Moon Called; and
The Seventh Chakra

reviewed by Dronon
©2010 Dronon

Home -=- #28 -=- Reviews
-= ANTHRO =-

Moon Called The Seventh Chakra

Cover of Item 1
Title: Moon Called
(book 1 in the Mercy Thompson series)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace Books (New York City, NY), Mar 2010
ISBN: 0441019277
336 pp, USD $19.95
Mass-market paperback
Publisher: Ace Books (New York City, NY), Jan 2006
ISBN: 0441013813
304 pp, USD $7.99

   A genre of fiction that has become more common over the last 15 years is urban fantasy, in which someone investigates and battles fantasy creatures in urban settings. The current trend is often credited to Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, but what with Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and (bleurgh!) Twilight, I think urban fantasy’s success is surfing on the recent popularity of fantasy in general.
   In urban fantasy novels, regular human beings may be completely unaware of mythological beings walking amongst them, or they can be an accepted part of everyday life. In Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, the situation is in transition. The fæ decided to ‘come out’, and unfortunately have ended up in the equivalent of modern Indian reservations. Needless to say, this has put other creatures on edge about preserving their secret identities.
   The main character is Mercedes (or Mercy) Thompson, a 32-year-old skilled automobile mechanic of partial Native American ancestry who can turn herself into a coyote. While this is an advantage, she doesn’t have super-strength or any other special powers that can get her out of a tight spot; she must rely on her wits. Mercy is not a trickster or a manipulator, but she’s observant and smart. Having a very strong understanding how people tick, she knows how to get along with others. She’s a very friendly character, and is written in a believable way.
   Her neighbors are the local pack of werewolves, who form most of the secondary protagonists in this book series. The plot begins with a young, newly-converted werewolf showing up on her doorstep with the disturbing news that someone may be conducting strange experiments on their kind. Before Mercy can even start to look into the situation, her neighbors are attacked and she must seek out medical help for her werewolf friends. This being the first book in the series, much of it is devoted to setting up the story universe and introducing the major characters and their backgrounds. So by the time Mercy and her gang finally start to investigate what’s happened, you’re already two-thirds of the way through the book. Despite this late start (and a long-shot which by necessity must pay off), the ending is strong and its antagonist quite surprised me in a rather touching, tragic way.
   If you’re a transformation fan, this is not the book for you; Mercy’s changes happen in the blink of an eye, and the werewolves’ changes are described offhand as painful and ugly. If you’re a werewolf fan, this may be the book for you—people can be terribly picky about their werewolves; I know I am. So forgive me for the griping I’m about to do, because afterwards I’m going to be very positive.
   Werewolves in the Mercy Thompson series are zoomorphic and heavily into the pack hierarchy thing. I find this intrinsically annoying—I’ve read too many bad fan-fictions where someone snarls, “Who dares to challenge the Alpha!” The human side of the werewolf must constantly be mindful of its wolf side, yet after years of getting their inner beast to behave, some basic instincts seem uncontrollable, and I found this to be beyond my suspension of disbelief. Two examples:

   That being said, the story universe sets out in very understandable detail why werewolf packs operate the way they do. Without such a structure, they’d probably be hunted down; it’s only by policing themselves and maintaining such heavy, strict rules that they manage to survive in the modern world at all. However, no system is perfect and they know it. Some werewolves, if trusted by the rest of the community, are allowed to go rogue as long as they stay out of trouble.
   It’s also very difficult to become a werewolf in this story universe. First, you have to be mauled almost to death. If you survive that, you may not survive your first changes. After that, you have to learn how to tame your beast side fairly quickly or you’ll be killed by the other werewolves for the sake of the community’s safety. And if you don’t get along with other werewolves or break the rules, you’ll also be killed. So, assuming you make it through all that, you become virtually immortal, in the peak of your youth and physical health. Sounds great, except most werewolves don’t make it past their first ten years because of stupid dominance fights like the thing between #2 and #3 above.
   Another element that annoyed me were the vampires. They’re not a huge part of the book, but I am just so sick of vampires. Anne Rice, Twilight, The Lost Boys, Buffy arrrgh! I can’t stand færies, either.
   But you know what? I liked this book. Despite overblown pack dynamics, despite vampires, the story was interesting, the characters engaging, the universe was well thought-out… I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. I still don’t like vampires, but any time I can enjoy a book even though it’s got things I don’t like—now, that is the sign of a good writer. And I’m not the only one; Patricia Briggs’ books have hit #1 in the New York Times bestseller list more than once. It’s good fantasy fluff that’s fun to pass the time with, if you don’t take it too seriously.
   I really liked Mercy Thompson as a character, and if you’re a werewolf fan, it’s worth giving this a try. Don’t judge the series by its covers though, there’s no steamy romantic content. (Although at the end of book one, a love triangle is obviously developing.) And if you prefer werewolves as the main characters, there’s a spin-off series called Alpha and Omega. If you’re still unsure about the werewolf content, fans of the series have compiled a list of facts about the story universe, including a comprehensive page on werewolf ethology in the Patricia Briggs forum.
   Another urban fantasy book of interest to werewolf fans is Fool Moon, book two in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden is a wizard in Chicago who ends up fighting all sorts of nasties, and in this book Dresden encounters not one, but four different types of werewolves. This series has even more vampires and færies than Mercy Thompson, and again the writing quality carries my interest all the way through. It’s a bit fluffier in content with more humor than you’d expect. A good, light read with lots of action.

Moon Called The Seventh Chakra

Cover of Item 1
Title: The Seventh Chakra
Author: Kevin Frane
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jan 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9819883-5-1
Paperback, 322 pp, USD $19.95

   This is the first time I’ve read anything by Kevin Frane. It’s the second book in the same setting as his previous novel, Thousand Leaves, but my understanding is that the two exist fairly independently of one another. The Seventh Chakra is a spy thriller, but if you’re thinking James Bond, it’s not that kind of spy thriller.
   The story starts out with the Iolite League, a religious organization bent on world peace and unity. Arkady Ryswife is a ferret and one of their secret agents, part of a sort of ‘black ops’ sent out to do dirty work when peaceful methods won’t work. The League has several secret projects underway—scientific and biological research, creating a living AI to act as their future computer mainframe, and also the recovery of ancient artifacts belonging to a mysterious ‘pre-civ’ culture that was lost over 4,000 years ago.
   The start of the book dives immediately into fast-paced action that makes it hard to put down. Arkady and his team visit a casino on a mission to recover some pre-civ items from the hands of private collectors, intending to add them to the Iolite League’s archives, which will eventually be shared with the rest of the world. The secondary purpose of their mission is to send a warning to a rival organization. Unfortunately the mission quickly goes wrong in several ways, leaving Arkady and the rest of his team emotionally shattered when they return to the League’s headquarters.
   Unlike some spy thrillers, these secret agents carry doubts and question their self-confidence. Not about their religious motivations, but whether they could have carried out their work with less bloodshed and better organization. This is primarily a character-driven story. Arkady feels particularly at fault as the team’s leader, wondering whether he can be called upon to make the right decisions during difficult situations.
   Arkady is therefore surprised when his team is rushed into a second mission. After he and one of his team undergo experimental surgery giving them heightened senses and reflexes, they find themselves deep in enemy territory. But vestiges of the previous mission’s mistakes remain—Arkady and his two team-mates seem to be drifting apart, and soon everything starts going wrong again. Their resources are cut off, their intel is unreliable, and they’re playing a dangerous game without knowing exactly who the other players are.
   If there’s a recurring theme to this work, it’s one of loss—loss of trust, of one’s self, of control, of friends, of culture, and of life (though not how you’d expect). The ending is somewhat sad but with signs of hope for the future, and plenty of opportunity for a sequel. The only thing that threw me off was how names were adapted from civilizations all over the world (China, India, etc), yet in the book’s setting, the entire planet speaks one language. Maybe this was supposed to be a hint about who the pre-civ peoples were, but I found it a little distracting; I kept wondering if the use of a Russian name was symbolic or not, or whether etymologists existed in the story universe. Still, I found Kevin Frane’s writing style very approachable and it didn’t stop me from enjoying the underlying story.
   How furry is this book? Marginally. Except for the heightened animal senses, most of the characters could have been replaced by humans of different ethnic groups and nationalities. The many species mentioned throughout the book seems largely symbolic of the Iolite League’s mission to unite the world despite people’s differences.
   As for the story itself, it definitely made me want to keep reading, especially after Arkady and his team are constantly on the move once they begin their second mission. Worth a read? Yes—and if my review has piqued your interest, I think you’ll agree. I look forward to Kevin Frane’s future publications!

Got a book, movie, comic, etc. of the anthropomorphic kind that needs an Anthro review? Send it to Dronon!

Moon Called The Seventh Chakra

Home -=- #28 -=- ANTHRO #28 Reviews
-= ANTHRO =-