‘Nightshade': Sexy Warrior Wolves Teach Us Philosophy And Gender Equality

I don’t think I would have slept through most of my college history classes if I’d had Andrea Cremer as my professor. When she’s not teaching about race, religion and sexuality in Colonial America at Macalester College in Minnesota, she’s writing novels about badass werewolf girls. Her novel “Wolfsbane” comes out next week, and is part of the reason we declared July Werewolf Month. You have all weekend to read the first book in the series, “Nightshade,” and we think a story about werewolves roaming the mountains of Vail, Colorado, are just the right antidote for a heat wave, making it this week’s Summer Beach Read.

“I had always thought, if I could turn into a wolf that would be the most fantastic thing I can imagine,” Andrea told us, explaining what sets her wolves apart from those in “Teen Wolf,” “Breaking Dawn” and the rest of the pack. “They’re incredible, they’re fast and ferocious, and they have wonderful relationships with their pack, and I really wanted to write a wolf mythology that reflected the way I saw wolves, instead of that once you turn into this half-man/half-beast, not only are you hideous to look at, you’re also horrific to deal with and a danger to others if not to yourself as well.”

“Nightshade” is the story of Calla, the leader of what would look to outsiders like a high school clique, but is in fact a young werewolf pack who, like their parents, were born to serve as Guardians to a very powerful group of people with magical powers called Keepers. (It reminds us very much of the dhampir/Moroi relationship in “Vampire Academy.”) As the alpha, Calla is also supposed to marry Ren, the leader of the other Vail pack. It’s a situation she never really thought to question until the day she met new student Shay, a human boy with strange ties to the Keepers.

Unlike most werewolf lore, the “Nightshade” wolves don’t have to go through torturous transformations of breaking bones and tearing skin, because that wouldn’t suit their instant-warrior needs. And they also, conveniently, find themselves fully clothed when they return to human form.

“I actually borrowed from string theory in order to make this transformation possible,” Andrea said with a laugh. “String theory says there are many dimensions in the world and they all exist at the same time, so the way that the Guardian transformation works is that they always are wolf and human, they just move between forms.”

But as much as we envy Calla’s physical abilities, we’re not so sure we’d like to be in her shoes—even though she’s deciding between the super-hot wolf boy her parents approve of and the gorgeous and smart human who thinks she deserves freedom.

Calla’s dilemma is about more than your typical love triangle. “I was trying to answer the question: What happens to love when you take choice away?” Andrea said. “I was very interested in the idea of relationships and sexuality and sexual awakening and how that feeds into the social systems that we’re all subject to.”

And to that end, she made the decision even harder. “For me it was really important that there was no knight in shining armor who was flawless,” Andrea said. “There’s reasons that Calla could be with Shay and reasons she could be with Ren. It needed to be her not only having these feelings like, ’He’s really hot, but he’s really hot too,’ but actually to be about her and who she wants to be in life and how that would be affected by her relationship with these guys.”

Even the scenes in which Calla’s lusting after Ren or Shay have a higher purpose, Andrea told us. “’Nightshade’ was exploring sexual double standards. I think they are still really troublingly present for young girls,” she said. “You see it in the media, in discussions, even in some comments from readers. I have a few who say, ’Why does she have so much lust?’ …There isn’t that same response if a teenage guy was running around feeling his hormones. There’s a judgment attached when it’s a female character, and I really wanted to write against that.”

Have you read “Nightshade”?