As a fan of the "Underworld" film franchise, I charged into the lycan world of Benjamin Percy's "Red Moon" with wild abandon and was rewarded with a remarkably rendered speculative history of America, as well as a gripping, grisly horror story.
The rabid carnage that opens "Red Moon" takes place in a flight over an America under attack, a world where millions have contracted "lobos," a highly infectious disease caused by a lycan's bite, which turns humans into werewolves. This ferocious attack sets in motion a violent lycan revolution, a resistance movement decades in the making against a government that — despite the fact that lycan attacks on humans are rare — has "enforced medication and blood-testing," decreed "transformation is forbidden," and sent occupying troops to the Lupine Republic, a territory "twenty thousand square miles bordering Finland and Russia," a "wintry ruined mantle of a country."
The collateral damage from the attack also brings together the novel's star-crossed lovers, Claire and Patrick (one infected and one not), and forces Claire's aunt (a fierce warrior once part of the lycan resistance), a two-faced sleazy politician and his officious toady — along with a host of other memorable characters — to take sides in an encroaching war for lycan rights and control of a vaccine that would destroy the disease.
No question this is speculative fiction on steroids, a muscular political allegory for a post 9/11 world. In Percy's plagued fictional reality the allegorical connections to current affairs are complex and clever. Read lycans as citizens fighting against occupation, or lycans as immigrants fighting for their rights or lycans as any "other" fighting for identity in a world where fear and ignorance rule; or all of the above.
The novel doesn't rush to its final gory confrontation; instead, with a poetic intimacy in his metaphors and detailed back stories for his key characters, Percy's narrative shifts to a cabin in the woods, a torture chamber, an underground prison, a war camp and a college (all places where the main characters find themselves) and there they face monsters on all sides — and so do we.
Toward the end of the novel, after the government has tightened the Patriot Act's strangulation on lycans, a history professor and member of the resistance calls his students to arms.
"We are at an interesting juncture," he says. "When I was your age I made a lot of noise. I have noticed your generation doesn't make much noise. I find you disgustingly polite. I would encourage you to take to the streets. I would encourage you to be rude and obnoxious. Make yourself heard. Howl."
Carole E. Barrowman is co-author of the "Hollow Earth" series. She teaches English at Alverno College in Milwaukee.