Werewolf Council is J. Manoa’s second contribution to the genre of young adult dystopian fiction. Similar to his previous series, The One, WC is again structured a six-part series. Instead of a loner, as was Odin Lewis in the previous series, WC features a duet of childhood best friends, Riley and Nate. There is a similar coming-of-age element between the two series, however, and in both cases the maturation brings special but quite unwanted powers. In the rural Alaskan setting of WC, these powers also come with conflict, only tenuously held in check by a balance of two opposing powers. Nate and Riley are pulled towards conflicting poles with the events of the first book. Their clash sets off an explosive chain of events that eventually spills far beyond the boundaries of their small town.
After setting up the storyline in the first book, the action and adventure flows non-stop. The story is good, not just young-adult good, but fully-matured good. I felt very fortunate to have the entire series at the ready because I did not want to pause, and upon completing one book I found myself immediately reaching for the next one. Manoa has found his storytelling voice in this series and his craft is fully refined. The books have a unique style and the descriptions are almost cinematic in nature. It is as if Manoa is mentally watching a movie and capturing the action on paper – a screenplay turned prose. This voice lends an extremely vivid visual feel to the story and places the reader in the center of the action.
Similar to The One, Manoa also uses the conflicts of WC, to raise some moral questions centered around the dystopian themes. There are no proselytizing or educational lectures that are almost guaranteed to cause eyeballs to glaze. Instead we get to witness what lack of trust, respect, and corporation lead to – between best friends Riley and Nate and between people, neighbors, government, etc. Werewolf Council’s protagonists make mistakes and poor choices, but are always asking the question, “How can we do it better next time?”
The conflict in the story centers around a question of balancing public safety and individual rights. We get to see the effects of valuing the former over all else, even when it tramples the basic rights of others. Historically, the U.S. has fallen into this moral trap many times before, for example when the Native Americans were slaughtered or the Japanese incarcerated during World War II. But granting rights carte blanche is not the answer either – even the lax U.S. strictures against guns limit us to semi-automatic weapons rather than fully automatic. As discussed in WC, as adults we all contribute to the continuing evolution of our Rousseauian social contract. To do so thoughtfully and responsibly, we must ask ourselves, “What is safety and what is freedom?” and what equilibrium between them should we strive for? Werewolf Council provides an engaging framework for young adults to approach these complex moral dilemmas.[Editor’s note: J. Manoa is a pen name of Pop Mythology contributor Jess Kroll. The reviewer of Werewolf Council, Andrea Sefler, and he have never met.]