Benighted by Kit Whitfield (532 pgs) 2006
It’s an odd mix- somewhere between Paul Auster and To Kill a Mockingbird. With werewolves. And yet it works- suprisingly well.
The world is much like ours except the majority of the population are lycanthropes and being human is a birth defect. “Barebacks” as they’re called are a maginalized minority, on the recieving end of prejudice and discrimination.
Most of the population willingly submits to curfews, locking themselves in on full moon nights to avoid causing harm. But there are always a few who won’t follow the rules. Because humans are few in number, all non-lycos are required to work for the government agency which captures and prosecutes those who break the Full Moon Laws. Think of them as a blend of police, dogcatchers, and lawyers. It’s neither prestigious nor terribly safe work. But, as they say, someone’s got to do it.
Lola, the sole “bareback” in her family, is resigned to her lot in life. It’s not quite a calling, and not quite a punishment. It’s simply what she does. And more- what she is, what all humans are. Non-lycos are feared, resented, and isolated. They’re nearly powerless in their jobs, fighting large predators with nothing more than dogcatcher poles, knock-out juice, and 2-shot silver bullet backups they’re rarely legally allowed to use. The occasional power they get over their oppressors can be heady. Lola discovers to her dismay just how far fear and retribution can take her.
Not only an entertaining entry in the werewolf genre (a sort of hard-boiled social commentary take) Benighted is also the most interesting reflection on prejudice and discrimination I’ve read in a long time. It very effectively captures how mutual hatred degrades everyone involved and how fear leads people to do things they wouldn’t believe themselves capable of.