Part of the pleasure aspect of “pleasure reads” is their ability to help us escape. Escape the tedium and heaviness of our lives, the feeling of being stuck, the loneliness. They’re a self-care method of choice that can help our mental health and keep us hopeful.
Genres like science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance accomplish this by immersing us in a reality that appears to be very different enough from our own. Worlds in which werewolves and other shifters are real and integrated into society, for example.
And yet, these differences help shed light on the ways that these same books are so very, very relevant to our lives. Sometimes it feels safer to relate a character’s desire for passion and adventure when they’re being romanced by a vampire. Or to wrap one’s head around a society’s bigotry when the persecuted community is non-human.
Sometimes the only way to get to the heart of the matter is by taking an indirect path. Sometimes fiction represents truth better than nonfiction, and fantasy feels poignant.
Romance writer Suleikha Snyder’s newest novel, Big, Bad Wolf, available on January 26, represents a new trend I suspect we’ll be seeing more of — a more direct approach to current politics merged with fantastic elements.
In the book, lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia is representing Joe Peluso, a white man that can shapeshift into a wolf and has been charged with murder — murders he definitely committed. When a crime syndicate that Peluso has wronged makes an attempt on Peluso’s life, the two are forced to explore their instant chemistry and their just as intense personal conflicts, all while being on the run together.
Ahluwalia, an Indian-American, has to make peace with falling for a white, occasionally misogynistic veteran that has killed Brown people just like her in the line of duty. Peluso has to decide whether his past leaves him unworthy of love.
The book is set in Brooklyn with a right-wing government that is upholding bigoted policies that directly impact people like Ahluwalia. Peluso has had tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is our world with the added elements of shifters and other fantastical beings — a magical realism of sorts.
The result is a story that tackles extremely difficult issues like the challenges of interracial romance and systemic racism, while also offering the reader breaks from the heaviness with intensely hot sex scenes, exciting bear on wolf fighting, and more.
The novel is the first in a new Third Shift series, and Snyder has created a fun cast of characters I hope we’ll be seeing more of: a suave pansexual vampire, a badass human doctor who holds her own on a team of superhumans, two gay big-hearted best-friends that started a law practice together and exemplify chosen family.
As a pansexual reader, I also appreciate the book’s wide array of queer characters — something that can be harder to find in paranormal fiction featuring a hetero couple.
I recommend this book for paranormal romance fans that have been waiting for a series to tackle complex politics and identities more head-on. Yes, we want to escape our reality, but we also want to see ourselves in the fiction we escape into. Big, Bad Wolf accomplishes both.