(I apologize for the delay in my review. Something came up, but I’m glad to have finished this. Also, this review will probably not be as long as my previous ones, considering this book is at a mere 177 pages long, but I’ll try my best.)
For this week, I’m reviewing a newly published book that I was requested to read by its author. I was excited, especially because of the idea and artwork done for the cover. So without further ado, let me tell you about “Always Gray in Winter” by Furry Writer’s Guild author Mark Engels.
Pawlina ‘Pawly’ Katczynski has never been an ordinary girl (at least, not with a name like THAT), being in a family of soldiers and a clan of werecats that have existed for generations.
After a tragic military operation involving betrayal and death, Pawly leaves her family to go off the grid. Months later, the Korean werecat is found and dragged back to her home, with half of her loved ones either happy to see her again or sore over that night. Their reunion however is cut short when a genetic engineering device—called the MGS—goes missing, two North Korean werecats (named Mawrare looking to steal it as a weapon, and an opposing werecat clan is looking to reignite a feud with the Katczynskis. With all this and Lenny Reintz—a US Special Agent who worked alongside the Katczynskis and is our protagonist’s love interest—joins in on the fight, Pawly must embark on a journey to mend healing wounds and prevent the theft of the MGS before it falls into the wrong hands.
So what do I think of “Always Gray in Winter” as a whole?
First off, kudos to the author, his fantastic cover (seriously, it looks so badass) and the genre he’s chosen. We’ve had plenty of stories involving ancient wars with werewolves before, but rarely one on werecats. It’s not that I do not enjoy the werewolf genre, but there are so many different ways you can try to make a story original, especially in that kind of setting. With the werecat mythos in “Always Gray in Winter”, there’s enough of a uniqueness to make it stand out.
As a heroine, Pawly is stubborn and aggressive, but also has a polite nature to her. When she wants to get something done, she can be very determined, and when she needs to be aggressive she fights tooth and nail to fight for it. She has enough time and a character, though I wish her ex-boyfriend had more focus in the book. Lenny Reintz isn’t a complex character, but he is fairly likable enough as an everyman suddenly thrust into an ancient feud between werecats and genetic splicing.
The rest of the side characters are good enough, but the ones who stand out to me the most have to be the villains—the North Korean werecats who want the MGS, who also happen to be father and daughter.
Seeing the dynamic between Mawro and Hana during their mission is very interesting to read about; two North Korean military soldiers loyal to their government despite their relationship as father and daughter. This kind of situation is very tricky to pull off, as it could’ve been very easy to make it so Mawro and Hana have absolutely no love for each other, but I think Engels handled it very well. Mawro is very strict with Hana as his subordinate in battle, but you can tell he cares about her safety as much as they care about her mission. And the devotion Hana has for her father is also one to admire on. Honestly, if Mark Engels decides to make a sequel to this, I’d really like to explore their backstories more.
Speaking of backstories more, this is both the strength and the weakness of the novel: it’s too short, and I wanted to see and learn more about the mythos. Between the military technobabble and how much the story jumps from one location to another, there isn’t that much time to dive more into the world Mark Engels has created. The way he set it up is unique, and I want to see how the werecat culture works in other world cultures.
One thing that may work against the novel’s favor for some readers is how the book’s laid out, and how not much is explained early on in the book. On the one hand it is great since you don’t know what’s going on or where the story is going to go, but it can be a pet peeve for some readers. It doesn’t derail the story though and personally, I didn’t find it much of an issue, but I can understand why someone may be put off by it.
Even so, I think this is a book worth your time. Even at 177 pages, there is so much to enjoy here. There are plenty of intense fight scenes, and simple scenes that convey how the characters feel, like the one where Pawly meets up with her family and siblings again, and how there’s a divide in how to welcome her back. “Always Gray in Winter” has an action-packed, mystery-fueled story involving fantastical shifters, and sucks you into a world that makes you root for the heroes, fascinated by the villains and interested in the cultural mythos of the werecat clans.
If you’re reading this, Mark Engels, please make a sequel to this. I really want to know what is going to happen to Pawly, Lenny and everyone else next! 🙂
You can purchase the book here: https://amzn.to/2YNs8ZZ
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