Fantasy · Urban Fantasy

Moon Called

mooncalledby: Patricia Briggs

Moon Called is the first book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  It’s an urban fantasy series, with all the danger, mystery, and adventure implied by the genre.

As an urban fantasy, it works pretty well.  There are vampires, werewolves, and fairies, your usual fantasy mix.  Mercy, the main character, actually draws on Native American lore – she’s a shapeshifter – and is half Blackfoot.  I really liked that (how often do you see a Native American main character?) but Briggs also made her culturally white, which I have mixed feelings about.

Mercy, despite knowing her whole life that she inherited her powers from her Blackfoot father, makes no visible attempt to learn about her heritage.  When your heritage includes strong magical powers you know nothing about, that is a very questionable decision.  I feel like the author is taking the easy way out – she uses a Blackfoot as a main character, but in such a way that she doesn’t have to put any work into making the Blackfoot component culturally accurate, even though it would make a lot more sense if Mercy was actively trying to find out more about her heritage and connect with her father’s family.

(From the [spoiler alert for link] Wikipedia page about her – which you should read, as it’s hilarious – she doesn’t even attempt to find her father’s family until the 6th book, even though in the very first book it becomes clear there’s a lot about her powers she doesn’t know.)

The writing was decent – a little choppy and too much explaining here and there, but not terrible. The plot was well-paced and  it’s a quick and easy read.  I wasn’t terribly motivated to pick it up but once I started reading, I wanted to finish.  There was a bit of romance, which was the main point of nearly every interaction Mercy had with her two main love interests. That got annoying pretty damn fast. There were lots of moments where the sexual/romantic tension was completely unnecessary.

In the end, I didn’t like the book and I won’t be reading any of the sequels.  The book had some major problems with sexism and I’m afraid it’s just a deal breaker for me.

First of all, nearly every adult woman in the book actively dislikes Mercy.  The werewolf women all hate her because she can bear children and they can’t; apparently she was essentially shunned as a young child and teenager.  All of the werewolf women that she’s ever met, apparently, take an immediate dislike to her and treat her coolly.

Just think about that.  You probably know somebody who can’t have kids or struggled to conceive.  Try to imagine them hating a 14 yr old girl because she could, potentially, have children and they can’t.  Now try to imagine a whole town full of women who all hate the same young girl for that same reason.

It doesn’t paint a very flattering view of women, does it? And with the exception of one strong-willed and poor but plucky Latina single mother, who has about two lines, and a teenager, all the women in the book intensely dislike Mercy.  So we have a situation where every adult woman is bad, except for the main character and one Latina character.  (The same thing happens in 50 Shades of Grey and one of the better analysis I read described it thusly: non-white women aren’t competition for men’s attention and thus it’s okay for them to be good people because no (white and thus main character) man would be interested in them romantically.) And I know Mercy is half-Blackfoot but for the most part, she is written as a culturally white woman.

Besides the whole women-against-women problem, we have the men.  The love interests are domineering Alphas – like a wolf alpha – and spend much of their time manipulating Mercy and ordering her around. Her responses are childlike rebellions: mouthing off and cheeky but inconsequential actions.  Adults have serious, potentially relationship-ending conversations about this kind of provocation; only children think that fighting back with cutesy tactics will prove any sort of point.

Which brings me to my next point: The men are constantly losing control of themselves; they become violent and controlled by their emotions.  And it’s all excused because they’re werewolves and thus dominant alpha-males who can’t control themselves. The myth that men can’t control themselves because they’re so incredibly male is not only pure bullshit but extremely damaging in our society.

It isn’t an animalistic thing, because Mercy certainly doesn’t suffer from that problem.  And the women werewolves – few and far between; women, apparently, are too weak to survive the change – aren’t given enough voice in the book, despite its being completely overrun by werewolves, to see if they are controlled by their alpha tendencies. Either way, since the men are constantly losing control over women, and Mercy seems constantly afraid of the men she’s attracted to, it’s not a motif I’m willing to get behind.

The cast, despite having a female protagonist and being set in a world where magic could easily equalize any physical differences between the sexes, is almost entirely male.  The women are constantly having to be protected and it’s heavily implied, especially at the end, that all the “good” men are naturally going to be immediately, creepily, overprotective of any woman they find physically attractive.

To top it off, Mercy notes, several times, how sexist the werewolf society is and how the women werewolves depend entirely on their mates for their social standing. Charming.

It wasn’t all terrible, mind you, but sadly, the good points did not outweigh the bad.

If you like urban fantasy with a well-written female protagonist or tales of vampire and werewolves, you should give this one a try (but think critically about the treatment of women). If blatant sexism is a deal breaker or if you’re looking for a diverse cast and completely fresh approach to the urban fantasy genre, then this book probably isn’t for you.

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