Title: I Was a Teenage Weredeer
Author: C. T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Publication Date: September 21, 2017
Genres: Urban Fantasy
What an odd, and yet oddly entertaining, read I Was a Teenage Weredeer proved to be. Not that I am entirely surprised. I’ve been reading C.T. Phipps for about 4 1/2 years now, following him from the urban fantasy of The Red Room through the superhero humor of The Supervillainy Saga, the post-apocalyptic Lovecraftian horror of Cthulhu Armageddon, the epic fantasy of Wraith Knight, and so much more, and he has never once failed to entertain. He has an imagination to match his wit, and while he plays to the familiar tropes, he does so in ways that are always surprising.
This is a book that plays very much in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer realm of storytelling, as told by way of an Agent Cooper/Agent Pendergast sort of hybrid. It’s a weird, eccentric, quirky tale that often manages to be funny and horrifying at the same time – and completely pulls it off. Seriously, there are scenes here that will give you emotional whiplash, especially when dealing the Jane and Emily’s respective families and their dark, violent, sometimes abusive histories. The whole subplot about dealing vampire blood as the latest illicit drug was particularly creepy and inventive.
There were at least three points in the opening chapters where I figured I had my finger on what kind of story this was going to be, only to have some thematic twist thrown at me a few pages later. At its heart, I Was a Teenage Weredeer is a mystery but it’s one with so many facets, suspects, and storytelling tangents that it really becomes something of a soap opera where you are more inclined to settle in and enjoy the drama than you are to obsess over solving the murders.
Personally, what tickled my fancy right from the get-go is the fact that Phipps & Suttkus drape this in puns as much as they do blood – and that’s not just narrative license. The entire shifter community is rather pun-obsessed, leading to things like Jane Doe of the Deerlightful Diner, who, despite her distaste for puns, ends up wearing a Got Deer t-shirt with a horny buck, all while fending off threats of “bleating some answers” out of people, some of whom get “more bang for their buck“, and others who are not “fawn” of such puns. It’s self-aware punning, which somehow makes it even more amusing.
In a world where vampires and shifters are recognized and legally accepted, you might think there wouldn’t be a lot of tension to explore, but racism abounds both within and outside the community. It’s nothing heavy-handed, but it is prevalent, and it does have a bearing on so much of the story. Some of that is humorous (like doing a find/replace on the Narnia books to make Aslan into a stag), some of it is kinda of faery tale meta (such as the racist jackasses who killed the Red Wolf’s family), but even more of it is Jane calling out casual racism and institutionalized persecution, especially when she’s at fault.
As for the characters, Jane Doe is a fantastic heroine, a strong young woman full of wit and empathy. Her narration is really what moves the story along, and her power to pick up on visions or psychic impressions from others is what reveals so much of the backstory. Emma, her best friend, was a little bit all over the map, and I had trouble deciding whether I liked her or not, but she has her moment. Lucien Lyons, the beautiful tattooed crime lord, is an interesting character who plays against the usual tropes, and his connection to Special Agent Alexander Timmons (my favorite character next to Jane) makes them both that much more interesting.
If I were to have one complaint about I Was a Teenage Weredeer, it would be that the pacing and balance felt a bit off in the middle of the story, but that’s the critic in me talking and not the fanboy. I feel kind of guilty about it, but even as I knew the story had stalled, I was enjoying the characters and the humor so much that I was willing to give it a pass – especially since the climax, with all the spiritualism and revelations about loved ones was so unexpected and so well done that it really caps a strong story.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.