Book review: Her Fierce Creatures by Maria Lewis

(courtesy Hachette Australia)

Over a series of eight immersively engaging novels, all set in the same shared paranormal universe – think Marvel but with way more werewolves, sprites and immortal beings – Maria Lewis has told the story of empowered supernatural women reshaping the world in an image which is far more just, empathetic and brave than the one with we are currently saddled.

The back cover blurb of the eighth and final instalment in the series, Her Fierce Creatures, make direct reference to the world-changing nature of Lewis’s deeply heartfelt and richly bold stories, noting that the adventures in the book carry with them “the possibility of a better world for themselves and every being that comes after”.

While never avowedly revolutionary, the books in the series have all called in one way or another for a complete change in the way the world is ordered, with each character at the centre of the respective stories, including most notably Tommi Grayson, a werewolf of Scottish and Māori heritage, finding their way at very personal levels through challenges big and small, all of them reorienting that character’s perspective, and in turn, changing the larger supernatural world around them.

As you might expect as the flagbearer protagonist for a legion of powerful, take charge and emotionally honest female characters, all of whom like men around in one form or another but do not, I repeat, do not, need them to survive, thrive or otherwise get ahead, Tommi Grayson is very much a part of Her Fierce Creatures, leading a once-in-a-lifetime (and for some of the people in the story such an ancient Pict warrior Heath, that’s thousands of years) charge for a kinder, fairer supernatural world.

“Even just the murmur of her voice was somethin Sadie Burke was still trying to get used to. The same supernatural government that had punished her species had punished her as a child as well, slitting her throat and severing her vocal cords when she was nine. It had been to suppress a power she wasn’t supposed to have, a power that was the greatest and purest example of what a banshee could do: the wail.” (P. 2)

Side-by-side with Tommi (Who’s Afraid?, Who’s Afraid Too? and Who’s Still Afraid?) are protagonists from previous novels – Sprite Dreckly Jones (The Rose Daughter), banshee Sadie Burke (The Wailing Woman) and medium Corvossier “Casper” von Klitzing (The Witch Who Courted Death), all of whom have much to gain, and lose form putting their all on the line for freedom, self-determination and the chance to start life all over again on their terms.

It’s a heady prospect but throughout Her Fierce Creatures Lewis is at pains to richly and expansively lay out just what is at stake, and how, brave and self-possessing though these amazing supernatural women in ways that will inspire and delight, they have much to lose from going all out to save the world from itself.

At the centre of things this time, spiritually at least is Sadie Burke who, as witches and goblins, selkies, werewolves and demons work together in ways previously unheard of to plan an assault on a corrupt and and morally bankrupt status quo, is the one poised to usher a bold and visionary future.

Pregnant with triplets who stand to replace the current power structures that underpin autocratic governance among all supernatural beings, Sadie’s life and those of her unborn children are very much on the line, and though she stands protected by her banshee family, a pack of fierce Māori werewolves who take no prisoners, and a bodyguard who will come to mean a great deal to her, she is the one around whom this moment in history pivots and she feels every last part of the weight.

Her Fierce Creatures is an utterly invigorating novel to read.

Not simply because it has soaring amounts of non-stop action, which comes with a propulsively violent momentum all their own, but because every single scene, whether full speed ahead or thoughtfully ruminative comes with a giant earth demon’s worth of bristling, affecting humanity.

Not for one second does Lewis forget that you can have all the big battle scenes and titanic showdowns you want and still end up with a hollow shell of a story of the people living and breathing every narrative twist don’t matter.

The thing is that they matter a great deal, a huge deal in fact, in Her Fierce Creatures, with each of the characters given all the time they need to make their mark, to connect with others and to affect the lives of others big and small and the net effect is a novel rewardingly and movingly awash in a resonant humanity that affect you deeply.

Pleasingly too, many of the characters have a queer sensibility with same-sex relationships and out-of-the-mainstream personalities very much the order of the day, all of them treated exactly the same as their more cisgender counterparts in a world that accepts everyone and does not make arbitrary decisions about one love being greater than the other.

“She [Tommi] collapsed on her back, staying there among the pristine white granules as she stared up at the grey sky. Water lapped around her body and she patted the sand, feeling around for Heath until she felt the firmness of his thigh. Tommi squeezed it, turned her head to smile at him through her cracked lips. If he looked more like a drowned rat than the usual blond hunk, she didn’t even want to imagine how she appeared to him as he dragged her over to his side with just a tug of the wrist. Salty hair plastered to her face, he pushed it back as he looked at her, the exhaustion in his eyes mirroring her own.” (P. 312)

That may be as it should be, of course, but for all the progress much of the love has made, altogether too much is still made of someone’s sexuality or who they love; in Her Fierce Creatures they just love and relate and care for another with a fierceness and passion and it is gloriously, passionately, especially if you, like this reviewer, are queer themselves and are used to see a fuss made when quiet, inclusive normalcy is all that’s required.

Her Fierce Creatures gives us that and far, far more, staking its flag of equality, justice and unconditional love where everyone can do it, its message of inclusion seamlessly woven without even one hamfisted moment into a story that enthralls the sense in every way and which carries you along at speed while giving you moments to catch your much-valued emotional breath.

It’s also a fitting farewell to the series, not simply there’s an almighty punctuation point of a finale in play, and yes, it’s every bit as awesomely big and impactful as you might hope, but because all the major characters, and many of the minor ones, get to say goodbye in a way that makes sense for them and with an ending that’s entirely fitting in each case.

As goodbyes go, Her Fierce Creatures is brilliant, full of action and fighting, but almost more importantly, a sense of vibrant queer-soaked humanity and an outlook that hopes for a more inclusive and integrated world – as the supernaturals fight to reclaim their destiny, humanity comes to realise they are not, and have never been, alone – and which fights for it, powered by the kind of love, connection and truth of which epics are made, always mindful of the fact that you don’t get your happy-ever-afters without a great deal of sacrifice and putting finally, and with heart, right on the line.

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