Once upon the late 1990’s, I worked at a library in Wyoming, and I had the privilege of developing the sci fi and fantasy book collection (talk about a dream come true). My friend was in charge of the romance books, a collection development post I never, ever could have championed, but I so admired her tenacity and gusto, especially in the face of those patrons who might disparage the romance genre. Luna Station’s own A.E. Ash has something to say about the romance genre, too – check out this post. And if you haven’t discovered the Vaginal Fantasy goodreads bookclub, well…
Right, I’m digressing here. Obviously Moon Called isn’t traditional romance – it’s urban fantasy with a tinge of romance. It’s in that category of speculative fiction that might otherwise be overlooked by readers deadheading for cerebral space opera and epic fantasy, kind of the way all speculative fiction is often shunned by readers who only like literary fiction. Am I right? Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called is the first book of her Mercy Thompson series, and it reminds me of a lot of other urban fantasy series with strong female protagonists – like Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, or Kitty Norville.
I’m not complaining – write me a strong female lead, yes please. Give her some flaws, a little vulnerability, mad skills, and don’t make her too pretty. Make her like a real woman – in an unreal world. Mercy Thompson will do just fine, thanks – although with her Native American heritage and her toned arms she’s probably too gorgeous to behold. I would’ve liked her a smidge less perfect, but Moon Called is, after all, her debut, and there’s plenty more Mercy to follow. Maybe I believe Mercy as a coyote shapeshifter more than I believe her as a Volkswagen mechanic. No – not because I don’t think women can be mechanics. To me, the way she was written, the ‘shifter side of Mercy felt more natural. There were moments when the mechanic side of Mercy felt like a ploy – setting and props to make her seem more tough. Not always – I really enjoyed the scenes where she worked on cars, and her resourceful use of WD-40, but I want to believe in her badassness whatever her career path. Maybe it’s too risky to be a shapeshifter while working 9 to 5 in an office cube farm.
So, what kind of voice might one expect from a young woman who was raised by werewolves in Montana, runs her own auto garage, and morphs into a coyote whenever she wants? Mature yet playful. Breathy delivery and steel-edged consonants. Guess what? Lorelei King is on the mike. I loved King’s vocal embodiment of Mercedes Thompson – confident and tough, yet sensitive, with that titch of insouciance to let the listener know that, oh yes, Mercy can handle danger, she’s running with the wolves and rescuing her special manimals. It’s evident that King absolutely loves reading the Mercy books. She’s already recorded eight titles in the series, plus the recent short story collection, Shifting Shadows. King feels that
“one of the especially nice things about recording a series is that you really get to know the characters and their world, and after awhile they start to feel like your own family.”
The Mercy Thompson series explores issues like honesty, family and loyalty in the context of supernatural suspense, and King identifies with Mercy’s “love for and loyalty to her mate and her pack. In my view, that’s what life is about – love and loyalty.”
Moon Called isn’t all emotion and danger, though – and King has a great time with the myriad of accents and fantastical character origins. She notes, “this series, like other paranormal series, does have its challenges – supernatural creatures, for example. How does a tree fae sound? The writer will often give clues or hints and it’s great fun figuring all of that out. It gives the narrator freedom to maybe try something a little bit quirky.”
There’s humor too, much welcomed by King – who has “a particular affinity for the darkly comic” (which is sometimes evident in her fun tweets). The comedy – mainly Mercy’s inner monologue and one-liners – provides a welcome balance to the novel’s more intense storylines. King admits wittily that Mercy “is obviously very mechanically-inclined, whereas it once took me ten hours to put up a curtain rod.”
There really is only one thing I didn’t like about the audiobook, and it’s a pet peeve of mine. Moon Called has intro and outro music at the beginning and end, and it sounds like a limp synthesizer theme from an 80’s cop show. I just don’t see the point – do audiobooks need this? I can understand music bookending the audio edition of a Kitty Norville novel – Kitty does work at a radio station – but it seemed silly for Moon Called.
On a final note, I’m always analyzing the way narrators handle reading different genders, especially in a novel that – if lightly – explores male and female roles in werewolf pack dynamics and features a woman as rescuer and hero. There are a lot of male – alpha male – characters in Moon Called. King portrays each uniquely, through accents, inflections, pitch, and tempo – without resorting to the easy out of “low voice = man.” Mercy’s two love interests – Samuel and Adam – are both intriguing, dominant characters, but Mercy is the protagonist, and she’s often solo in a world of male power. I liked the way Patricia Briggs didn’t let this define her heroine. Mercy is her own woman, with her own power. So, on second thought, I’m glad she’s a mechanic, because when I think about it, she’s not in that line of work because she – or Briggs – has something to prove. Mercy’s just good at it. I’m really happy I found this series, because as far as novels go in this subgenre, Briggs is good at it too. And I agree with Lorelei King: “I am very grateful that there are so many wonderful women writers of speculative fiction, because – generally speaking – a book written by a woman will have a female narrator – so more jobs for the girls, which is a good thing.”