Benjamin Percy (www.benjaminpercy.com)
Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)
Welcome to a world where humans and lycans – werewolves – live side-by-side in uneasy equilibrium. In a world that is almost familiar, a large portion of the population have been infected with lobos, a disease that, quite literally, turns them into animals. In an attempt to curb the spread of the disease, the Lupine Republic was formed in the icy wastes of the Arctic Circle, and the lycans allowed to live there in peace, albeit under close scrutiny from a constant military presence. As the disease spread, and medical technology became more advanced, it became possible for the lycans to live amongst their human cousins, on condition that they submitted to regular blood tests and took drugs to curb their appetites.
Against this background, and a growing terrorist threat from groups seeking the freedom of the Republic, we meet Claire Forrester, whose world is turned upside down when her home is raided and her parents killed. Narrowly escaping she flees to her aunt’s, meeting Patrick Gamble along the way. Patrick’s life has also been turned upside down: his father has been deployed to the Lupine Republic and he, too, has been shipped off to live with relatives, and is now famous as the boy who survived a lycan attack on board an aeroplane. Meanwhile Chase Williams, Governor of Oregon is planning to run his presidential campaign on an anti-lycan platform. Infected during a public speaking event, Williams, with the help of his chief of staff, attempts to keep the fact secret while they use his position to gain funding for research into a cure.
So begins Benjamin Percy’s latest novel, his first foray into the horror genre. At the centre of the story lies the relationship between Claire and Patrick: it’s love at first sight, but in true Romeo and Juliet style, it’s a love that could never work. Claire is a lycan, and when Patrick learns of his father’s disappearance in the Lupine Republic, he immediately enlists in the hope of being sent there, immediately placing them on different sides of the fence. Percy uses these two characters as a springboard, two contrasting views of the world that unfolds – and unravels – around them as the novel progresses. It is a world very similar to our own: here the cold and forbidding Lupine Republic instead of any number of hot and forbidding Middle Eastern countries; here lycan extremists and suicide bombers in place of religious extremists of whatever stripe; here prejudice against the lycan people – species-ism, if you will – instead of racism or sexism or however many other petty bigotries that are harboured in our own world.
Threaded through their narratives is the tale of Chase Williams, first Governor of Oregon and ultimately President of the United States. Williams is the driving force behind Red Moon’s secondary plot: the cure for lobos. Williams quickly becomes the thing he most despises when he becomes infected himself. Keeping his infection a secret is the only thing that will allow him to win the election, but both he and his chief of staff know it’s only a matter of time before the world finds out. Percy uses this thread to look at how one man’s cure might just be another man’s ethnic cleansing, without ever preaching one message or the other, and leaving the final decision with the reader.
Percy’s masterstroke, in this humble reader’s opinion, was to introduce us to a fully-developed world, rather than focusing on the introduction of lobos into the population. Everything we need to know is included in a brief summary early in the novel, and we’re left with the simple fact that bumping into a lycan in this world is as common as – if not exactly the same thing as – bumping into your next door neighbour. What we find is a society beginning to crumble around the edges, an apocalypse waiting to happen (and we all know how much I love a good apocalypse). It is as much the world and what’s going on in the background as the multiple plots and spot-on characterisation that draws us in and holds our attention for the duration of this hefty, yet fast-moving tome.
In some ways, what Percy has set out to do for werewolves feels a bit like what Justin Cronin did a few years back for vampires. What he has accomplished is a fine addition to the genre, a novel that breathes new life into an old trope and makes us want to immerse ourselves in this new world. Despite the budding romance between the two central characters, there are no sparkles here, nothing to interest the Twilight crowd. A modern-day parable (though I’ll be damned if I can work out what the moral is), this beautifully-written and captivating novel deserves a place on the shelves of anyone who calls themselves a fan of horror. We can only hope that the wide-open ending bodes well for further volumes in the series.