Review: Werecats Emergent by Mark J Engels
Werecats Emergent is a unique take on the concept of were-creatures that delivers fast-paced excitement and a clever urban fantasy world. The adventures of this Afflicted clan are off to a great start in the first of the Forest Exiles Saga.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Werecats Emergent. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
Werecats Emergent Publisher Description:
Afflicted, exploited, and deadly…
Teenaged Pawly discovers her secret werecat heritage after unexpectedly morphing one Halloween night. Desperate to find an outlet for her and her twin brother’s growing bloodlust before they go feral, Pawly’s blended human-werecat family begs a Chicago-area drug cartel for help.
Her uncle Ritzi, meanwhile, scrambles to develop an alternate way the twins might satisfy their lethal urges. Resuming his deported father’s scientific research, Ritzi draws notice from an elder werecat representing a rogue state keen on the twins’ potential. When a cartel enforcer is found savagely mauled following the twins’ first job, Ritzi insists Pawly and her brother enlist in the rogue state’s service to ensure their safety. But their father, a Navy sailor critically wounded in recent combat, would rather die than risk being separated from his children again—which Pawly soon realizes is no idle threat.
Werecats Emergent and forthcoming Forest Exiles Saga books feature the modern-day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats, torn apart as militaries on three continents vie to exploit their deadly talents. Stories which fans of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson franchise and Brad Magnarella’s Blue Wolf series can sink their teeth into!
Follow Mark J Engels:
Werecats Emergent begins with the first turning of Pawly, a teenage girl who has been sheltered from her family’s Affliction because they believed she and her teenage brother did not inherit it. This first exposure immediately sets the stage for how Engels’s werecat lore will influence the usual shapeshifter tropes.
Rather than his main character muddling through the steps of understanding and then hiding what is happening to them, Pawly is surrounded by family from the start—people who all know about and work together to manage the condition. As a result, the tension around the inciting incident comes out of shared fears, family drama, and medical uncertainty. This is a nice change from the typical shapeshifter origin story trope that places the main character in the position of solving a mystery that is already perfectly clear to the reader.
Engels continues to craft the lore of his werecats around family ties, which provides conflicting motivations and tensions that are a refreshing change from the norm. Furthermore, the idea of more pockets of families scattered across the world is intriguing. They would potentially be people who are not cut out of their homes by their Affliction but rather are bound more tightly to their clan with new possible implications, both good and bad.
While the lore informs the more fantastic element of this story’s worldbuilding, there are also some pretty intentional “real world” setting choices. The Great Lakes Region of the USA Midwest is lovingly depicted—when the characters are not traveling internationally with a bit of spy thriller flavor. The “urban” is lite, but there is a consistent pressure of civilian population. The teenage twins are trained on using their skills to work a crowd, for example. The threat of discovery and risk that something will go wrong gives a heightened sense of tension in these scenes, while the events that take place at the family island feel like a temporary respite rather than a full-scale retreat from the world. The clan is very committed to continuing to live their lives and build a future for their children.
The technology is also well utilized. The characters carry flip-phones, so it isn’t the smart-era quite yet, but Engels solves the “why wouldn’t they just pick up the phone and call” question with the believable reluctance between family members to share what they are going through for all the various reasons: don’t want to be grounded, want to help without being prevented, don’t want to share bad news or make them worry, etc.
Coming of Age / Medical Thriller
There are two Point of View characters for Werecats Emergent. The first is Pawly. She and her brother are in their final year of high school. They deal with their new Affliction, romantic relationships, and uncertain plans for the future.
The second POV is her uncle Ritzi. Ritzi has been working with his father on medical support for the fatal toll the Affliction takes on the werecats’ bodies. The tension that arises from this effort ramps up the tension and pace as the story progresses. The cerebral problem of the medical challenge combined with the unpredictable and evolving animal rage clashes with family drama in a thunderclap of a climax.
I appreciated the detail that he wasn’t working on an all-out “cure.” This meant that the beast nature was not treated as a problem or source of tension in and of itself for the majority of this story. In fact, there isn’t really any revelation and subsequent rejection of the characters based on their “monster” identity until the end of the book, and that keeps the story’s drama and momentum in other, less well-trodden directions.
I liked both Pawly and Ritzi. I found them both likable and sympathetic. Both made wrong decisions out of good (and different) intensions according to their personalities, but it never got cringy because I felt that those decisions made sense.
I do have to note that the niece / uncle POV switch is an uncommon one, and it makes for very confusing family title changes.
I loved the depiction of family in this book. Drama certainly plays a role in driving the story, and the familial ties keep things interesting.
Underneath that, though, is a foundational belief in the value of family. Family is good, worth protecting, worth emulating. Parents have authority over their children, and their children understand implicitly the right to that authority, even if they find it at odds with their own choices.
Pawly’s family provides a loving context for her to muddle through a complicated and frustrating life change. Ritzi works tirelessly to protect that security out of love, never poisoned by resentment. When tragedy strikes, it is all the more potent for these tight bonds. But it is also those bonds that provide the reassurance in the falling action and gearing up for the next book in the series.
I appreciated this simple respect for the building block of society. A family can be complicated and go through times of tension, but its steady presence is reassuring. For the story, this element reassures the reader of the ultimate plot resolution and the author’s good faith intention to provide a fun adventure.
Check Out Werecats Emergent!
Werecats Emergent is a well-crafted blend of unique shapeshifter lore, family drama, coming of age story, medical thriller, and international spy intrigue. I am eager to see where the next story goes in the Forest Exiles Saga!
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