Saturday, June 22, 2024

A Tail of Werewolves, Queerness, and Menopause

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Yes, you read that title correctly. Catherine Lundoff’s Silver Moon is a book about change, though not the usual changes we’re used to reading about in queer supernatural fiction. As with developing superpowers, more often than not supernatural change like vampirism or lycanthropy signal a focus on puberty. It makes sense. Suddenly discovering you have powers, feelings, senses, or urges you didn’t have previously is a key facet of puberty (see Spiderman). However, such things also accompany a Change that occurs for people with uteruses, just one that most fiction doesn’t bother to focus on: menopause. That’s right, this is a book about middle-aged werewolves and I, for one, am 100% here for it.

A Brief (Spoiler Free) Rundown

Becca Thornton, divorced, middle-aged and trying to embrace her quiet life, discovers that life still holds plenty of surprises when menopause comes with bonus lycanthropy. And she’s not the only one. The dull and seemingly peaceful town of Wolf’s Point has its own all-female werewolf pack and Becca is about to become its newest member. But it’s not all midnight meetings at the Women’s Club, monthly runs through the woods and keeping the town safe. Becca’s cute lesbian neighbor, Erin, is starting to haunt her dreams as well as her doorstep. And there are werewolf hunters in town and they’ve got Becca and the Wolf’s Point Pack in their sights.

The Good Stuff

As mentioned at the outset, this is a book about change of all kinds: natural, supernatural, relational, sexual. Lundoff weaves together menopause, later-in-life awakening of queer desire, and lycanthropy together into an inextricable and fascinating braid. In fact, menopause works surprisingly well as a metaphor for both the latter changes in Becca’s life without either of them being subsumed into the other. Becca’s body and life are changing in multiple ways, and it’s alternately intriguing and horrifying, as menopause can be. And, I imagine, what it probably feels like to find out you’re a magical werewolf destined to protect your home from invaders. I’ve heard about the former, the latter I’ll have to take Lundoff’s word for.

Yet, the interweaving of these three strands goes beyond the physical and emotional changes. Take the push-pull of Becca’s feelings for her neighbor Erin for example. As happens with those who come to their queer identity later in life, the ‘sudden’ awareness of such desires actually feels like puberty all over again, which we see in Becca’s internal processing of it all. She’s hot for Erin one minute, cold the next—just like her hot flashes, which are also connected to her being a werewolf and, well, you see how thoroughly these have been integrated, right?

Then you have Becca’s conflicted feelings about her werewolf Pack. Again, as with many who come to their queer desires later, Becca feels drawn to the sense of inclusion, of family, of coming home, that being part of the Pack entails. For the first time in her life since her husband left her, she has a community of women to support her and help her through her body’s changes. Just like as is so necessary for women going through menopause. Werewolf, queer woman, woman ‘of a certain age’—being surrounded by those like you eases the burden of doing any of these things alone. Each one is hard enough, but all three? That’s a lot.

On top of it, Becca has to face the changing circumstances of her ex-husband’s life and the ways that intrudes upon her own. I admit, throughout the book I kept wondering how this plot line fit in with the others. It didn’t seem to work as well and was the least developed and interesting of the significant changes in Becca’s life. However, by the time I finished the novel, it all came together. It may not be given as much focus, but it contributes to Becca’s journey in a narratively meaningful way.

As far as characters are concerned, I would have liked a bit more depth to some of them. This is a plot-heavy book, and I think some of the characterization suffers from that. However, Becca is a fully realized character with a compelling internal journey, so even if some of the secondary characters come of flatter in comparison, it’s not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story.

And I did enjoy it. It’s a quick read, but highly entertaining—like sitting down to watch a couple episodes of Buffy, but without the teen angst and uncomfortable sexual and sometimes sexist implications. I honestly mean this as a compliment. I loved Buffy growing up. With hindsight has come awareness of some of Buffy‘s many issues, so having other, better media that fills the supernatural fantasy hole in my life is great. Silver Moon fits into that category quite comfortably.

Potential Drawbacks

As I said, this is a plot-heavy book. For some, this might be a drawback when reading it, particularly when it comes to larger worldbuilding concerns. Readers looking for in-depth explanations of the magic behind Wolf’s Point’s middle-aged oriented lycanthropy won’t have much to sink their teeth into. It’s one thing that I would like to see in the sequel, which is forthcoming next year. When I finished, I had so many questions about the history of Wolf’s Point, the culture and rituals surrounding it, how it works, and even why it works. Why do only middle-aged women turn into werewolves in Wolf’s Point? What are they protecting other than a nebulous concept of ‘the land’? Is there something about this particular place that makes it sacred and worth protecting? If so, what is it?

I can forgive some of the lack of focus, given how Becca’s internal struggles take center stage, however, I would have liked more. The book seems to acknowledge this at some level. At various points throughout the novel, Becca will bring questions like this up herself. Yet, the story never answers those questions, which can be frustrating. Again, it isn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment, and there are potential explanations for leaving so much out, such as a concern for book length or pacing. In the end, I come down on the side of “I really hope the sequel fleshes this out” rather than “this ruins the book for me.” I’m the kind of reader who is always driven by characters and themes, which still hold up to me, so your mileage may vary.

Finally, while I applaud Lundoff for being willing to bring up the question of how this town’s magic relates to trans women and people who might not identify as women, I would have preferred showing rather than telling. Rather than tell us the magic has, for lack of a better way of putting it, a non-biologically essentialist understanding of gender, why not show us? Give us a trans woman as a werewolf. Show us a trans man who did not make the lycanthropic change when he entered menopause. Perhaps a genderqueer character who sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t phase with the full moon depending on how they’re identifying?

I love when creators use magic to undermine gender binarism and biological essentialism. The playground of fantasy allows for so much delightful gender fuckery. While I normally don’t like gendered things, magic can be a great way to reinforce trans identity as real. Lundoff had opportunities to do so, and I appreciate that she took the time to even mention it. Most authors wouldn’t. At the same time, I want more. Perhaps in the sequel? (Please, oh please, give us a trans or genderqueer werewolf in the sequel. I’m begging.)

Final Score: 8/10

Silver Moon centers the experiences of people with uteruses in a way that most media doesn’t, and that’s refreshing as heck. I may not be middle-aged myself, but Lundoff writes the experience in an understandable and relatable way even to someone in their thirties. The interplay between menopause, newly discovered queer desire, and being a werewolf drives this point home, making for a surprisingly deep thematic core. While I do wish there were more worldbuilding and deeper characterization, I enjoyed reading Silver Moon. Did I mention an entire pack of middle-aged werewolves? That’s pretty fucking awesome.

Author Information

Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning writer, editor and publisher from Minneapolis. Her books include Night’s Kiss, CraveHaunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost StoriesHellebore and RueTales of Queer Women and MagicSilver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. She is the publisher at Queen of Swords Press, a genre fiction publisher specializing in fiction from out of this world.

Silver Moon is available for purchase from Amazon (US), Books2ReadBella Books, and IndieBound.

Note: The author of this review received a copy of the book in exchange for a free and honest review.

Images Courtesy of Queen of Swords Press

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