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Silver Kiss
Naomi Clark
Queered Fiction Press, 70K bytes

Silver Kiss
Naomi Clark
Naomi Clark lives in Cambridge and is a mild-mannered office worker by day, but a slightly crazed writer by night. Her short fiction has appeared in ezines from Midnight Times to Dark Fire Fiction. She has a perfectly healthy obsession with giant sea creatures and a preference for vodka-based cocktails.

Naomi Clark Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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Ayla and Shannon, a lesbian couple, have just moved back into "the city." (We never really know where we are, though toward the end, brief mentions of Yorkshire hint at England.) Ayla is a werewolf; the stresses in her family over her gender choice, and her place in the Pack, had driven her out for eight years.

Her partner is a human woman, a PI named Shannon. Ayla's parents are not bad people. From their point of view, it's a werewolf's duty to the Pack to produce offspring, as birth rates among the werewolves have been dropping steadily -- ironically about as long as they've been able to live openly among humans. Ayla and Shannon do not want offspring, something the parents obviously struggle to accept.

Though the setting seems a trifle unmoored, we catch hints that this is an alternate Earth through mention of Yorkshire, and Roman history. In this world, there are no other supernatural beings, only the werewolf, who has been living among humans for a very long time.

Ayla wants badly to become a police community support officer, and that means jumping through social hoops like attending Lupercali, at which the young cubs are blooded and made members of the Pack. Ayla was not outcast, which is the Pack's way of punishing wolves, forcing them away from family and wolf community. Ayla was a lone wolf by choice, so when she moves back, she's invited to Lupercali to be blooded, after which she gleefully shifts and runs on the hunt.

On that hunt, she discovers that dangerous rarity, a werewolf who has gone feral: all wolf. She nearly does not survive the encounter. She returns to report, and ends up in a nasty fight with Shannon, who was so worried that she reacts with anger.

Already Ayla regrets moving back. She feels crowded, uneasy because Shannon willingly gave up her connections in order to move. Shannon has had to cold-start her career.

Encouraged by their friends Vince and Leon, a pair of wolves, Ayla and Shannon try to settle in... and at first Ayla is glad when Shannon gets her first break, a case of a runaway wolf teen.

The book starts off at a leisurely pace as we get to know Ayla, Shannon, Ayla's co-workers at the tattoo parlor, and the couple's wolf friends, Vince and Leon. Glory, a cross-dressing wolf friend, invites Ayla for a run that turns out to be far more dangerous than either expected.

When Ayla and others wolf out and go running, the sensory shift is compelling, from the sepia tones of visuals to the explosion of emotion-charged scents, and the wolf emotional spectrum and interactions. Naomi Clark's wolves are compelling and real.

Ayla and Shannon both begin to pick up clues centering around the supposedly harmless herbal cigarettes called Silver Kiss, used by teen wolves who seem to be out of control. Adding tension to the confusion of clues is ugly anti-wolf and anti-gay graffiti on Shannon and Ayla's home, the work of a group called Alpha Humans, who are a lot like the KKK in politics and in tactics.

Why do some wolves go feral after smoking Silver Kiss, and who's dealing it to them -- and why? Why are the Alpha Humans harassing Shannon and Ayla? Where is the wolf girl runaway? Behind all these questions lies another reason Ayla ran all those years ago: the brutal murder of a young wolf cousin of hers, murderers unfound.

As the mystery deepens -- intensifying the stakes exponentially -- Clark develops relationships: Ayla and Shannon as a couple, as wolf and human. The couple's relationship with their friends, with Ayla's parents, with the Pack, with the community. Ayla is impetuous, physical, strong, her emotions all over the place. She is aware of the wolf inside her, and sometimes it's a struggle to control those instincts. Sometimes she just gives in, and not always when it's a good idea.

One of the underlying questions Clark raises is the question of savagery: wolf or human? How do wolf and human relationships work, especially under stress? Ayla and Shannon are beautifully rendered, with conflicting desires, worries, reactions. Tender and fierce by turns, Ayla wants to protect Shannon, yet when the call comes, she cannot resist running off, even into danger. She sees the effect on Shannon; will they survive the wolf impetuosity?

Everyone's relationships are tested -- Ayla's human and wolf side, her bond with her partner, her bond with her friends, with her parents, with the Pack. With her expectations of a career, and in a larger sense, with society: whose justice should prevail, the human laws or Pack law?

The story rises to a tense, vivid climax. The mystery is solved, but these larger questions remain unanswered, leaving this reader with a strong desire to see more set in this world, about these characters.

Copyright © 2010 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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