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Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Author:  Glen Duncan
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with more than a touch of horror 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor3
Publisher: Knopf 
        The Last Werewolf (7/2011)
        Talulla Rising (6/2012)
        By Blood We Live (2/2014)

     This post was revised and updated on 6/10/14 to include a review of By Blood We Live, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels:  

       NOVEL 3:  By Blood We Live        
     To review: Although Jake Marlowe though he was the world's last werewolf, he was wrong. Talulla Demetriou, who became his lover and the mother of his children (post-mortem for Jake), is also a werwolf, and both Jake and Talulla are free of the virus that was killing werewolves worldwide. Three years have passed since Jake's death, and the world now has an exponentially expanding werewolf population, all of whom can be traced back to Jake and Talulla. Although governments around the world generally label werewolf sightings as hoaxes, more and more people are becoming convinced that werewolves actually exist and that they are a threat to humanity. 

     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:
  > Part 1 (Chapters 1-10):  "The Beguiled" (Remshi, Justine)
  > Part 2 (Chapters 11-26): "The Fairy Tale" (Talulla)
  > Part 3 (Chapters 27-48): "The Prophecy" (Remshi, Justine)
  > Part 4 (Chapters 49-57): "The Believers" (Talulla, Walker)
  > Part 5 (Chapters 58-92): "The Wrong Twilight" (Remshi, Talulla, Justine, Walker)

     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 vampiredreams 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 blackoutsone of which lasts two yearsand 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 believersthe Militi Christiwho 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:
         "My first though was, he lied in every word,
          That hoary cripple, with malicious eye"

     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 fatewhat 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 singin this momentof 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 series opens, only one werewolf remains alive on earth. There have been other werewolves up until this point, but they have all been killed, either by the zealots of the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP) or by vampires seeking to use werewolf blood to make a vaccine that will allow them to walk in the sun. Most humans are unaware of the existence of vampires and werewolves, with the exception of the humans of WOCOP and the human familiars of the vamps and werewolves. Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies. Each race has an odor that sickens the other, and most meetings between the two end in violence and death. Werewolves can live about 400 years if they aren't killed by silver or by decapitation. Vampires are truly immortal, living thousands of years, but they, too, can be killed by well-placed silver or decapitation.

     In this world, werewolves shift into their animal form on the night of each full moon, and at that time they must eat a human. Animals won't do; it must be a human. The werewolves are driven by monstrous hungers, both their appetite for human flesh and blood and their obsessive need for sex. When those two drives combine at the full moon, life is very good, for the werewolf, of coursenot for any human who happens to be around.

        NOVEL 1:  The Last Werewolf        
     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 trailor 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 werewolfgoing 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, GrainerJake's long-time WOCOP enemywants 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 tanglesat 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 himselfall 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 5lots 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: 

   *  Jake's endless riffing on his life is excessive at times, with an overload of eloquent, but very wordy, introspection. I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say, "Please...enough with the self-serving digressions. Just get on with the story."

   *  I sometimes felt that the author spent too much time polishing up quotable bits (see below) when he should have been tightening up Jake's narrative.

   *  The overuse of italics is annoying; they are used for emphasis on virtually every page. Unfortunately, an overworked stylistic device almost always loses its punch and downgrades to a stylistic tic.   

     Click HERE to listen to an interview with the author and a sample of The Last Werewolf: A Soundtrack, an album by The Real Tuesday Weld. Click HERE to view a video trailer for the book.        

Memorable Quotations (Note: Duncan is from the U.K., so he uses English spellings of words, which are not always the same as American spellings):

"If, then...If, then...This, aside from the business of monthly transformation, the inestimable drag of Being a Werewolf, is what I'm sick of, the endless logistics. There's a reason humans peg-out around eighty: prose fatigue. It looks like organ failure or cancer or stroke but it's really just the inability to carry on clambering through the assault course of mundane cause and effect....Four score years is about all the ifs and thens you can take. Dementia's the sane realisation you just can't be doing with all that anymore." (p. 9)

"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)

I hate to admit it, folks, but his is my favorite one in the whole book:    "Reader, I ate him." (p. 111)

       NOVEL 2:  Talulla Rising        
     Talulla Demetriou is the "she" Jake Marlowe found and fell in love with shortly before his death at the end of The Last Werewolf. As Talulla Rising opensTalulla is struggling through the final days of her pregnancy, hidden away with her familiar, Cloquet, in an isolated Alaskan cabin. The first chapters move slowly through a graphic depiction of the horrific effects of the pregnancy on her body and mind. Finally, on the night of the full moon, Talulla's transformation induces her labor and her son, Lorcan, is born prematurely, only to be immediately kidnapped by a gang of helicoptering vampires led by her (and Jake's) old nemesis, Jacqueline Delon, who is now a vampire. Fortunately for Talulla, the kidnappers don't realize that she is having twins, so her daughter, Zoë, is safe.

     The plot focuses on Talulla's search for her son, and it involves a number of characters from book 1 as well as some new faces. Just as in the first book, Talulla has several enemies. WOCOP is still out there, now led by the psychotic John Murdoch, who can't wait to drag Talulla in and turn her over to his "scientists" for their torturous experiments. Then, there's Jacqueline's gang of bloodsuckers, the Disciples of Remshi, who need a werewolf's blood for a sacred vampire ritual. And don't forget the Fifty Families—the main vampire organization—which is always ready to capture or kill any werewolf who crosses their path

     Immediately after the kidnapping, the action begins, as Talulla and Cloquet head for London, where they plan to interrogate one of Jacqueline's former contacts in hopes of determining the Disciples' current location. While in London, they are forced to ally with two former WOCOP agents—Robert Walker and Mikhail Konstantinov—who are now on the run from WOCOP and are trying to rescue Konstantinov's wife, who has been captured by the Disciples. The story soon turns into a thriller, complete with bloody battles, kidnappings, and appallingly graphic scenes of torture and revenge. Most of the plot threads are resolved, but near the end, a new character is introduced who obviously will be joining up with Talulla in some manner in book 3

     Talulla tells the story in the first person voice, and because she reads incessantly from Jake's journals, we also have Jake's voice coming at intervals throughout the book. The major difference between the two is that Jake thinks and writes with a mellow cynicism, while Talulla is bitter and filled with caustic rage. Sophisticated and thoroughly English, 200-year-old Jake comes across as world-weary, sardonic, and jaded, while the young, brash American Talulla is consumed by wild emotion: grief and anger at Jake's death and her son's kidnapping, terror and dread over her sudden immersion into motherhood, and an unrelenting, blazing desire for sex and human flesh. In other words, there is nothing mellow or blasé about Talulla. Imagine a Chapter 21 Alex (from Anthony Burgess's novel, A Clockwork Orange) hooking up with Janice Joplin, or  a gentlemanly Jack the Ripper getting it on with Lizzie Borden, or Guy Ritchie and Madonna...oops, no need to imagine that one. 

     The themes of the novel include the seemingly inevitable consequences of motherhood (i.e., a sense of responsibility and purpose and an overwhelming need to protect) and the causes and effects of brutality. As Jake says, werewolves always do the worst thing, because for them it is the best thing. That turns out to be true for others as well, particularly the WOCOP agents and scientists

     Duncan's skill and grace with language is evident throughout the book, and it's more natural this timenot so full of over-polished aphoristic nuggets. Once again frequent literary references are woven into the story, from Susan Sontag to Emily Dickinson and beyond. With considerable assistance from Jake, this is an extremely literate group of werewolves

     Talulla is an intelligent, feisty, gritty heroine who endures horrific torture, but never gives up. As the plot advances, her focus sharpens and her determination never wavers. Against the odds and regardless of the resulting collateral damage, we have no doubt that she will retrieve her son. The brash energy of this book contrasts with the more sedate, literary tone of book 1. In the earlier book, Jake spent a lot of time philosophizing, while here, Talulla just keeps slamming ahead to the next adventure. When Talulla does brood over her unhappy circumstances, her thoughts frequently take her back to some lesson learned from Jake, and his journal entries are welcome points of calm civility in her chaotic life. The level of violence is very high, with graphic scenes of extreme brutality. But really, folks, these are werewolves after all. Yes, Talulla is a monster, but she is also refreshingly free of inhibitions and social restrictions. She has an agenda, and she's going to finish it and damn the consequences and the bystanders, innocent or not. This is motherhood in the raw—and it's definitely paranormal fiction for grown-upsTo quote Scarlett Thomas' review in The Guardian (4/5/12), "Duncan's writing does more than transcend genre fiction: It creeps up on it in the dead of night, rips out its heart, then eats it." 

FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

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