TW: Mentions of homophobia and past emotional abuse.
Overall rating: 5 Books out of 5
Gloria had not intended to start a halfway house for lesbian werewolves, it had just sort of happened.
This story was just what I needed to read. I’m a sucker for a good found family dynamic, and Mudge’s writing style is just fantastic. Humanity for Beginners follows Gloria, the owner of a guesthouse who has somehow started what is totally not a pack of werewolves, of which she is absolutely not the alpha. She shies away from all the implications of the word, someone who gives orders and has control over others, who enforces their own views with an iron claw. Gloria isn’t an alpha, she just takes care of the people she loves. The fact that most of them are werewolves has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Honestly.
The thing no one warned you about when you became a werewolf― apart from the whole ‘becoming a werewolf’ in the first place, because it was hardly a popular lifestyle choice― was how your sense of proportion would get hijacked by a constant low- level grumble of ‘why don’t we just kill it’, like having a homicidal toddler grizzling away at the back of your brain.
I love urban fantasy, and while this story isn’t exactly urban – the guesthouse is fairly isolated and the story narrative rarely strays from its grounds – it does deal with how a modern werewolf might deal with their lycanthropy in a world full of cameras and smartphones. Gloria and her not pack, consisting of guesthouse chef Nadine and newcomers Lissa and Louisa, have their own rituals and routines including a paddling pool and chew toys in the basement, and they function in much the same way as any other family. They fight, they defend each other fiercely and they support one another’s dreams and aspirations. Honestly I would read an entire series about these women – plus token human Damien, who tends the gardens and helps prevent a monthly werewolf escape. They’re just wonderful, and realistic, and funny, and a joy to read about.
It was a hard-won domesticity. Nadine had been a jittery mess when she first arrived, worse in her way than Lissa. It had taken months to convince her that displays of obedience weren’t necessary to keep her place and a few years more before she would talk about the pack she’d left behind. It had been a necessary time for them both. Nadine could speak her own mind now and Gloria could refrain from a constant repetition of how badly she wanted to kick Nadine’s ex-alpha in the balls.
For a relatively short novella – 71 pages according to Goodreads – we got a lot of character depth and relationship building without it feeling like an info dump. We see an almost entirely feminine space that showcases different definitions of ‘feminine’ – the guesthouse inhabitants vary from art students to ex-military members – while juxtaposing these ideas of femininity against the fact that each and every one of them (even the one who rescues a stray cat and gives it a home) turn into an incredibly dangerous and powerful wolf once a month. The male characters too are varied and complex, from the toxic masculinity of the wolf pack that rolls into town to the more supportive, comfortable presence of Damien and Eben. These women could easily overpower them even without the wolf part of their lives and instead of being threatened by this, they work to help support those they love and work alongside them as equals.
“When we were kids,” Louisa said, “Dad was always giving us chores. He’s big into responsibility. But he’d always check every detail, even if we’d done that thing a hundred times before. If he didn’t like the way we did it, he’d take over and handle it his way. I don’t think he’s ever taken my word for anything. When I told him I was gay, he was…” She shook her head. “Indulgent. Like I was five years old and insisting I was a fairy princess. He was always perfectly nice to my girlfriends, they didn’t understand. It took him two years to believe I fancy girls. Can you imagine how he’d be if I told him I turn into a wolf once a month?”
This story is a delight, and I adore it. Mudge has a real talent for storytelling and I wish it was longer so I could be reading it for longer, but it’s a wonderful little novella that ticked all the right boxes for my reading experience and I would highly recommend it!