Benjamin Percy, Red Moon (Grand Central Publishing, 2013; 544 pp.; $25.99)
Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon is an exciting, political horror novel that envisions a world in which there are two classes of people living in the United States: those infected with the lycan disease (werewolves) and those who are not. Imagine the 1960s segregation between Whites and Blacks in which peaceful protest has failed and one group has claws.
The primary characters in the novel are Chase Williams, a former war hero and now the libidinous governor of Oregon; Claire Forrester, a lycan teenager living in a suburban neighborhood with her liberal parents; and Patrick Gamble, a young man transformed by the media into a hero after surviving a lycan terrorist attack.
Claire and Patrick begin the novel with the same concerns as any other teenagers: they are wrestling with their identity and attempting to fit in despite their remarkable characteristics. Watching them transform from children into adults under these extraordinary circumstances is a moving testament to the human capacity for survival.
Chase’s development is more complex. He begins by representing everything reprehensible about our government: he plays on the public’s hopes and fears for personal gain. However, Percy makes him so charming it is difficult not to like him, and it is fascinating to watch as he becomes that which he most fears.
Percy is truly at his best when he explores these complex characters such as Miriam, Claire’s aunt, and Nick Desai, a scientist desperate to create a vaccine for the lycan disease. Some secondary characters, particularly the villains, are a little less intriguing. As with a few scenes that mirror too closely other fictional books and movies, the motivations of both lycan and anti-lycan bad guys are a bit too familiar. These echoes were disappointing, but never lasted too long before Percy would launch into action that crackled with energy and originality.
For example, in addition to the lycans, like Miriam and Claire, who reside in the United States, there is an entire country of lycans, the Lupine Republic, whose Uranium mines are integral to the U.S.’s energy program. Due to our dependence on its energy, the U.S. armed forces occupy the country. This is a clever mirror of our own reliance on the oil from, and our occupation of, the Middle East. Everything from the opening scene in which lycan terrorists use airplanes to attack the U.S. to the extension of the Patriot Act forces us to think critically of the post-9/11 world in which we reside.
While it is unlikely that Percy had this in mind, Chase’s call for a database of lycan also forces an examination of recent post-Newton calls to keep a record of the mentally ill. It is these parallels that demonstrate the tragic timelessness of Percy’s work, and that let us know that Red Moon is no simple horror novel.
A few stock characters and familiar scenes aside, Percy’s terse narration drives the plot forward and makes it nearly impossible to stop reading. That fast pace along with the compelling political analysis and complex central characters make this a must-read for fans of the genre and a worthwhile dip for those looking for a speculative approach to political analysis.