Title: Who’s Afraid
Author: Maria Lewis
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
I was excited about Who’s Afraid the moment I read the blurb. It mentioned rural New Zealand (for those who don’t know, I spent my formative years in NZ and have all the love for it), werewolves and promised action. It’s been a while since I’ve read urban fantasy as well, so I was eager to dive back into the genre. For the most part, Who’s Afraid was an engaging read, filled with elements you’ve come to love about paranormal tales, but with enough twists to stand on its own.
Aotearoa – With Werewolves!
For all her life, Tommi’s mother has never been frank about her heritage – hiding her in Scotland with brutal half-truths about her father and his family. With the help of her best friend, Tommi discover he may be a Maori man residing in rural New Zealand. As mentioned above, I was most excited about New Zealand being mentioned in the blurb, and basically could not wait for Tommi to land in Rotorua. From the get go, the setting is fraught with tension – she’s there to find her biological father and alleged rapist of her deceased mum. The truth she finds is even more horrifying, involving a Maori tribe of werewolves (I know! What a premise!) and truths about herself she’s not quite ready to uncover.
I appreciate that the text recognises from the get-go that wolves are not native to New Zealand and are not traditionally represented in Maori arts or culture – with that acknowledgement I could proceed to suspend my disbelief. In some ways, the werewolf and the idea of a closely knit pack fits in very well with the structure of Maori society, so deeply rooted as it is in community and family ties. The visuals of Rotorua and dialogue spoken during this segment of the book also felt very authentic to the Kiwi experience. My only gripe is that Tommi’s time in New Zealand was over too quickly, the heroine barely spends a quarter of the book there!
A Gritty Storyline
The action scenes in this book are numerous and well done. The text never shies away from blood and guts, especially towards the end of the novel. No one is safe and everything is at stake, werewolves in this story aren’t fluffy smoldering golden-eyed boyfriends – they will rip your throat out and literally leave you in pieces. I liked that the supernatural elements of the story are recognised as being scary as hell. You won’t catch anyone in this book getting starry eyed over the idea of a vampire or a dominant alpha male.
Our heroine is similarly dark. While Tommi could have easily lived up to the paranormal genre’s stereotype of a physically strong protagonist, sassy yet largely devoid of any complexity – she has enough flaws to remain interesting. I like that she struggles with her identity and coming to terms with where she stands throughout the book. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, she is riddled with insecurities, sometimes she’s even a bit of an arsehole. Her comments about thin girls in this book resulted in some major side eye moments. Tommi has an ugly side, and she isn’t afraid to show it. So yes, Tommi has her demons, and she’s not entirely rid of them by the end of this book – I am all for that as it means room for growth.
Of course, no paranormal romance is complete without some romantic entanglement to keep us on the edge of our seat. As with the action, the romance here is decidedly adult in its abundance of physical scenes (yay!). I like the decidedly sex-positive attitude this book portrays, with Tommi’s own private life being her own decision and there’s never any judgement for it. The love interest, Lorcan, is a bit of an enigma – playing into the mysterious warrior stereotype a little. Fortunately, he also provides us with much of the world building, and a force to ground Tommi in her time of change – so he remained vital to the plotline. I hope that with future books, we’ll get to know both him and the mysterious society he serves in more detail.
I appreciate that Tommi had a large network of friends and her interaction with them felt genuine and deep, especially her friendship with her flatmates. I’m a huge fan of families form by choice instead of blood, the clan that we find for ourselves – and their relationship is exactly that. However, I wish we had more complexities from the side of the villain in this book. The main antagonist was a caricature in all of his psychotic lust and insatiable bloodthirst.
I also craved for another strong female character to side along Tommi – as her flatmate quickly recede into the background once the supernatural themes got started. The other females that appear in this book are given less than favourable treatment – being either superficially attracted to one of Tommi’s love interest, or largely inconsequential. I hope to see more fierce ladies on Tommi’s side in the sequel, she deserves them.
Bottom Line: Who’s Afraid is a dark and compelling debut, with a promising mythology and cultural insights in the spades. However, there’s room for growth in all the characters.
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