The crime thriller meets a monster mash-up in the first novel of the Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a Volkswagen mechanic by day and a coyote by night. Rather, she is a shape shifter, capable of transforming into coyote form whenever the need arises. Unlike the local pack of Werewolves, who are, as indicated by the novel’s title, moon called. But while Mercy is different, she is still their family, having been raised by the alpha male that rules North America. So when the local pack’s alpha is attacked and his daughter kidnapped, Mercy is compelled to help solve the crime and rescue his daughter from a mysterious villain.
In MOON CALLED, werewolves, shape-shifters, vampires, gremlins, witches, and faes all co-exist among average mortals, undetected by the general population. It’s not an uncommon theme in urban fiction, but each author finds their own unique way to spin in. Briggs writes of a time when some of the preternatural have already been outed and resituated into society by way of reservations established by the U.S. Government, much like Native Americans. The werewolves are torn into factions that either agree or disagree with the decision to reveal themselves as well. Woven into the story thread of magic and folklore is the omniscient threat of political power and its potential to destroy the society of wolves. In our culture, these themes are still prevalent among different races and orientations. So it isn’t hard to commiserate with the dilemma the wolves find themselves in. They’re not portrayed as monsters, but as a minority seeking acceptance and hoping for equality in a world that often reacts with fear, ignorance, and cruelty.
The most striking aspect of this novel for me was the way the werewolves are portrayed. I’ve avoided lycanthropic fiction in the past. Really, I don’t often find myself drawn to the standard fare of weres, vampires, or zombies. But these creatures, once transformed, were a lot like…well, wolves. Their mannerisms were very doggy; the descriptions of their appearances were much like oversized wolves. And the group dynamics in the pack are identical to what you find in wolf packs in nature. Which made them less like grotesque undesirable hybrid creatures, and more like powerful stunning wolves which just so happen to also be people.
And then there’s Mercy. Heroines without weaknesses are a bit like marble statues in a museum. They’re pretty to look at, but they won’t surprise you. As a coyote, Mercy has limited skills. She can change by will, giving her the versatility and control wolves lack. As a coyote she is physically compatible with the wolves, with the heightened senses they share. But she does not weave magic, or drive a punch that can send her opponent into a coma. She is not as strong, and injuries for her could prove more fatal. All the same, she is sharp, strong minded, and independent, which makes her both likable and identifiable. The novel is a good introduction for her character.
By comparison, the other creatures in Moon Called have very discernable stereotypes. Vampires are described as gangsters, demanding protection money and answering to their ‘godfathers’… or in this case, godmother. Gremlins are proud, ancient, and mechanically inclined. Witches profit off their powers by cleaning up any evidence of the werewolves’ existence. With the delicate balance of co-existence among all the characters, clear motives tie almost every one to the crime, allowing for a solid ‘who-dun-it’ mystery that keeps the reader entangled until the story’s conclusion.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The character dynamics and interactions are intriguing, and I am looking forward to seeing where the series will take them. And hey, I love wolves, so this series is a great fit for me. If you enjoy a monster-packed fantasy, MOON CALLED will be a great fit for you as well.