Howling Moon, by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp (Tor, 2007)

Once a top agent of Wolven, the organization dedicated to internally policing the hidden society of shapeshifters known as the Sazi, Raphael Rameriz has lived in quiet obscurity ever since a deadly political scandal forced him into retirement. He thought he was out for good. He was wrong.

Called back into action by the most powerful being in the Sazi, Raphael is tasked with the protection of Cat Turner, a recently-orphaned heiress who was the sole survivor of a brutal assault. The problem? Cat’s become a werejaguar of unknown potential, and if she can’t get ahold of herself, she’ll be put down. The Sazi take absolutely no risks in protecting their secrecy in a world that would likely destroy them if it knew the truth. So now Raphael and Cat — werewolf and werecat — are the unlikeliest of allies as Raphael teaches Cat what it means to be Sazi. And though their allies are many, their enemies are even more so, and sometimes it’s impossible to tell one from the other. For the werewolves of Boulder don’t want a werejaguar around, especially one that’s becoming so very close to their temporary Alpha. Pack politics may be the death of Raphael and Cat long before the Sazi’s most infamous serial killer comes back to finish the job he started years ago.

And, of course, even as Raphael and Cat explore the inexplicable attraction that bonds them, opponents from all sides make themselves known. Rivals for the leadership of the pack. Rivals for Raphael’s affections. Rivals for Cat’s affection. Traitors who will do anything to get rid of the two. Snakes in the grass — political, metaphorical, and literal — abound as things come to a head, forcing a resolution that could affect the Sazi forever.

Howling Moon is the fourth in The Sazi Series by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, but like the rest of the series, it’s intended to stand on its own merits. Indeed, it was originally intended to serve as the introduction to the series, before being placed further back in the rotation, while readers were more gradually introduced into the world of the Sazi in Hunter’s Moon, Moon’s Web, and Captive Moon. Given how dense this book feels, how thickly-plotted, and how immersed in Sazi and pack politics it seems, this may be a good thing. The first book of the series only brought in the true nature of the Sazi world near the end, and we’ve been gradually given more to work with in each book since. Although Howling Moon is indeed a stand-alone, it links quite nicely to the others in the form of shared characters, a few overlapping plot threads, and some answered questions.

But is it good? Oh yeah. The Sazi Series is one of the shining lights of the Tor line of paranormal romances, and a new Adams and Clamp always gets my attention. The characters are richly-realized, and there’s some definite chemistry between Cat and Raphael. And as for the inevitable moment when their mutual passion finally takes hold? In a word, sizzling. But beyond that, these are likeable characters, and the interplay between wolf and jaguar is just plain fun, especially when their differences are played up in terms of hunting style, or natural opposition. It’s not just about those two characters, though. There are quite a few secondary characters running through this book, and sometimes you need a scorecard to keep track of their complex motivations and loyalties. (In all honesty, I occasionally had to flip back to refresh my memory as to who was whom, as a lot of names get thrown at the reader, and it’s easy to miss something if you don’t pat attention.) There are a few characters I’d definitely like to see again, including Raphael’s adult son Raven (a werewolf) and Raven’s partner Emma (a wereowl, how cool is that?)

On the surface, the Sazi might seem to be just another hidden society of supernatural beings, dwelling in secret alongside humanity, a concept which has become somewhat overdone in recent years. But there’s just something about them, in the context of the story, that makes them more interesting, better executed than most of their ilk. They’re organized, but not living in perfect harmony. They’re secretive, but not up to any grand mischief or manipulation. They live a long time, but they’re not the immortal masters of the world. They’re not all cookie-cutter, either, as they act both like normal people, and like the animals they can become. Take it from me, the Sazi are interesting.

I greatly enjoyed Howling Moon. Adams and Clamp just keep getting better and better with each subsequent book in the series, and they’ve made it easy for a new reader to jump in at any point. Whether you like urban fantasy, or paranormal romance, this is a series worth picking up.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2007

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