Home > Dresden Files, Requested For Dissection > Fantasy League Round 7: Moon Called

Fantasy League Round 7: Moon Called

Moon Called is the first book in an urban fantasy series by Patricia Briggs.  So far, it’s kind of like the Dresden Files, except not at all.  (Don’t worry — I’m sure we’ll dissect those in detail later on.)  For bonus points, it’s set around where I’m from, which is cool.

That said, it was a pretty good Christmas gift, so what else should I do but dissect it?  As ever, there are spoilers.  Lots of spoilers.

Mercedes Thompson, the protagonist, is shown here.  She does have the pawprint tattoo.  The other tattoos aren't mentioned particularly, and she definitely doesn't go around dressed like that all the time.  Inconvenient for things like fixing cars and fighting crazy werewolves.

Mercedes Thompson, the protagonist, is shown here. She does have the pawprint tattoo. The other tattoos aren’t mentioned particularly, and she definitely doesn’t go around dressed like that all the time. Inconvenient for things like fixing cars and fighting crazy werewolves.

The Broken Masquerade

We’ve discussed the Masquerade before.  This is another story where the fact that the fae, witches, werewolves, and vampires (oh, my), and various other magical persons keep their abilities hidden from the general public.


Here the Masquerade is far from perfect — and is in the process of shattering.  The Fae, in particular, are largely out, and have been for thirty years — though a significant portion of that population chooses to stay quiet.  While modern society should have been butterflied away into something completely different, it hasn’t — and I’m willing to accept that for the sake of the story.  Meanwhile, the Fae are frequently feared and persecuted, partly due to religious pressure.  It’s still odd that most of them who are “out” have chosen to go off to live on Fae reservations.  As if separating them from everyone else would solve the problem…

The other magical groups aren’t out, yet, due to seeing how badly the Fae have been treated and since they’ve been able to keep quiet so far.  But that’s going to change.

Holy Xanatos Gambit, Batman

There was… an impressive bit of manipulation on the part of the bad guy.  It’s a lot easier to explain the antagonist’s desired results, rather than going through the main plot.  … and there’s too many details to go through, really.  First thing to note:  Werewolfism isn’t genetic.  It’s transmitted only by a werewolf seriously savaging a normal human, and having the human survive the process.  Our bad guy is a werewolf, and has been one for a while.

Now, the bad guy, Gerry, does a bunch of bad stuff (forcing people to become werewolves, experimenting on them, killing people, kidnapping, torture…) in an apparent ploy to force someone to challenge Bran, the Alpha werewolf for all of North America.  Bran knows that the FBI and company have enough information to figure out about werewolves, and he wants to go public so he can control how the werewolves are portrayed.  Other werewolves don’t like this idea, and so, challenging him and replacing him is the plan.

Gerry uses this only as a cover.  He’s doing all this bad stuff so that Bran thinks he’s behind it, and so that his father, who knows him, is convinced that he’d never be involved in it.  The goal is to force his father to fight Bran.  Gerry’s father is a recently-Changed werewolf.  He was talked into it by Gerry, as a means of curing his father’s terminal cancer.  The catch is, he was a soft-hearted guy and isn’t able to “control his wolf” as a consequence.  (If he can’t learn, he’ll be killed by Bran, since he’ll be a danger to himself and anyone around him.)  Gerry is trying to set up a fight, because if his father is forced to fight as his wolf, he’ll gain the control he needs.  Of course, he’s hired a witch so that his father is sure to win.

… yeah.  I keep thinking of Mr. Freeze.  Gerry’s plans are thwarted by our heroes, of course, but I’m still impressed — he had expected to “win” no matter how things turned out for himself personally.  Nonetheless… surely there was a way of doing this that didn’t involve all the associated convolutions of experiments and mercenaries and… stuff.  I suppose that Gerry thought that being accused of something that bad while “innocent” was the only thing that could get his father sufficiently riled up, but still.

Powers As Needed

With all the shapeshifting that happens, at least they bother to lampshade it — change in mass?  “Magic.  How does it work?” is roughly the main character’s response.  And the speed-healing of the werewolves nicely requires lots of input calories.

The increase in Mercy’s apparent powers with time bothers me a bit more.  She’s a skinwalker, able to instantly turn herself into a coyote and with some sensory bonuses.  But there’s more to it than that.  Some of this is foreshadowed — she comments on how she can sense the werewolves’ magic throughout, and only later does it become clear that being able to sense other kinds of magic is unusual.  And then, it turns out that she’s actually immune or highly resistant to most forms of magic — werewolf power, vampire charms, witch’s curses…  (Which is why there are so few skinwalkers — the vampires killed most of them off a good long while ago.)  This becomes an important plot point, and it feels a bit sudden when she does start using the anti-magic stuff.

This happens with the werewolves, too.  While they all clearly have super-strength and speed-healing in whichever form, multiple werewolves have more than that — for instance, at the end, suddenly forcing all werewolves in earshot to come when they call and speak the truth.  This comes completely out of the blue.  Why not use that to find the werewolf nasties you’re looking for earlier?  On the other thand, then the humans they’re with might kill the hostages…

The Soap Opera

There are also parts of the story where I wanted to do a headdesk.  These are mostly the reasons why I don’t like soap operas or comedies much.  By the end, Mercy Thompson has no less than two werewolves who are romantically interested in her.  One of whom is an ex-boyfriend staying at her place for a while until he finds his own.  And she’s dating the other.  And the two of them are a bit… competitive.  Can anybody say, awkward?

Werewolf society, such as it is, is even worse.  It’s mostly men (who are more likely to survive the Change for whatever reason) with a small number of women.  And only the men are ever in charge, because of Alpha/dominant male psychology of werewolves.  Or something like that.  The family/pack structure of the whole thing makes it very soap-opera like, with drama bonus on killing off werewolves who go rogue.  The whole setup forces Mercy to be careful at times about not acting like she’s in charge even when she’s the one who knows what’s going on and what should be done.  Some werewolves would take that the wrong way, as a challenge, and bring out the claws.  As Mercy complains — they need to pay a visit to the 21st century.

And maybe a therapist.

Suggestion Box

This review was brought to you by my brother, who gave me the book for Christmas.  Jumping off from that “suggestion,” we like requests for dissection!  If you’ve got a good speculative fiction item (especially books, but we’re not too picky about medium) that one of us should have a look at and then pull apart, feel free to drop us a line or comment below.

  1. 2013/01/11 at 8:47 am

    If you’re fishing for recommendations, I thought the Newsflesh trilogy was an interesting take on zombies, despite the fact that we hit peak zombie a few years ago. The first book “Feed” stands on its own fairly well, sequels “Deadline” and “Blackout” less so.

    • michaelbusch
      2013/01/12 at 8:02 am

      Rachel may disagree on this one, but I find the entire zombie apocalypse theme to be rather absurd, for the reasons that we described here: https://clementsgame.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/scifi-round-eight/ .

      Re. Newsflesh in particular: I had only heard of Feed, and didn’t know about the sequels. The character’s awareness of previous zombie fiction is a good touch, but doesn’t go far enough – the virus (which is impossible in at least three ways in the first place) would have been fought differently. And given the post-apocalyptic vibe, I have trouble with anything recognizable as the current political parties being preserved after a couple of decades. Fiscal and defense and even many social policy disputes would become irrelevant to survival.

      One interesting thing about both zombie and vampire stories, and even werewolves as seen above, is that as the general theme becomes more popular it gets replicated with different standard plots that have only slight variations on them. There are vampire detective stories, werewolf soap operas, and zombie romantic comedies. There’s a lot of follow-the-leader, but in order to sell a work has to have something that’s unique, so writers copy-and-paste their favorite plots into a setting appropriate to the fad.

      I suppose when enough different products exist to cover the space of allowed plots, the fad burns itself out – as you said, there was a time of peak zombie. Things can be rejuvenated when a new and exciting twist on an old plot finally shows up. For example: all of the robinsonade stories set in space.

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