
Deeper in its pages, however, “Don’t Pine for the Moonshine” is an ode to the dangers and nuances of discrimination among differing social classes and across different states. Some Flindering citizens have flinders, small, feather-like objects that float about the shoulders. There are five different size-classifications for flinders, each with a different label ascribed to them reflective of either Low Flindering slang or High Flindering slang. Nonsees are those without flinders whatsoever. Some in Flindering see the presence of flinders as a disadvantage, something to be hidden or discriminated against. As a result, new magical inventions and clothing accessories are often pushed on those such as Ginger, who have flinders, so that they can appear as nonsees. In addition to the flinders themselves, people and their flinders are also categorized according to their colors – such as brown, tan, pale – tones reminiscent to how contemporary humans ascribe racial distinctions.
Throughout “Don’t Pine for the Moonshine,” behind the façade of the unreliable magic, moonshiners and wishdrinks, is this theme of warring political and social ideals, not unlike that which we are seeing in our own world. Though the topics in the book may seem fanciful, at the heart they represent real prejudices and threats to social peace and equality. Sauntiago has thus produced a tale that both enchants the reader with both magical whimsy and important messages about how we humans navigate differences in appearance, ability and culture. While early on some of the Flindering-specific terminology took a little self-orienting to become accustomed to, the book held a subtle yet constant mystery and intrigue which kept the pacing fluid and the flow of the book overall steady.
I would recommend “Don’t Pine for the Moonshine” to readers who enjoy humorous fantasy and fiction, but who also appreciate the subtle entwinement of real-world themes and issues with elements of magic and mystical universes.