Most stories about werewolves are less about transforming into slobbering beasts and more about the toils of dating one.
Red Moon, however, examines the monster as a Jekyll and Hyde beast in a post-9/11 take on the werewolf myth. Recognisable historical events like Iraq, the Holocaust and the Occupy movement are all re-told by replacing both the victims and the enemies of history with Lycans.
Author Benjamin Percy adopts a one-in, one-out approach and chapters switch between the three main characters. The first is Patrick Gamble, an ordinary teen who boards a plane and emerges hours later, the only passenger alive.
It’s a bold and bloody way to begin, with clear parallels to suicide bombers. The attack is unflinchingly described by the omniscient narrator that can’t seem to tear his eyes away from the scene, like a particularly nasty piece of road kill. “A woman’s face tears away like a mask. Ropes of intestine are yanked out of a belly. A neck is chewed through in a terrible kiss.”
The present tense propels us forward and just as we’ve aligned ourselves with Patrick’s plight, we’re torn away to a teenage girl’s bedroom moments before government agents burst through the front door and murder her parents.
Next chapter, we’re watching as a debauched presidential candidate declares that dogs do not have the same rights as humans, so why should those infected with prions (an animal-borne pathogen)? As it turns out, Red Moon is as much about disease as it is about terrorism, xenophobia, human rights and occupation, making the reader consider how these issues affect out own world.
There are multiple threats throughout the book, ranging from the incidental rapist in a clown mask to the more ambiguous and sinister uncle with mixed intentions.
The most striking of them all is the so-called Tall Man, who we imagine to be a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man and Harry Potter’s nemesis Lord Voldemort. This story is very rooted in reality, though, as Percy sets up a recognisable stage for his players, who vary in their degrees of morality. No one fits the mould of hero but their respective journeys make sense of their actions, no matter how depraved their may seem.
The main criticism is the novel’s wearisome length. It takes a very long time for the separate strands of story to inevitably become entwined, and intricately detailed passages become tempting to skim read.
This knack for poetic descriptions is both the author’s strength and his weakness, at once making passages sag with weight as well as bringing scenes close to live action with surround sound – a blind woman’s eyes are depicted as “milky puddles that seem with every blink ready to stream down her cheeks.”
You can’t deny that Red Moon has been thoughtfully put together and written with care and love for every page, but the payoff needs to come quicker. When it does, it’s emotionally satisfying and gives enough closure to be enjoyed as a standalone novel, with the door left slightly ajar for potential spin offs.