Lily Yu is a sensitive – she can sense magic. It’s a useful skill and certainly helps her a lot as a detective on the San Diego police force, though it hardly replaces good ol’ policing. Certainly not when a brutal murder seems to have been committed by one of the Lupi – a werewolf.
The culprit seems immediately obvious – far too immediately obvious and an alibi addition certainly points to him being framed and, perhaps, the lupi being discredited. But the bodies start piling up, the evidence mounts and Lily isn’t sure who she can trust. Especially as dark ancient forces who everyone thinks are 400 years gone are muddying the waters
Then there’s her disturbing relationship with Rule, the accused werewolf. The compelling, supernatural bond between them is certainly a distraction.
Lily is a police detective who actually does detective work and thinks and reasons and plans it through. It seems odd in a genre that is full of PIs and cops and protagonists who work with the cops that these traits should be so rare, but they are. Far too many detectives in this genre rely entirely on their woo-woo to do all the work for them – or they just make a nuisance of themselves until the big bad tries to kill them
But Lily investigates, she uses police procedures, she cares about chain of evidence, she cares about warrants and laws and legalities. She uses logic and thought and deduction and police work. She faces office politics and has to navigate it as well as her genuine connections with the police on the force. Yes, she has woo-woo, but it’s not sufficient to replace police work, it enhances and adds to her abilities as a cop but doesn’t change her from being a detective to being a magical deus ex. And yes, she doesn’t exactly solve this present case through official channels, but she does work within them and exhaust them first.
Other interesting elements include federal agents who aren’t the evil clueless ones: not that I have any problem with police being less than saints, especially ones who seem to work with vast power and little accountability, – but I do appreciate a skilled detective working with the forces of law rather than showing them up with their super special specialness of extra special – especially since there is still that hope of legality and respect for at least the appearance of procedure. It’s interesting for sheer uniqueness if nothing else. It’s quite refreshing to see the federal woo-woo department arrive and not say “aha, we shall now squabble like children over the case!” but actually work together.
The world is excellent – it’s huge with many layers that are referenced and touched on. There’s information elegantly woven into the story so we actually get a really good idea of these different creatures and realms and gods and how they fit in. All of this has enough detail to actually give you more than just a name, but not so much as to actually derail the plot with lots of irrelevant information.
The writing in general is massive fun and moves the story along at a perfect rate. Everything isn’t lined up simplistically in a linear railroad, but nor is the story clogged with side plots and distractions. We have description without excess, scene setting without rambling, world building without infodumping – a nice balance all round
Despite loving this book, there were things that still paralleled tropes I do not like and/or find deeply problematic. But they often have twists that make them different from usual.
Firstly, all Lupi are men. Whyyyy? I just don’t even come close to understanding this. Why is it necessary to have an all male werewolf society? It’s not the first time I’ve seen it and it probably won’t be the last but it still bemuses me. What is this desperate urge to ensure female werewolves are so few and far between?
Unlike other books with this trope, the pack doesn’t exclude women. We have female doctors and family who join the pack, female experts who are clearly considered competent and capable in their fields and who are obviously precious and valued members of the clan. So I can’t say the trope was even introduced to create the standard “one woman surrounded by men” setting that werewolf novels so often seem to thrive on; because there are women there. Is it an attempt to keep women out of combat roles? Keep them in a support capacity and leave only Lily up front kicking arse? I suspect it may be this because they also have a culture of never harming women and protecting and sheltering women – don’t get me wrong, a werewolf culture of never harming women is a blessed change from the repeated portrayals of angry alphas growing and roaring at women for their terrible defiance – feels a lot like womenfolk being put on a delicate pedestal of gentleness.
Then, of course, there’s always Lily’s grandmother who challenges the idea (and is awesome) extremely well.
Secondly, we have a Lily and Rule’s relationship having that nasty woo-woo forced attraction in the middle of it. The goddess of the werewolves creates “Chosen”, which is apparently the divine equivalent of grabbing two people and smooshing them together while yelling “now kisssss!”
I don’t like it, I don’t like anything that contravenes the consent of the couple and don’t find it slightly romantic. The Chosen woo-woo forces them to stay extremely close to each other or they become dizzy and fall over, it makes it near impossible to be near each other without touching and ramps up an almost irresistible sexual attraction between them. In fact, an actual irresistible attraction which Rule says, if unfulfilled, will drive them both insane. On the plus side, while the Chosen status has all kinds of religious significance to Rule and his pack, Lily is firmly on the side of “no no, oh hell no!” and has a lot of excellent thinking and discussion about choice. She openly refers to it as being forced and it does bother her, a lot. She seeks to find limits to its influence, she makes it clear it doesn’t dictate love, she even terms it as a “sexual geas”. She challenges it. But, ultimately, she does accept it and their relationship is built on this foundation.
There is also a lot of appropriation going on. While there is a lot of complexity to how the Lupi in particular (and, in the background, the supernatural in general) react to the modern world and even their own concerns about being forced to assimilate with human society and debating how much they want “civil rights” protections, these concerns are generally presented as the opinions of the enemy – which is a rather simplistic dismissal of what is often a very serious concern for marginalised groups. And the comparison with marginalised groups is concern – there are direct parallels drawn between prejudice against the Lupi and racial bigotry (even if many of these are countered or ameliorated soon after they are made, they are still very prevalent). We’ve spoken before about the issues of appropriation marginalised histories like this, especially drawing direct parallels when using a supernaturally powerful, highly privileged and highly dangerous being as a stand in for actual persecuted minorities. As an extra dislike, there are moments when Lily expects persecuted minorities - like Black people – to be extra understanding of the “plight” of Lupi which is all kinds of off.
There are a lot of POC in the book – including Lily Yu herself. Lily manages to hit that balance between not being stereotyped (she does know martial arts – but she’s also the female protagonist cop in an urban fantasy story – most protagonists in these situations tend to) and not being completely divorced from her culture. She’s also aware of how her race and gender affect her in her job and comments on that. We have her grandmother as a source of a lot of woo-woo, but we also have her mother who is certainly not woo-woo orientated which is a nice contrast. Also, her grandmother is several kinds of awesome. We have a large number of POC aside from Lily and her family, most crowds or groups will contain POC, the police, the people she meets at clubs, the people she works with, the lupi have a POC doctor – she’s Native American and yes she is a shaman – but she’s also a doctor as well which is emphasised as much, if not far more, than her woo-woo. There’s an effort to make most of the groups we meet diverse and to have POC in a variety of different roles (though with a somewhat exception of the Lupi themselves they being described as generally pale – but that was only raised to reference Benedict who definitely isn’t).
We have Lily who is, obviously, a capable woman and several women around her – the doctor for the Lupi, her grandmother – who are the same. I do want her to spend more time with other women though and, perhaps, to have a female friend. There are good female characters around her and she doesn’t have the contempt/hate for women we’ve seen elsewhere, but other than her grandmother she doesn’t have a lot of women close to her either – I’m hoping that will develop now we’re past the introduction book. Of course, not all women are wonderful and good – far from it – but the different women, even when not in major roles, help a long way to balance that. We also have a very mature and deeper view of a woman in a semi-open relationship and a very sympathetic and protective view of a prostitute (albeit one that cast her as a victim automatically).
GBLT people we had 2, kind of. The first was an almost un-named bit part in the beginning who existed to really affirm Rule’s heterosexuality before we even met him. Second, one of the women Lliy interviews says she’s bisexual but seems to do so primarily to try and unnerve or make Lily uncomfortable. It’s a shame and doesn’t match the better representation of other marginalised groups in the book.
So in all, did I like this book? Oh yes. Will I read the next one? Certainly. Is it one of my favourites? It has the potential to be.
Edit: This is one of the few times when we find ourselves unable to agree on the Book of the Week. Renee found the book slow and clunky, with tropes she hates and it started by plunging her into the plot with no explanation leaving her struggling to find what is going on. She would rate this book:
Sparky thinks Renee is wrong like a wrong thing with extra wrongness. This is one of the few times when we find ourselves close to writing a review war because normally we agree within 0.5 fangs of each other.