Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012)

Since I haven’t reviewed any female werewolf fiction for a while, I thought I would do a bumper quadruple review today. This is Part 1, but you can also read:

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

I’ll start, though, with Catherine Lundoff’s recent title, Silver Moon.

Published by Lethe Press, Silver Moon promises to be the first in a new series, and tells the story of the werewolves of Wolf Point – a small US town. The main character, Becca Thornton, discovers that she is becoming a werewolf, that many of her neighbours are also werewolves, and that their town is under threat from hunters.

While this may sound fairly standard lycanthropic fare, Lundoff’s book offers an interesting twist on the formula. In fact, it was the unusual concept that drew me to the book in the first place.

Becca Thornton is not a teenaged girl going through puberty, nor has she recently been bitten. She is a middle-aged women going through the menopause. The book starts with her experiencing a hot flash, and other changes follow… but not all of her symptoms can be so easily explained. She discovers that she is also becoming a werewolf. For Becca, then, the change really is the change. As she says herself “some days it was hard to say which change was worse”. (p. 83)

I really enjoyed this idea. When you read as much female werewolf fiction as I do, the lycanthropy = puberty metaphor gets old really quickly. Lundoff’s menopausal werewolves were a really refreshing change. More than this, the book is a paranormal romance/adventure – a genre that rarely places middle-aged women on centre stage. If anything, Lundoff’s creations seemed to make more sense than teenaged werewolves. Her descriptions of lycanthropy (which are not so dissimilar to those found in other werewolf texts) seemed to resonate more clearly with menopause than with menarche:
“Despite her fears, she could feel that same wildness building in her. Something was clawing its way to the surface inside her, racing beneath her skin and preparing to break through. She wanted to run and hunt and feel the wind outside. It made her impatient and her feet and hands tapped the floor and the chair in time to her pulse.” (p. 24)
So an A+ to Lundoff for concept – but how is the execution?

The book’s plot revolves around Becca’s transformation into a werewolf, and the revelation that Wolf Point has long been protected by a band of female werewolves – all ‘women of a certain age’. There is some indication that the town’s foundation was the result of a mingling of Native traditions and the magic of white colonizers. It’s a somewhat utopian fantasy of the best of both worlds, but it allows for a mixing of European werewolf traditions and shamanistic magic without too much jarring.

After discovering her lupine/earth magic heritage, Becca also finds that Wolf Point is under threat from a group of hunters, who are both aware of, and hostile to, the werewolf presence in the town. She must work with her fellow she-wolves to keep the town safe from these interlopers.

Without revealing too much about the plot, the arrival of these hunters stirs up old tensions and rivalries. The promise of a ‘cure’ to werewolfism is given, and Becca finds herself playing a dangerous game, never totally sure who she can trust.

The plot, in this respect, was reasonably engrossing. My investment in the central characters (and more on that in a moment) was strong enough for me to care about what happened to them. However, I didn’t feel the same engagement with the ‘villains’, and, in one case in particular, this was a shame. I felt that I could’ve done with more of them, to heighten the complexity of the choices Becca had to make. As it was, there never seemed to be any real suggestion that Becca would turn her back on the ‘pack’, and I would’ve liked a little more uncertainty here.

The final climactic showdown, too, was something of a disappointment. This is not because of what happened, but rather because it didn’t feel pacy enough. The strength of this novel lies in its characters, but the denouement is led more by the ritual they enact, and I felt it dragged a little. I would’ve liked it to be tighter – and possibly shorter. [Self-aware disclaimer] The shamanistic ‘earth magic’ element added to a lot of (mostly North American) werewolf fiction is not generally to my taste, so this criticism says as much about me as a reader as Lundoff as a writer.

Nevertheless, the book as a whole had me gripped, and this was down to Lundoff’s creation of character. Becca Thornton is engaging and likable. Though her relationship with her ex-husband – who has left her for a younger women, and now wants to sell their house to provide for his new family – threatened to become a bit ‘First Wives Club’, Lundoff’s writing avoids descending into cliché.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book was Becca’s blossoming relationship with her neighbour Erin, which was sweet and tender, but also believable. Becca finds herself attracted to her neighbour – an out lesbian – but doubts the basis for her feelings. With a light touch, Lundoff has her character muse on whether her attraction has been occasioned by her being menopausal, being a werewolf or being a lesbian. Her confusion and awkwardness is nicely summed up by Becca: “She tried to remember everything she’d ever seen about coming out on Oprah while a tiny voice inside screamed Not that too!” (p. 74)

Like the wolf ‘alpha’, Shelly, Erin is a well-drawn character. As I noted above, it is rare to get one middle-aged woman in a novel of this genre, let alone a sympathetic love interest and a strong supporting cast as well. I enjoyed the slow development of Erin and Becca’s relationship, and look forward to seeing more of this in the subsequent books in the series. I would have liked more of Shelly – I am always drawn to well-written and conflicted female ‘alphas’ – and I hope she will continue to play a role in future books.

All in all, then, this is a strong recommendation. The concept is great – and a real antidote to all those adolescent she-wolves – and the writing, on the whole, is very strong. I will certainly be looking forward to future Women of Wolf Point books. And if the series lives up to its strong start, Becca Thornton will be high on my list of favourite female werewolves.

[Without wanting to be too self-promoting here, if you’re interested in the rise of the menopausal she-wolf, Helen Cross’s story ‘Fur’, in the Wolf-Girls anthology also uses this premise… though it is a quite different tale to Lundoff’s. Cross has written a blog post on female monsters and the menopause on the Playing God with Monsters blog.]

For more information about Silver Moon, please visit Catherine Lundoff’s website.

My female werewolf fiction reviews continue...

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

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