Series: LAST WEREWOLF TRILOGY
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF) with more than a touch of horror
Ratings: Violence—5; Sensuality—4; Humor—3
The Last Werewolf (7/2011)
Talulla Rising (6/2012)
By Blood We Live (2/2014)
NOVEL 3: By Blood We Live
Talulla's twin toddlers, Lorcan and Zoë, are now three years old, and they form the youngest part of her pack. Other members are Robert Walker, Talulla's lover; Patricia (Trish) Malloy; Lucy Freyer, Madeline Cole, and Fergus Gough. Also included is Talulla's human familiar, Cloquet. The werewolves are currently living in a villa in southern Italy, but they must keep moving in order to stay ahead of their many and varied enemies. Although WOCOP is now defunct, a new force backed by the Vatican has stepped up to take its place: the Militi Christi (aka the Angels, aka Soldiers of Christ).
The novel is structured in five parts in which the story is told in the third person voice from four very different points of view:
Remshi's chapters deal primarily with his increasingly tenuous hold on his emotional center (he calls it his "psychology") and on his searches for the two women in his life: Justine Cavell (his initially human companion) and Talulla (whom he believes to be Vali, his long-dead lover). Justine is not Remshi's lover because since Vali's murder, he has found himself to be sexually unarousable. Ever since Remshi saw Valli/Talulla and felt sexual attraction, his life has changed dramatically.
In the relatively short Part 1, Remshi is having dreams for the first time in his 20,000 years as a vampire—dreams in which he is walking along a deserted beach with a woman he can't see. He is also suffering from two kinds of memory problems: total blackouts—one of which lasts two years—and memory overloads from the minds of his victims. These problems started after Remshi met Talulla in book 2. Since then, he has been convinced that she is the reincarnation of Vali, the werewolf lover he loved and lost 17,000 years ago. Mid-way through this section, Remshi and Justine are attacked by the Militi Christi and Justine is so severely wounded that Remshi is forced to turn her into a vampire.
Part 2 appears to be taking place at the same time as Part 1, but in Italy, where Talulla's pack is also attacked by the Militi Christi, leaving poor Croquet dead. Talulla is dealing with a wide range of problems. Lorcan is a difficult child, given to violent rages and long silences. Then, there's her relationship with Walker, who convinced Madeline to turn him into a werewolf (in book 2) so that he could be with Talulla forever. Ever since Talulla met Remshi, though, her relationship with Walker has been rapidly deteriorating. Then a mysterious package and a phone call drop a new problem into her life. A vampire named Olek sends Talulla a journal supposedly written by Quinn, a 19th century archaeologist who discovered the oldest account of the origin of werewolves. Orek implies that if Talulla will just meet with him, he'll give her the missing pages from the journal, which will solve a major problem in her life. The contents of Quinn's journal make up the "Fairy Tale" of the chapter's title.
In Part 3, Justine fears that Remshi will leave her for Vali/Talulla, so she runs away to start her new life as a vampire, but first she heads for Las Vegas to take her revenge on one of the men who abused and raped her as a child,Remshi follows Justine to Las Vegas, where she's gone for her fist kill. He's too late to catch her, but he does reunite with Mia and Caleb, a mother-son vampire pair we met in book 2. The three of them team up to find Justine. One of the prophecies of the chapter's title, which constantly permeates Rimshi's thoughts, is Vali's final statement to him: "I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me." and a related one: "Vali will come back to him and he will achieve fulfillment when he joins the blood of the werewolf." Remshi believes that this means that Vali has come back to him in the form of Talulla. There are other prophecies, which Rimshi compiled millenniums ago in The Book of Remshi. The problem with prophecies lies not in the words, but in the interpretations of the words, a truth that Remshi disregards until much later in the story. It is in this section that we get the full Remshi-Vali story and also learn why vampires and werewolves smell so bad to each other.
In the very short Part 4, Talulla has an unwilling up-close and personal meeting with the believers—the Militi Christi—who try to coerce her into participating in an unbelievably outrageous religious scam. There's also an attempt by one of their cohorts to turn her life into a television reality show. (Well, if the Kardashians and the ducky Robertsons and Honey Boo Boo can do it, why not werewolves?) As Talulla muses, "whatever does not kill them makes them make TV shows." (chapter 5)
In Part 5, all of the separate plot elements converge at Olek's fortified home in India. Duncan takes his title from a grim poem by Geoffrey Hill: "Genesis" (section 5, stanza 2). But the poem that is more important to the plot is Robert Browning's epic poem, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," particularly the first two lines:
Keep an eye out for that cripple, who appears at least twice in the story, and pay attention to "he lied in every word," as both are key to the resolution of the plot. As the various conflicts are resolved (and not always in the way the characters or the reader might wish), "Childe Roland's Journey to the Dark Tower" becomes an crucial symbol for Remshi's fate. Although this series is billed as a trilogy, the ending leaves plenty of room for a follow-up novel.
Once again, Duncan excels in weaving unexpected, but always appropriate, literary allusions into his story-telling. For example, when Remshi makes a kill in chapter 1, he follows it up by wishing he could listen to a combination of Guns "N Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" and Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" (from Carmina Burana). Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and the vagaries of fate—what a perfect cap-off to an evening of satisfying bloodlust! Remshi is by far the most interesting character in the novel, particularly in his existential musing about the memories that are overwhelming him: "The particulars gather, exude their fraught vibe like an odor and before you bite, before you drink, you get an inkling of what it's going to give you, the base notes, the exploded secrets, the finish. All your victim's decisions and imprecisions and crimes and losses gather and sing—in this moment—of the tiny and unique ways in which this life will, once you've drunk it down, change you." (chapter 1)
Like the first two novels, this one has plenty of graphic werewolf kills: blood splattering, bones crunching, eyes bulging, and more. As the old werewolf saying goes: "It's only the best for us if it's the worse for them." This series has been an enjoyable reading experience, and I have to agree with Remshi when he says to Justine, "Reading a book is a dangerous thing…A book can make you find room in yourself for something you never thought you'd understand. Or worse, something you never wanted to understand….The more you read, the harder it is to condemn." (chapter 45)
As the story opens, Jake Marlowe has just been notified that he is the last werewolf in existence, and he has a hunter on his trail—or tail, as the case may be. Jake is a scotch-swilling, cigarette-smoking noir character who would have been right at home in the world of his namesake, Philip Marlowe, and at this point in his 200-plus years of life, Jake isn't sure that he wants to keep on living.
Jake's human protector, or familiar, Harley, urges him to hide out until the pressure is off, but Jake has other plans. He's sick of his life, sick of being a werewolf—going thorough the monthly cycle over and over again, always ending the same. As Jake explains, "One by one I've exhausted the modes: hedonism, asceticism, spontaneity, reflection....My mechanism's worn out. I don't have what it takes. I still have feelings but I'm sick of having them. Which is another feeling I'm sick of having. I just…I just don't want any more life." (p. 7) Jake is determined to let the WOCOP hunters catch him.
Gradually, Jake realizes that WOCOP is not his only pursuer, and his life soon turns into an extended retreat as he ducks and dodges the various people who are trying to kill or capture him. The vampires want his blood because it may allow them to day walk. A secretive group wants his bite so that they can create more werewolves. And, always, Grainer—Jake's long-time WOCOP enemy—wants to shoot a silver bullet into his head in revenge for Jake's killing (i.e., eating) his father. As the plot unwinds, it twists and turns through a maze of treachery, double-crosses, and other tangles—at times to the point of confusion, but always pulling the reader along to the next surprising development. Jake's feelings about his life change slowly, but drastically, from the hopelessness that he felt in the opening chapters to a much more positive outlook. By the end, he has found something he has been hoping for all his life, and he finds himself believing, as the Beatles sang, "All you need is love, love is all you need."
This is a novel that is full of literary references and quotations, but also full of werewolves, vampires, and hunters who are like van Helsing in their fanaticism. Duncan includes most of the traditional mythology: silver bullets, moonlit forests, wooden stakes, and werewolf-vampire rivalry. Compared to mass market paranormal fiction, the story gets off to a slow start, but keep reading and you'll soon get pulled into Jake's lonely, persecuted world. The book is mostly written in the first-person narrative, as if it were Jake's journal annotating his last days on earth. Jake confesses his sins; describes his surroundings, narrates his adventures; and judges his friends, his enemies, and himself—all in a wry, cynical, world-weary manner.
Some reviewers have described the book as being full of graphic sex, but those reviewers have definitely not been reading much paranormal fiction if they think that using a few salacious words describing various intimate body parts means that the book is, as one reviewer put it, "filthy and filled with sex." Almost any book in the paranormal fiction genre has much more sex and passion than this book. Jake's sexual escapades are driven by his wolf, not by his heart, and he describes most of them in a clinical, indifferent manner. I rated the book a 4 in sensuality, but it is probably closer to 3 1/2. The violence level is definitely a 5—lots of gory details.
Jake has many similarities to Dexter Morgan, one of my favorite fictional characters. Both are smart, sardonic serial killers who are a bit uncomfortable with the choices they are forced to make in life, and both tell their stories with irreverence and wit.
I have just a few criticisms:
"The greatest gift of lycanthropy is knowing smoking won't kill you." (p. 154)
"To tell you the truth I can't remember much about 1850. Dickens published David Copperfield. Wordsworth died. I'll have to think." (p. 187)
"The Western world's so mad these days you can put an ad in the paper and some desperate self-harmer will answer it. Wanted: Victim for werewolf. Must be plump and juicy. Non-smoker with GSOH preferred. No time-wasters." (p. 207)