Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Full Blooded (Jessica McClain #1) by Amanda Carlson

Jessica McClain is unique in that she is the only female born to a full blooded werewolf family.  This makes her pack extremely uncomfortable, as there have long been rumors that a female werewolf would destroy the pack.  When Jessica manages to go through puberty without changing, the fear subsides and after battling with her alpha father, Jessica manages to live a life incognito as a human.  Unfortunately for Jessica her non werewolf status does not last and she shifts one day without warning. 

Jessica goes from leading an almost anonymous life under a fake identity, to quickly being hunted as the prize she is.  Though she tries to deny that she can change, when she manifests into a Lycan, the first in thousands of years, this greatly elevates the threat level.  Jessica quickly finds herself on the run, unaware if she can trust the mercenary who owes her father a blood debt to keep her safe.

Full Blooded is the first in the Jessica McClain series and as first books go, Carlson did a good job introducing us to her world, though there were some problems with pacing.  From the very beginning, Carlson hinted that there are all manner of super natural creatures but she gave no direct warning of vampires and the balance of power they negotiate with the wolves.  This made the revelation of the threat the Queen posed feel like it came out of nowhere.  

In many ways, Full Blooded was very formulaic and felt like a book put together by the numbers.  One female werewolf - check.  Said female werewolf is sensitive yet full of snark - check.  Said singular werewolf develops mystical powers - check.  Female werewolf a threat because of her gender and considered a prize - check. Love interest uses proprietary language like "mine" - check. Dead mother - check.  I assume you get the picture.  If Full Blooded were a test on how to write a female werewolf utilizing all of the appropriate tropes which have become normalized, Carlson would have aced it. 

One of the things I like is that Carlson took pains to introduce a number of characters of colour, the problem however is that due to the nature of the book itself, they ended up serving the protagonist.  Everyone vowed to keep her safe and to keep her secrets and this of course was covered under pack law, with the exception of her neighbor Juanita, who spoke with the most horrendous spanish accent you can imagine.  Clearly, Juanita was meant to be a sort of comic relief and I found her portrayal to be offensive.  

Full Blooded is obviously a female driven book and yet the relationships were thin at best.  Due to having to go undercover, Jessica really didn't have friendships.  The only two reoccurring women in her life are Juanita, whom she pushed aside and ignored until she proved herself useful and her secretary Marcy.  Her interactions with Marcy involved small talk about men, work and thanking her for using her magic for protection. I am willing to give Jessica's interactions with Marcy a pass for now, assuming that because this is only the first book that they will grow over time. 

Jessica did manage to have sex in this novel and though she didn't feel any shame about this the next day, the build up was filled with a lot of questions of whether or not participating would make her a slut.  In fact, each and every time Jessica was aroused, it didn't originate organically from her but was spurred on by her wolf.  Jessica at one point tells her wolf that  she will not continually be lifting tail for men.  In terms of sexual interactions though, it is worth mentioning that Carlson did include a scene which very basically outlined consent.  This is something that normally does not appear in the werewolf books, as it is normally suggested that consent is always implied and not something that needs to be sought after.

Obviously, one of my concerns is the treatment of gender and in this Carlson employed the same misogynist language which unfortunately is a cultural norm.  Common insults for the women of this book were, "bitch," "slut," and the ever popular "whore."  These slurs were not solely used by men but by women to attack each other.  There was never any indication that  such language is extremely misogynist and it passed without comment.  Jessica in particular was quick to utilize such language when she felt concerned about another woman sniffing around her man.  If a book cannot be bothered to include real relationships between women and commonly utilizes misogynist slurs with no indication that they are problematic, it's clear that when it comes to gender, it fails.

Once again we have another book without a single GLBT character.  Inclusion would not have been a hard thing and there really is no justification for the erasure.  I wonder if this will be yet another urban fantasy series which will get comfortable including a GLBT character later in the series, when it is established and presumably safe. Yes, that's snark.

For all of the faults with Full Blooded, I cannot say that I was bored or that I even struggled to get into the book.  I was well aware of reading a formulaic model but I enjoyed Carlson's story telling, particularly the werewolf folklore. Full Blooded is a good foundation to expand into a very interesting series if Carlson in future books learns to trust her voice and step away from the  formula.  Full Blooded ended on a cliffhanger which absolutely made me want to see where this story is going.  Perhaps I would be more upset about the cliffhanger if I had to wait for the second book in this series but since it is sitting on tablet waiting to be read, I'm fine.  

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley