I have belatedly added my thoughts on last week’s story, so now on to “The Cage“, which as a couple of people note, appeared as part of a paranormal romance/urban fantasy month at Tor.com. This was a bit of a stumbling block for, say, Bob Blough, although it seems to have won him over:
“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica is more interesting than the urban fantasies and paranormal romances offered this month because it’s not simply regurgitating the tropes of those specific subgenres. Unfortunately, it does involve werewolves (albeit, a standard horror trope) and so I had to work hard to become interested in the story. The writing is much better and the characters are characters instead of ciphers, but the story about a young girl needing to be caged each month at the full moon is old and tired as well. The characters and writing style do make up for these cliches to a certain degree, so I give it a qualified thumbs up.
Matt Hilliard had issues with the worldbuilding:
In fact, I spent the entire story struggling with the worldbuilding. Not the picture it paints of Vancouver, which seemed readily believable (and probably based to a large degree on the author’s experience there), but of everything having to do with the werewolves. It seems that werewolves successfully hid the fact they even existed right up to 2002, but now are helpless in the face of anti-werewolf vigilantes. Most of the action of the story revolves around the struggle to deal with a baby werewolf, and while that was an interesting spin on the werewolf concept, one I hadn’t seen before, it again doesn’t make sense given the story’s invented history. The werewolf’s surrogate mother comes from a long line of werewolves, and yet she seems to be inventing procedures for raising a werewolf baby from first principles. She knows a werewolf society that will take the child in but for reasons never articulated they will only do so at age five, even though it’s clearly in their best interest to keep poorly constrained baby werewolves from bringing disrepute and thus further persecution on werewolves as a whole. Also, I don’t know anything about Canadian law, but the villain apparently traveled to Canada, found a werewolf’s associate, tortured this person to get the werewolf’s location, went there and killed her, and now is in danger of escaping conviction because he said it was self defense. How is that even remotely believable? What about the whole torture thing? Was that self defense too?
Lois Tilon wasn’t convinced by the premise either:
If werewolves, like the normal kind, are pack animals, isolating the puppy is not the way to raise it, and waiting until it is five years old would be much too late for socialization at its apparent rate of development.
The author seems to have gone to a certain amount of trouble to establish her protagonist’s sexual ambiguity in the first scenes, but if this was her intention, it was undercut by the illustration and the too-cutesy blurb: The littlest werewolf has two mommies.
Although it didn’t tip off Pam Phillips:
The tone is light, well sprinkled with chuckles. A pleasant bit of fluff, with just enough peril to keep it from getting too nice.
There is a bit of a gender detection test, which I flunked, despite several obvious clues. Worse, it wasn’t until the third read that I realized that almost everyone in the story is a woman. Except the villains. It all seems utterly normal, which is the point. Eventually, even a lazy reader like me will figure it out. For anyone else who feels dumb about this, the baby is a little clue-impaired himself.
Chad Orzel divines a lack of substance:
The closest thing to a Serious Point in this is having the innocent werewolf saved by Vancouver’s lesbian community banding together to throw a wild party, about which the best thing I can say is that it doesn’t hammer home the parallel between gay rights and supernatural rights as hard as it might. It’s not a story you can hate– it’s a little too insubstantial for that, plus there’s the adorable werewolf puppy– but there’s not a lot here to love, either. It’s cute and clever, and that’s about it.
Evan seems to have liked it most:
Since I don’t read a lot of PR books, I might be missing the people who’re trying to subvert the conventions of the genre, but this is the best piece that I’ve read so far in that vein. Werewolf hunters as psychopaths and sadists rather than bad-ass superheroes is a subversion that resonates with a lot of my complaints about the entire genre, not just its PR subsections (cyberpunk did us a disservice, I think).
The thematic spine of the story is, of course, the ties here between othered communities. Normally, an LGBT community (or another outsider community) springing to the defense of ‘monsterkind’ here would be a bit obvious, but somehow she manages it here without making it too terribly unsubtle. Normally outsider communities don’t like to go around borrowing trouble, but in larger cities, there’s a sense that the more people who band together the more powerful you become. So it makes sense, narrative-wise that the whole community that this women has access to would come out and stand up. This isn’t simple, of course. Just witness the difficulties transgender persons have had getting properly represented by the ‘mainstream’ LGBT organizations. It’d have amped up the realism a bit more to show the phonecalls that she made, so that we could see not just who came, but who couldn’t be bothered and who actively didn’t want to come.
I also like how government is presented as complicated, with multiple levels and factions. Too often, especially in literature coming from the notional left, or from any non-centrist ideological position, that government is one single block oozing evil and simpering henchmen. The evocation of this here wasn’t necessary to the plot, but I thought that it was a nice touch all the same.
Any more for any more?