RSS Feed

Tag Archives: werewolves

Forever – Maggie Stiefvater

This is the perfect ending to an exceptional series.

There will be some spoilers below if you haven’t read the first two books, so if you intend to – stop reading now (and read my Shiver review instead).

So…  In Forever, Grace is now a wolf and Sam is a boy, who may or may not be cured from turning into a wolf again.

Life is more complicated than it’s ever been for the pair because not only is Sam the prime suspect in Grace’s disappearance, there are also plans for Mercy Falls’ wolf population to be culled – using helicopters and rifles.

And while waiting for Grace to return to her human form, Sam is also missing his wolf family, and wrestling with the truth about his past – and Beck’s role in it.

Meanwhile, Cole keeps working to find a cure – mostly because the idea of failure doesn’t occur to him – and Isabel still oscillates between lust and loathing for him.

For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of Forever, is the respective emotional journeys of Sam and Cole. They are polar opposites in pretty much every way possible, but their transformative moments are equally rewarding.

The series is so beautifully written I’ve often had to force myself to slow down and savour the language, but by mid-way through Forever, that’s impossible. As the threat to the wolves builds, the tension and pace demands rapid page turning.

What’s driven this story all along is the beautiful, tender relationship between Sam and Grace, and – since Linger – there’s also the more volatile attraction between Cole and Isabel, fairly humming with raw sexuality.

So, yes, the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy is a love (and lust) story. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about grief, longing and regret … of love, redemption and self-acceptance. It’s about the joy of living and the pain of loss; the need to belong, and the need to be comfortable in your own skin.

All the threads from the past two books come together seamlessly in Forever, but that doesn’t mean everything is wrapped up with a neat bow – and readers who have been paying attention would expect nothing less.

But there’s more than enough resolution to leave fans sighing with satisfaction.

I had such high expectations for this final instalment and it impresses me so much that Forever exceeded them.

So, yeah. I loved this book as much as the others. Maybe even more.

And in response to Place’s request below, here’s the trailer:

Hellforged – Nancy Holzner

Following up a well-received debut novel is always a bit tricky, but Nancy Holzner doesn’t miss a beat with the second book in her Deadtown paranormal series.

Last year, Deadtown introduced us to Vicky Vaughn, a shapeshifter demon hunter, who lives in the quarantined area of Boston that’s now home to the city’s resident zombie, vampire and werewolf population (the Deadtown of the title).

It gave Holzner the chance to set up her fully formed world – complete with paranormal politics – in an action-packed story peppered with wry humour.

In Hellforged, the action picks up again in Boston, where Vicky is continuing to ply her extermination trade while dealing with the repercussions of binding herself to the demon who killed her father.

But she has a few other things on her mind: as well as some troubling political changes in the wind, there’s a series of gruesome zombie murders in Deadtown. And when Vicky realises she may have a connection to the macabre crimes, she heads to Wales to learn more about her family’s shapeshifter heritage.

There, she resumes training with her enigmatic Aunt Mab and meets a “cousin” with a dark agenda. Ultimately, Vicky must face her demons – figuratively and literally – and learn to use a new weapon known as Hellforged to save Boston’s zombie population. Not to mention save herself from a fate worse than death.

One of the things I liked most about Deadtown was the social justice sub-text, where zombies and other paranormals were struggling for equal rights alongside their human counterparts.

There’s still a flavour of this in Hellforged – in fact the checkpoint scenes reflect restrictions imposed by an oppressive regime in a certain part of the world today – but Hellforged also delves deeper into Vicky’s story. The focus enables some interesting plot development and world building, with Holzner introducing more Welsh mythology into her Deadtown universe.

By moving a large part of the story to Wales, Holzner is able to create a new atmosphere, which keeps things fresh. But there’s still plenty of non-stop action and tension.

Supporting characters from Deadtown return, including zombie teenager Tina (slightly less annoying this time around), good guy cop Daniel, and werewolf civil rights lawyer Kane, who finally gets out of the court room and flexes some muscle.

It’s a good addition to the series, resolving a couple major plot issues, and setting up at a few new ones for the next instalment.

The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group

These days, much of the popular paranormal fiction on YA shelves seems to be almost exclusively targeted at female audiences.

Teenage boys, however, can be thankful Catherine Jinks hasn’t forgotten them, following up her offbeat novel The Reformed Vampire Support Group (TRVSG) with another cool offering, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group.

While the TRVSG was told from vampire Nina’s perspective, her latest novel is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Toby, who learns the hard way that his onset of hormones has also brought on the onset of latent lycanthropy.

Jinks turned vampire mythology on its head (her Sydney-based blood suckers are sickly and vulnerable, and not remotely interested in epic romances), and while she doesn’t take quite as many liberties with her werewolves, she still stays firmly grounded in realism.

Readers of TRVSG will be pleased to see the return of Rueben, the werewolf inadvertently rescued by the vampires (while they were timidly trying to track down a ‘slayer’).

It’s Rueben who tries to convince Toby he’s a werewolf (after the teenager is found dazed in a dingo pen after the last full moon).  Not surprisingly, Toby thinks Rueben and his friends – the motely crew from TRVSG – are a bunch of weirdos, and it’s not until he’s kidnapped by men with more sinister motives that he begins to change his mind.

The story treads some familiar territory of TRVSG, but from a more masculine perspective (and, of course, is focused on werewolves, not vampires).

This time around the tone is darker and the story more violent (hard not to be when the plot centres on young werewolves being imprisoned and essentially turned into cage fighting pit bulls), but it’s never overdone, and there is still plenty of humour to stave off any real menace.

The pace is also faster this time around, with the action kicking in almost immediately, and then ramping up once Toby is kidnapped – and starts to realise Rueben wasn’t a complete nut job.

Again Jinks keeps her story unashamedly Australian, which for me was a big part of the book’s appeal.

And no, I’m not a teenage boy, but I still enjoyed it. I hope Jinks continues on with this group of characters, as there’s certainly plenty more she can do with them.

Linger – Maggie Stiefvater

I was looking forward to this book so much I almost couldn’t bring myself to start it, for fear it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

But Stiefvater has managed the near impossible: created a novel even more compelling and heart-breaking than Shiver, the first in this series (released last year – my review and Stiefvater’s atmospheric trailers for both books can be found here).

(If you haven’t read Shiver and intend to, stop reading here because there are unavoidable spoilers for that book below).

Linger continues the story of Sam and Grace: “a boy who used to a wolf and a girl becoming one”. In Shiver, werewolf Sam becomes human in the middle of winter and falls in love with Grace, the girl he rescued from his pack years before. But their relationship is overshadowed by the fear Sam may not be able to hold his human form for long, and that he may have turned human for the last time. Sam must fight his nature – and the dropping temperature – to stop himself returning to the wild forever.

If Shiver was all about love, loyalty and freedom of choice, Linger is about grief, loss and escape. But despite the themes, it’s far from depressing. Rather it is beautifully and poetically melancholic, in that wonderful way only Stiefvater can deliver.

Sam is now firmly in his human skin, but it’s Grace whose future is in doubt as it seems the wolf bite from her childhood may finally be claiming her. And into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, a young man full of hurt and anger. He’s desperate to remain in the oblivion his wolf form offers, until Isabel – in her indomitable way – challenges his weakness.

Each character faces intensively personal battles: For Sam, it’s dealing with the loss of his “family”, most of whom he’ll never see in human form again, as well as his fear of losing Grace. For Grace, it’s the fear of what she’s becoming and the real possibility she may die. For Cole it’s finding the courage to stop running away from the carnage he’s wrought in his life and others; and for Isabel, it’s allowing herself to connect to others.

Sam and Grace’s story is still the heart and soul of Linger, but Cole and Isabel’s antagonistic attraction – two incredibly selfish people desperate to keep the upper hand – is a compelling counterweight.

And as Cole’s background unfolds, it’s obvious he’s been a prize tool as a young rock prodigy caught in the world of sex and drugs, which makes his small steps towards the redemption at the end of Linger so rewarding.

Music again plays a strong part in this story, even though we can’t hear it. And the poetry of Stiefvater’s writing – and her gift for unsentimental poignancy – continues to set her writing apart.

Hers are stories to savour, not devour, and – like Shiver – Linger is a wonderfully tactile reading experience.

This second instalment ends on a note of hope, leaving much to be resolved in the third (and final) novel, Forever, due out next year. It’s going to be a long wait…

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

When Shiver came out last year, it was embraced by many readers as some sort of antidote to Twilight mania.

Unfortunately, that may have deterred Stephenie Meyer’s fans, which would’ve been a shame, given the rich and rewarding reading experience Shiver offers.

Maggie Stiefvater has created a beautiful, touching and haunting story about love, loyalty and freedom of choice.

As a child, Grace is rescued from a wolf attack by a pack member. She grows up watching him in the woods behind her house, sharing an unspoken bond with the wild animal.

That animal is Sam, and – just like the other wolves in his pack – he’s a werewolf. In winter he takes on his lupine form but in summer, returns to being a teenage boy.

Sam has watched Grace as closely as she’s watched him, but never approached her in either of his forms. Until he’s shot and, despite the chilly season, turns human. On Grace’s back step.

The pair’s mutual obsession quickly grows to be something far more substantial. But their relationship is overshadowed by the fear Sam may not be able to hold his human form for long, and that he may have turned human for the last time. Sam must fight his nature – and the dropping temperature – to stop himself returning to the wild forever.

Stiefvater’s writing has a wonderful sense of poetry to it, like when Sam describes the intensity of his first kiss with Grace: “I was wild and tame and pulled into shreds and crushed into being all at once”.

It’s almost as if Stiefvater has gone out of her way to break the paranormal romance mould. Grace doesn’t fall for a hot guy who turns out to be more than he seems: she falls in love with the wolf first (not as weird as it sounds…).

In Shiver, humans are humans and wolves are wolves, even if they carry traces of their other selves when they transform. When Sam is a wolf, his behaviour, instincts and world view are all wolf. He’s not just a teenage boy with fur.

And Sam isn’t all broad shoulders and invincibility. He’s masculine and sexy in an understated way, but constantly vulnerable to the falling temperature.

I really loved this book.  Stiefvater’s narration (alternating between Sam and Grace’s perspectives) is so beautiful I frequently had to force myself to slow down savour her words and the mood she so skillfully creates. It certainly transcends its YA tag.

And, of course, there’s the tactile experience of the book itself. It’s rare to find a hardcover on paranormal fantasy shelves, and this one invites the reader to endlessly run fingers over the beautifully designed and embossed cover. It marks this book as being something of substance, and – after devouring this story – I have to say the impression is not unfounded.

Shiver is the first in a trilogy (of course), with the next instalment, Linger, due out in July. I’ve got a long list of series books to look out for this year, but this one is now – without challenge – on the top of my list.

Check out Maggie’s excellent book trailer for Linger (her own work):

And for context, here’s the original trailer she made for Shiver:

Politics of the paranormal in Deadtown

Nancy’s Holzner’s Deadtown is not just another tale about a sexy demon fighter in leather pants (although the cover does feature pretty cool cover art of our hunter in leather pants, brandishing a smoking semi-automatic rifle and a flaming sword).

While it ticks all the usual boxes – zombies, vampires, werewolves, bad ass demons, witches, sorcerers et al – it also has a social conscience.

Like the vampires in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and the mutants of the X-men, the assortment of paranormals in Holzner’s world are struggling for equal rights.

Ever since a virus turned a large chunk of the city’s population into zombies (or “previously deceased humans” as they’re known in politically correct circles), life in Boston has changed dramatically. The zombies, and the paranormals who emerged to deal with them when the humans could not, are now quarantined in a part of Boston nicknamed Deadtown, where only those with permits are allowed to leave – and even then under strict conditions.

Among them is Vicky, a shape-shifter, who makes a living hunting demons. She shares an apartment with a centuries old vampire, occasionally goes bump in the night with a white collar werewolf, and is shadowed by an annoying teenage zombie who wants to be a slayer.

She also has a creepy geneticist trying to turn her into a lab experiment, a sister ashamed of their shape-shifting bloodline, and a nasty hellion out for her blood. It’s a complicated and occasionally frustrating life.

Almost as frustrating are the politics the paranormals’ presence has created, which have a habit of interfering with Vicky’s love life. Her workaholic werewolf’s role as a lawyer/paranormal rights activist has turned him into a political animal (the scariest beast around…), and an upcoming election has him fully pre-occupied.

Deadtown has enough action, wit and snappy dialogue to stand out from the crowd and Holzner has created a world that’s cleverly and logically constructed, complete with politics and social agendas.

The author is already busy working on a sequel, and given the warm reception this book has already received online, there’s clearly an eager audience waiting for the next instalment.

(I had to order this in specially at my local bookstore, so let’s hope Deadtown gets the exposure it deserves here in Australia.)

The vampires you’re having when you’re not having vampires…

If urban fantasy has taught us nothing, it’s that vampires are either terrifying or sexy, or both. And, of course, they’re generally violent and dangerous.

But in Catherine Jinks’ excellent and funny novel The Reformed Vampire Support Group, the vampires are far from powerful. In fact, they’re sickly, socially isolated and living on a diet of guinea pigs, barely able to defend themselves.

Fifteen-year-old Nina has been a vampire since 1973. She’s part of a fairly pathetic group of vamps who meet once a week for therapy sessions to help them refrain from ‘fanging’ humans).

But the vamps’ tedious world is threatened when one of their members is murdered by an unknown – and unexpected – vampire slayer.

Terrified they’ll each be hunted, they decide to track their enemy (supported by Nina’s aging mother and a sympathetic Catholic priest), assuming that once the slayer sees how pathetic and harmless they are they’ll be left alone.

Outside of their comfort zone and ill-equipped for danger, Nina and her fellow vamps stumble into a world of guns, thugs, werewolves and vicious humans.

The classic about-face for this book is that the tension comes from the vampire’s vulnerability, and Nina’s efforts to rise above her fear.

Jinks even manages to have fun with the whole vampire-werewolf love triangle. Nina’s best friend is the cool but downbeat Dave – also a vampire since his teens – and together they rescue a volatile werewolf, who is actually a teenager. Nina’s lack of experience with romantic feelings makes her reaction to both guys frequently entertaining.

While the vampire mythology here deviates from pretty much everything in the literary world at the moment, it is deftly constructed and Jinks keeps within the lines she’s drawn. When Nina and Dave show moments of heroics, it’s in spite of their vampirism, not because of it.

Jinks is a well established Australian author with a long list of books for children and young adults. This one sits in the YA shelf, which is interesting given the narrative character is actually 51 years old (trapped in a 15-year-old body). As such, it should also find an older readership.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group is a fun read, packed with plenty of suspense, a clever plot and a nice sprinkle of understated romance.

Definitely one of my favourite reads of recent months. (And the good news is Jinks has The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group due out this year.)

Covers are from Margaret Connolly & Associates (the first one is the Australian version, and the second, an edgier version is for the UK market).