Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels #BookReview

Title: Always Gray in Winter | Series: A Shift of Season #1 | Author: Mark J. Engels | Publisher: Thurston Howl Publications | Pub. Date: 2017-8-10 | Pages: 184 | ISBN13: 9781945247194 | Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 3.4 out of 5 | Source: Received a copy from the author for review consideration.

Always Gray in Winter

A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When werecat Pawlina Katczynski finally resurfaces, her location previously unknown to anyone close to her, the reunion is short of welcomed. Instead, she finds herself thrust tooth and nail—tooth and claw—into a feud between opposing werecat clans as her family and their enemies reignite a battle that has raged for years. Always Gray in Winter invites the reader to join the feud and see if blood is truly thicker than water… 

Book cover for Always Gray in Winter

Always Gray in Winter Review

So… werecats. I don’t normally do werecats, werewolves, were-anything, really. Hasn’t been my thing for several years. But when Always Gray in Winter was submitted for review, I said I’d give it a try. I figured it would be a nice way to change things up a bit. It definitely changed things up a bit, and was an interesting experience.

Always Gray in Winter is a pleasant 184 pages. It feels like it was less than that. I was honestly surprised at the page count when I flipped through the paperback. This is a slim volume is perfect for carrying with you when you need a book to ward off people who want you to be sociable. It’s nice to come across a book now and then that doesn’t seem to be aiming for 350+ pages. (Rare anymore, right?) The cover might have some anthro fans coming up to try to chat you up, though. It’s jam-packed with thrilling action in the form of possibly deadly encounters and narrow escapes. The two main nationalities of the characters ‘at war’ in the book are North Korean and Polish, which is a combination I’ve never come across in the fiction I read before.

I liked Always Gray in Winter, but I had two main problems with it. One was that there were a lot of characters introduced quickly, with no real time to leave an impression before moving on to someone else. Sometimes it was several chapters before some of them were brought up again. With that being said, I did find myself really liking some of the characters. Tommy was definitely my favorite, but I liked grandpa Niko and most of the non-essential family cast as well. I think I was supposed to care for Pawly as she’s clearly supposed to be the primary character, but I didn’t. She just didn’t feel as ‘real’ as some of the other characters did, so I had trouble connecting with her.

The other was that the transitions between past and present were a bit jarring and I found myself flipping back and forth several times to make sure I had my facts straight. The characters I eventually got straightened out in my head by the halfway point, but I still wasn’t clear on a lot of the stuff by the end of the book. These two things really kept me off balance for a large portion of the slim book, and while sometimes that’s a good thing, in this case it was not. At least not in my opinion. I know some people like non-linear story-telling. I’m not a huge fan of it.

I liked how Mark J. Engels incorporated some of the ‘realities’ of transforming back and forth between a furred form and human form. There’s a scene where one of the characters thinks to herself that she was ‘shedding like a roomful of f*cking Persians‘ from her change that had me grinning. The characters transitions weren’t as disgusting as they’re sometimes displayed in books and movies, but anyone who has cats can speak to the particular gross-out factor wet hairballs have. I also appreciated that one of the character’s reactions when he found out that someone he cared about could transform into a cat didn’t leap right into weird furry wet dreams. Instead he had the reaction I think most of us would have.

Always Gray in Winter is a little rough around the edges, but it’s still a good read for the audience it targets. It’s terrestrial sci-fi that feels like it’s based in the here and now. Engels has a clear idea of what he’s doing with the story. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, I can say pretty confidently that I think we will see each successive entry into the series get stronger and more well-polished. I think the saga of this particular werecat family is one worth paying attention to in the future if you’re a fan of anthromorphic tales.

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