18 May 2019

Review || Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels


werecat cartoon character on blue background
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...

  


One would think that a book about werecats would be unique simply because, well, it's cats, instead of the usual wolfen lycanthropy. However, that's not what makes Always Gray in Winter shine. Family is ultimately at the heart of this narrative.  

I expected that the story would most closely follow Pawlina, featured on the cover. Instead, the book introduced a variety of characters.  However, you can tell that the author has crafted each with every trait in mind. These are characters that you care about and feel empathy toward. You simply want them to triumph. While each character was obviously written with utmost detail, it was a bit confusing who was who after meeting so many. Many of them are referred to at different times throughout the novel with nicknames and such, so the lack of continuity left me a bit lost. The story is also told through a variety of flashbacks; some of which come without warning. The non-linear storytelling, while being a sound technique, occasionally left me skimming back a few pages, unsure of what I missed.  

While I'm not a fan of military scifi, Always Gray in Winter struck a chord with a graceful blending of a variety of cultures and languages. The layering of their world upon our own was cleverly done. There's no need to suspend belief while reading as the author has an incredible spatial awareness and is highly proficient at mingling real and imagined worlds.  The action sequences were generous and expertly done. There is no time wasted and the reader is thrown directly into the fray in the first few pages. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to readers of urban fantasy, those that enjoy the mystery and thrills of spy would have a blast with Always Gray in Winter. The only difference is these characters just happen to have a furry side. 

Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way, Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

Mark is a member of Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives. He also belongs to the Furry Writer’s Guild, dedicated to supporting, informing, elevating, and promoting quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.