When you talk of talented writers under 40, Benjamin Percy is a name that must come up. A list of his awards—mostly for visceral short stories that are as elegant and lilting as Irish ballads yet possess a raw violence beneath—would take up more space than this review allows.
His second novel is Red Moon, a fat, multilayered page-turner that has fans of Percy and lycanthropy alike gnashing their teeth in anticipation. Yes, it’s about werewolves, but it is also about coming of age, young love, racism, xenophobia, warfare’s moral complexities and the zeitgeist of 21st-century America. In other words, Percy went big.
In Red Moon’s alternative world, humans and werewolves—they prefer to be called Lycans, thank you—have coexisted forever. Living worldwide, but with a sovereign Lycan state—in the manner of Israel—Lycans are required by law to take Lupex to keep from changing with the full moon. The Lycan Republic is policed by American armed forces, which are increasingly looked upon as occupiers. American patrols are often targeted by insurgents, from full-on attacks to IEDs. Sound familiar?
In Percy’s alternative world, the decades-long peace between humans and werewolves has been broken.
When Lycan terrorists target American airliners, the innocent and guilty alike are rounded up, killed or disappear, and the lives of American teenagers Claire Forrester and Patrick Gamble change forever. Claire is a Lycan, while Patrick’s father serves with the Army in the Lycan Republic. Their complex existences eventually intersect, and both will play key roles in the violent dawning of a new world.
As a Percy character might say, when you let fly with a one-two punch combination, some blows may miss. Occasionally, the allegory is a bit heavy-handed, but parables aren’t known for their subtlety. The book’s white-knuckle excitement more than atones for a little emotional bias. At its spellbinding best, Red Moon is a cross between Stephen King and the Michael Chabon of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, two very different writers who both give plausible wings to absurdity. If you haven’t read Percy, get started.