QueeredFiction, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-920441-00-5
Fantasy Romance, 2009
The word “queer” shows up two times on the front cover and three times on the back cover. The publisher is called QueeredFiction. There is a foreword by Dr Phillip A Bernhardt-House called The Que(er)st For The Werewolf. Unless you are one of those people who for some reason are oblivious to the contemporary meaning of the word “queer”, you have only yourself to blame if you have no idea what you are getting in this urban fantasy anthology.
What is not made clear from the packaging – and this may or may not make you happy, depending on your reading preferences – is that all of the stories here have strong relationship elements. It seems to me that many of the authors here are trying to create parallels between dealing with lycanthropy with dealing with one’s sexuality. The relationships depicted here are monogamous – sorry, fans of polyamorous romances – and the sexual explicitness can range anywhere from mild to explicitly detailed. Three stories feature lesbian interactions while the remaining 14 have gay male interactions.
And there is only one insulting instance of a straight man being converted to the gay lifestyle (“Me? Gay? Ooh… ooh, I like!”) with the female he was previously attached to being depicted as a villain, complete with a most annoying last line which compares the hero’s departing Heteroville for Homoland as “back to a light in the darkness”: Lucas Johnson’s Flip City. The other 16 stories are thankfully absent of such irritating element.
Naomi Clark’s Wolf Strap is a mystery story, although the werewolf heroine Ayla’s relationship with a human woman, Shannon, is also featured prominently here. Perhaps Ayla’s relationship with Shannon and various peripheral characters are too prominently featured, as the mystery is resolved in a rushed and unsatisfying manner toward the end. Were this a longer story, I suspect that I’d enjoy this one more. The heroine seems like a typical brusque and cynical urban heroine at the surface, but she’s a little more complicated than that actually. I like this one just fine – it is, in fact, one of my three favorite stories here – but pacing issues dog it a little.
Laramie Dean’s Moon Sing is about Drew, a teenager who carries the double baggage of being both gay and werewolf. What I really like about this story is how the author treated Drew’s teenage angst. It’s not an everlasting pity party for Drew: he’s been down, but he’ll keep chugging on. Drew lives with a pack of fellow disenfranchised queer werewolves with nowhere to go, but when he falls for a male witch, he decides to take a risk and leave the safe haven of his pack to explore the fearsome scary world outside. This one probably won’t end well like most teenage infatuations tend to do but hey, I think Drew will be alright. I wish this one has been longer because I’m really sorry to see it end so soon.
Wolf Lover by Michael Itig is a gritty, perverse, deceptively cynical, and very romantic story of a werewolf who tentatively learns to fall in love and – gasp – enter a stable relationship with some guy he met at a bar. Ginn Hale’s Shy Hunter focuses on David, a werewolf who decides to lick his wounds after being dumped by a boyfriend by living as a big and cute rescue dog as a way to avoid seeing other people. These two stories are different – Mr Itig’s is darker while Ms Hale’s is more comedic – but at the same they are two of my three favorite stories in this anthology. Ms Hale also manages to create some pretty memorable setting for her short story.
Anel Viz’s The Stray is an amusing story of a man who just doesn’t notice the obvious about his new boyfriend and the guy’s friends. This one is really cute. Cari Z’s New Beginnings sees a familiar dominant guy, distressed bottom guy relationship set in the Big Dark City. The Big Dark City is a pretty dominant theme in many of the stories here, by the way. Anyway, this story is readable, but it is nothing too unexpected or out of the ordinary.
Jerome Stueart’s Where the Sled Dogs Run could have been a cute and whimsical story of a school teacher who discovers the true nature of a late legendary polar explorer’s famous seven sled dogs. However, this one has me confused as well because the answers only start coming in the last few pages and these answers actually lead me to more questions. Andi Lee’s Pavlov’s Dog starts out very interesting as it zooms in on an Omega, a human nominated by werewolves as liaisons in their dealings with humans as well as other werewolf packs, and I’m intrigued by the way the pack system works here. But then the story shifts focus to two werewolves happy to have their application to start their own pack approved, happy enough to start having even happier sex, and I can only wonder what has happened.
Charlie Cochrane’s Wolves of the West is a quaint and adorable look into what would have happened if werewolf packs were run like a stereotypical English university department, but the momentum peters out eventually due to the lack of a single strong focus in the story. The author instead tries to focus on too many characters and too many things, which is never a good idea in a short story. As a result, every element in the story feels underdeveloped.
Moondancer Drake’s Family Matters, which is about a lesbian werewolf defending her mate and her pack against a Fae, is too short to work for me. Stephen Osborne’s Wrong Turn – which isn’t like the movie or its sequels, fortunately – is a longer story about a guy who meets a werewolf, but all that grand love feels more like a weekend infatuation to me. If the author hasn’t tried to pass off the main characters’ fling as anything more than that, I’d have liked this story more. Robert Saldarini’s Leader of the Pack has an interesting premise involving German SS officers and such, but it is dogged by pacing issues. Too much happens late in the short story, too many new revelations are dropped on me, and I’m left with more questions than answers. The problem with Quinn Smythwood’s A Wolf’s Moon is that there are too many concepts in the story that the reader has to work out as the story progresses, and when the reader thinks that he or she has finally figured everything out, the story ends.
Charles Long’s War of the Wolves is a too heavy-handed with the anvils. This story of our 19-year old hero rescuing a younger kid from his tormentors (and eventually shagging him) may aspire to be a sermon about tolerance and acceptance, but the whole thing is so blatant that I feel as if the author has bludgeoned me in the head several times with those Very Important Messages. A little less overwrought drama, more realistic dialogs that don’t feel like PSAs, and less heavy-handed scenes of the good guys crying would have allowed the messages to be delivered more effectively.
RJ Bradshaw’s Night Swimming sees a moonlight skinny-dip turning into a sweet romance, with a little cultural differences thrown in (our hero is the city boy, the other guy is a country type, and they have pretty different views on how werewolves should live). This one is short but pretty romantic all the same.
Erica Hildebrand’s In the Seeonee Hills is an entertaining story of how our heroine Claire decides to pay a visit to the local werewolf-run clinic (owned b the Seeonee pack) to determine whether her casual girlfriend’s bite during a bedroom romp has given her lycanthropy. She falls in love with Ginny, a member of the Seeonee pack, not knowing that she is just a pawn in what seems to a pack war brewing between the Seeonee and the pack that Claire’s friend with benefits belongs to. This one would have ranked up there with my favorite stories of the anthology if it doesn’t have annoying and occasionally confusing switches from points of view now and then.
Like most anthologies, Queer Wolf can be a mixed bag, but I find that this is one of the better ones I’ve read in a while. I really enjoy the stronger stories to the point that I feel rather magnanimous about the weaker stories present, heh.