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[Book Reviews] Werewolf Marines

Mon, 2014-12-15 10:32
Still way behind on book reviews (I have an entire list open in another tab), but these two books were so unusual that they deserve their own post. I spent a lot of last week babysitting *nix installs, which has long periods of waiting in it. I learned through Sherwood Smith's blog that her co-author on their recent book, the "Yes Gay YA" one, had written a bunch of other things too under different pen names. Among those were two romances about werewolf Marines. I cracked up at the premise; it's such a trope collision that it's got to be glorious. But despite not being a big fan of romance (I particularly dislike the stock Harlequin het scripts, ugh) and not being a big fan of werewolves (so much werewolf stuff is either straight-up horror, which I dislike, or stupid fights for dominance which make me roll my eyes), I went for it. Basically, I trusted the author to do a good job despite the typical conventions of the genres... and she did. Werewolf Marines! [grin] During the writing of this post, I discovered that she talks about the books here. Things that made me like the books enough to buy the second one after having read the first one:

Likable characters. I'm totally a character driver reader, I don't enjoy a book unless there's at least one character in it whom I can root for. Most of the time I end up hating werewolf characters because they're uncontrollably violent jerks. That wasn't the case here (or, at least, wasn't necessarily the case -- there are bad wolves and good wolves), and all four book protagonists are sympathetic, likable people. I was rooting for them. They're well fleshed out, they have interests and families and things that happen offscreen, they're not cardboard cutouts, and most happy-making-ily, they're not stereotypes. One of the female leads is a voluptuous woman, she's a little insecure about her body, and her super-ripped werewolf Marine love interest thinks she is GORGEOUS. Yeah! I cheered. I can't tell you how many times I have had to convince my partners that I thought they were super attractive when I did... many people I have dated have been hung up on "you're so athletic and I'm kind of fat and you must be just putting up with me". They get those cultural messages so much that it's hard for them to believe that someone with a gym-stereotype body could think that theirs is super hot. So I was delighted to see a relationship modeled where that type of dynamic is represented well, and she accepts that he thinks so, and they go on to be happy together. Pompoms!

Off-script romances. Both male leads are strong characters not threatened by female strength. Instead, they appreciate it. The ways in which the romance dynamic works out are different between the two books, but both were things very much not like the boundary-violating creepiness of many bodice-rippers. The female characters are smart and capable and have goals of their own. In one case, the male character is totally happy to play support staff to the female lead, and to help her accomplish her goals. In the other, their interests are kept at cross-purposes by a third party, and they have to work together to subvert Big Obvious Story Evil without it being clear that they're doing so. But there was no point in either book where I yelled "WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT AUGH" at any protagonist, heh. The story was blissfully free of those irritating moments where an otherwise intelligent character decides to do the most boneheaded thing possible because something something advance the plot. So, not only were the characters likable in themselves, but their motivations and interactions with their love interests were also satisfying. I'm not a big fan of how monogamous het romance usually gets written, but both versions of it were trope-subverting enough to delight me. This was love without being love at anyone's expense; there was no denigration of other types of relationships. Good job, author!

Diverse characters. This universe contains GLBT people who aren't just there to be the sassy friend, non-white protagonists, people who are gender-stereotypical and people who are not, smart strong empowered characters from all kinds of different backgrounds, protagonists with learning disabilities, male characters who are emotionally mature, characters who learn through the story arc to ask for help, loving families, oh yeah, and also clones and motorcycles and a Marine's duty to escape from captivity and fights against evil. Yeah!

Thoughtful treatment of PTSD. It's a major theme in both books, and the author's background as a PTSD therapist equips her particularly to write about it.

Neat-sounding new music to go look up (one of the characters is a DJ).

The books aren't perfect... if you're the kind of reader who wants a scientific explanation for how everything works (aka the folks who read fantasy as science fiction), you will be driven mad by the handwavy swiftness of "and then she shimmered and turned into a wolf and....". I'm perfectly willing to accept that as a conceit of the worldbuilding, but not everyone is. The opening "so my buddy was going to die so I had to turn him into a werewolf and bite him" may be similarly, er, hard to swallow... again, I just went with it as a framing of the world. The way the werewolf characters perceive each other by scent and pack-sense may not be to everyone's taste... I liked it mostly because of a really surprising overlap with my personal taste. (With men in particular, I am ridiculously pheromone-based. If you don't smell right to me, it's never going to work. A week or so before I read these books, I had a conversation with a female friend of mine about what "attractive" and "unattractive" smell like -- she's also strongly scent-based for attraction, but what she likes differs. For me, the match pheromone is sort of salt and pine and woodsmoke... kind of like clean sweat, in a forest. The run-away pheromone is super musky; ugh. Deer in rut is the total opposite of attractive. So I was surprised and highly amused when one protagonist had his scent described as "a campfire on salt flats" or some such. Heh! Someone shares my taste! That's such a weird super-particular thing; what are the odds of that?) But overall, I was surprised to like the books so much given that basically everything in the one-sentence genre description suggested that I'd hate them. I'm glad I decided to trust the author! Like haikujaguar's romances, maybe I don't dislike romance, I just dislike the mainstream formulas for same. With sympathetic awesome characters who don't run around being inexplicable jerks to each other the whole time, I kind of appreciate the happy endings. (Also, I have had fun blowing the minds of all of my friends this week telling them that I'm reading romance novels about werewolf Marines. [grin] It just rolls off the tongue; it's fun to say.)

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