When you say you’re reading a novel about werewolf politics, there’s an understandably large group of people whose first inclination is to tune out. Generally speaking, I would be one of those people. But sometimes, a political werewolf novel is both a political werewolf novel and just enough more to be good.
Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon takes place in a fictional present where 5.2% of the population are lycans, which is to say werewolves. Lycans can control when they “turn” (it involves hairy bodies and bleeding gums) but are still maligned by the general public and forced to endure certain indignities, like a national registration and a government-mandated sedative to suppress their aggression. Compounding the tension, a small faction of lycans have formed a resistance movement, which is carrying out acts as small as vandalism and as large as terrorism in defense of lycan rights and the independence of the Lupine Republic, lycans’ native country, which the U.S. is occupying and milking for uranium.
All of this is the backdrop to the vignette-like trajectories of several main characters, each with their own unique role in the lycan conflict. Claire and Miriam, lycan relatives reunited after Claire’s parents are killed by a mysterious Tall Man; Patrick, the famous “Miracle Boy” survivor of an in-air lycan plane attack; Chase, the uncouth politician benefiting from the conflict and “Buffalo,” his sadistic sidekick. Through these characters and others, Percy sheds light on a country close to collapse, and a society on the verge of self-destruction.
The parallels between lycans and Muslims are unavoidable; at times, Percy almost seems to hit you over the head with them. And while the analogy is a little primitive, the message still resonates: It is stupid and pernicious and unethical to persecute an entire group of people for the actions taken by a few. It is stupider still to judge people solely by one descriptor, be it race, religion, sexual identity, age, gender, or…whether or not they are a werewolf.
Red Moon isn’t alone in the politics-meets-fantasy genre, and finds itself in pretty good company: World War Z and Warm Bodies touched on the geopolitical logistics of a zombie plague, The Passage and the Strain trilogy took us to vampire town, and witches have a rich history of finding themselves on the wrong side of political authority. Red Moon also, in its style at least, takes a page from The Stand, whose characters sometimes exist only to die.
And Red Moon is good. Compelling and fun and thought-provoking (at a high school level). It’s true that Percy is, to understate the matter, verbose, and sometimes his lengthy descriptions are just this side of comical (see: “[the tree] has died and rotted from the inside out, its base hollowed like an empty eye socket that seems to follow him…”) The book is also (or perhaps consequently) unnecessarily long, and the second half is executed more clumsily than the first. But if one is willing to look past these deficiencies (and I was) what emerges is a pretty enjoyable read, like the love child of a supermarket paperback and mid-tier literary fiction (weirdly, I mean this as a compliment).
It’s quite savvy, and at this point rather obvious, to explore prejudice through the lens of the supernatural, whether The Other manifests as werewolves, witches, vampires, zombies or X Men. In Red Moon, the world is wary of lycans the way it is wary of everything it does not understand. And so perhaps the novel’s main triumph is also humanity’s basic failure: We can always be relied upon to hate.
TITLE: Red Moon
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
ALSO WROTE: The Wilding; Refresh, Refresh
SORTA LIKE: The Passage meets The Host
FIRST LINE: “He cannot sleep.”