Okay, so Pat Murphy is rapidly becoming my secret author lover. <3* In Nadya, Pat Murphy revitalizes the history of American West through the eyes of young Nadya, a young werewolf woman crossing the Plains with Elizabeth, a proper young woman separated from those she was traveling with, and Jenny, the lone survivor of an Indian attack on her family’s caravan’s.* Murphy uses Nadya to reflect on gender. Because Nadya is a white woman in a world where both of these traits are valued in a particular way, she’s expected to act a certain way. Because her parents are immigrants (and, uh, SECRET WEREWOLVES) they’ve taught Nadya to rely on herself and trust no one. This gets all bungly when Nadya falls in lust with a bad, bad farm boy, and when she has to pass as a man while crossing the Midwest. It’s also what makes Elizabeth fall in lust with her too. This was actually a really awesome moment in the story, because often homosocial/homosexual relationships are treated as practice for heterosexuality, but in Murphy treats their relationship as deep and meaningful. The dangers they face en route to California are both internal and external, and fully realized in the hands of a master storyteller.
POC are handled fairly well in the context of the world Murphy’s constructing; Nadya, unlike many of the white people in the book, knows that there are “different kinds” of Indians, just as there are different kinds of whites, and it’s this knowledge that ends up really alienating her from the world of the majority. Not only is she a woman who SECRETLY TURNS INTO A WEREWOLF, but she’s a WHITE woman willing to befriend/ fall in love with brown peoples. I was a bit concerned this would turn into one of those romances where the white woman is able to heal all the red man’s flaws through the magic of her cooter. Thankfully, Murphy avoided that pitfall, and instead created a heroine able to recognize that solidarity across types of marginality is one of the first steps in creating a homespace.
*For the record — that’s much, much better than a Secret Agent Lover Man.
*Elizabeth was supposed to be travelling with this wagon train, but was delayed.