The lycans in Red Moon don’t transform on the full moon. Though they share many of the same features as traditional werewolves–their appearance, bestial duality and infectious bite among them–the lycans of Benjamin Percy’s second novel can generally control their episodes, with patience. Though the full moon might make their hackles rise, they otherwise walk around plain as can be until either violent trauma or a practiced control unleashes the brute inside them. The “werewolf is an unchained id,” Percy explains. “We all have a moment where we become unleashed and our more primitive side gains the upper hand.” The lycans in Red Moon are no different.

Unless they have some government-prescribed Lupex handy.

Lycans are 5.2 percent of the U.S. population (according to the last census) and their numbers run far higher in places like their Eurasian homeland, The Lupine Republic. Forced by the government to take drugs that suppress their ability to transform, they walk around otherwise indistinguishable from the general population, but that might soon change. With the savage murder of helpless passengers aboard a grounded airliner by a member of a lycan sleeper cell, the national mood has shifted from grudging tolerance to blood frenzy. And now unwitting witnesses like Patrick Gamble, the lone survivor of that airplane’s bloodbath, and Claire Forrester, the only one in her lycan family to survive the clandestine government retribution for that attack, must navigate a nation upended by war from within and without, as U.S. troops occupy the Lupine Republic and lycan cells bring violence to the American homeland. In the midst of all this, canny politicians like Chase Williams see opportunity in crisis, whipping up the masses for their own cynical advantage and bringing the prospect of a “Red Moon”–a lycan rebellion–that much closer to reality.

Benjamin Percy’s novel reads as a clear political allegory of something, it’s just not clear what. Similarities to the Iraq War, the Civil Rights movement, and responses to the AIDS epidemic all abound as the lycan “menace” and its response incorporate elements of a variety of movements. But according to Percy, looking for a specific analogue is missing the point.

“I’m holding a mirror up to the reader to provoke a certain cultural unease. It’s not about an agenda or trying to represent a specific group or cause.”

And of course, that’s what makes good horror in general–stories borne of a collective unease.

“You see it with all the good horror, it reflects the concerns of the society that created it,” Percy says. “Frankenstein was written right when galvanism was new and terrifying, while movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers gave voice to Cold War paranoia, and all the post-apocalyptic films coming out now embody this post-9/11 sensibility.”

As a political statement, Red Moon is hard to place. It connects themes of dispossession and marginalization without–as I suppose any good allegory does–revealing an entrenched position. Terrible things may happen, but most of the value judgment is eschewed in favor of a SocraPercy Covertic poking about what society should look like and how it should react to existential threats. It’s not Benjamin Percy’s job to tell you which side to take or how to react, merely to change the names and places and people (but not the situations) to get you to think about the issues he presents in a fresh way.

The desire to invoke the werewolf mythology without being shackled to its every tenant showcases this philosophy perfectly.

“You’ll notice that I never use the word ‘werewolf’ once in the book,” Percy tells me. “That was deliberate.” Percy works hard to put his lycan mythology on a thoroughly modern fitting, providing the condition with scientific underpinnings that retain the primal sense of fear while anchoring the story firmly in the present. Curses and silver are replaced with prions and medication, making the condition recognizable but a far cry from the paranormal treatment favored by some series. But for his part, Percy’s not too concerned with how audiences receive his work, just that it makes an impact. 

“It doesn’t matter if people treat this as high or low art, just that it makes them think in some new way,” says the author.

As a horror narrative engaging in political allegory, Red Moon relies on the strength of its narrative to sustain its atmospheric musings about society’s dealings with the marginalized and dangerous. Good thing that in Benjamin Percy’s second novel, it’s more about the people than the politics.

Joe Marshall is a freelance writer and author of the book I Haven't Actually Written a Book: 100 Tips for Lying in Website Promos. The product of a good public education, he has trouble with the finer sort of encyclopedia.