by Kit Whitfield
Whitfield's first novel. Not nearly as interesting or well written as In Great Waters, and awkwardly structured in a number of ways, but still worth reading. The story takes a noir first person account. The protagonist is a freak, a racial minority, one of the less than 1% of the population that because of early development brain injury doesn't transofrm into a werewolf each night like regular people. Regular humans ("bareback" is the common slur) are despised by wider society yet still vital to it in keeping things locked down on full moon and minimizing general damage. The book explores this dual role, the psychological issues that emerge from this, and a specific mystery and wider conspiracy that the protagonist gets involved with.
The book is overly padded and awkwardly written at points, and doesn't do nearly enough to make the main character interesting or sympathetic, despite an intriguing position. Still, the setting is quite innovative and the ultimately playing out of the main theme makes for an interesting use of the hardboiled detective standpoint. It shows the same framework as In Great Waters in reversing the normal expectation of the Masquerade, instead taking a fantasy premise and rewriting the world around it. What’s most striking in this layout, though, is how much doesn’t change, how the world largely looks the same at first glance despite almost everyone being a werewolf. That backdrop make the moments of transofrmation more vivid, exciting and creepier, bringing in a real edge to the presentation of what human becomes beast means. Also, approrpriately, the real monstrosity becomes the calm, collected and utterly rational form of certain werewolves.
Different enough in tone to make me very curious where Whitfield will go next. This and In Great Waters share a certain measure of cynicism with social problems, the deconstructing of stock fantasy elements in an unfamiliar and creative ways, and taking fantasy to make a full-fledged alternate history, but beyond that are very different works. Maybe next there can be fairies or some other under-developed fantasy force as the basis for a society? Most authors never seem to tackle anything except vampires.
Better than: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Worse than: In Great Waters by Kit Whitfeld