Jacob Marlowe is officially the last werewolf. WOCOP – World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena – has just cut off the head of his only contemporary, and they’ll come after him at the next full moon. Grainer, the agent in charge of the hunt, wants the wolf, not the man.
Harley, Jake’s only friend, is an aged WOCOP agent who has been trying to keep Jake safe from the organisation for years. He’s ready to help Jake escape and disappear again, but the 200-year-old werewolf is tired. He’s depressed, world-weary and lonely. Every person he’s eaten lingers within him like a ghost. He no longer feels guilty about killing, but he’s still haunted by his first victim – his beloved wife. After her death he refused to let himself fall in love with anyone else; a painful way to live for 200 centuries. Now he just wants to write the “untellable tale” of his wife’s death, and then submit to his own death – and that of his species – at Grainer’s hands.
But he has Harley’s feelings to consider. And then the vampires get involved, because for some reason they want him alive. Even WOCOP seems unsure about killing him, partly because it would mean the end of an era and one of their reasons for existing. Jacob is caught up in the question of whether or not to keep living, while trying to maintain his freedom from the people who want to make that decision for him.
I’ve been on the fence about this series. Although I’ve heard good things about it, the whole paranormal romance genre has put me off anything with vampires and werewolves in it. Could this really be something different and interesting? Or is it just more proof that people need to stop writing about vampires and werewolves for a couple of decades?
I was encouraged by the fact that it was published by Canongate, which offers the kind of literary spec fic I like (most notably, their Myths series). The reviews made it look intriguing too, suggesting a ‘realistically’ gritty psychological portrayal of a werewolf, with loads of sex and violence. A werewolf/vampire book with substance, but fun too. So when Canongate made book 3 – By Blood We Live – available on NetGalley, I requested it and decided to review the whole series.
I’m still deciding if this was a good idea. On the one hand The Last Werewolf certainly is different, and there are lots of interesting things about it. There are major sexual relationships in the plot, but they’re visceral and ravenous, not the kind of Twilight crap that makes me want to throw up. But as much as I like the content I don’t like the style.
Jake is a very philosophical werewolf, which makes him markedly different from the rest of his species. Vampires hate werewolves for several reasons, one of which is their loss of speech during the transformation. After a while, this begins to affect their human counterparts, and they become less eloquent or barely talk at all.
Except Jacob. For years he has kept journals telling the story of his life, and this novel is mostly his memoir. He frequently reflects on the experience of being a werewolf. He speaks of the initial decision of whether to kill yourself or come to terms with the fact that you HAVE to kill and eat people (animal flesh won’t work). He has to deal with a raging sexual appetite, which was problematic for straight werewolves because females are beyond rare, and is problematic for Jake in particular because he only sleeps with women he dislikes to avoid falling in love. He attempts to balance out the all the murders by making money for charities, which he thinks of “vestigial ethical craziness”.
His transformation into a 9-foot tall werewolf is far more bestial than any other portrayal I’ve come across, in either books or movies. Besides eating people alive in graphic detail, he also describes other animalistic aspects of his nature, like marking trees with urine, or getting an erection when he smells a woman. The wolf has a “fuckkilleat” mentality that doesn’t fade away when it turns back into a man. It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy. It’s very violent and unabashedly immoral. And I like that about it. Duncan lets werewolves (and vampires) be monsters who enjoy doing things they know are horrific. Jacob’s self-reflective manner gives us so many insights into the man and the monster. There are some deliciously dark quotes:
Nothing like the blood and meat of the young. You can taste the audacity of hope.
Even underground the rising full moon like the Virgin Mary on a bed saying please, please, please just fuck me, will you?
About his victims: Yet somehow between then and now near enough two thousand victims. I thought of them in a concentration camp heap. My guts are a mass grave.
The downside is that I don’t like Duncan/Jake’s baroque style of narration. He was born in the 1800s, and his speech never quite modernised. Some readers might find it poetic or rich. I find it overwrought. Not purple, but it gets tiring. It’s not that it’s boring or badly written; I highlighted quite a few quotes that I liked, and I generally enjoy this sort of thing. But in this case there’s too much of it, the impact gets lost, and by the end I was skimming Jake’s musing because it felt like more of the same and had no real bearing on the plot. Not as bad as, say, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice (I would have staked Louis to put an end to his whining) but that novel often came to mind.
Normally I write about how I want characterisation to balance out the action, but this time the action and other plot development balances out the more interior stuff simply because it’s written in a simpler, more straightforward style. In fact, I would have liked to hear more stories from Jake’s past, particularly regarding his relationship with Harley, who has become an old man while Jake remains as youthful as the day they met fifty years ago. Also, because Harley’s gay and it’s possible that Jake is open to a homosexual relationship, I kept wondering if Harley loved Jake as more than a friend and if anything had ever happened between them. However, the novel seems to avoid this issue.
But hey, at least it’s not the romanticised werewolf/vampire story that has made vampires and werewolves so unappealing over the past few years. I didn’t love it, but I liked it well enough, and re-reading my Kindle notes and highlights makes me appreciate it a bit more. I’ll keep on with the series since I’ve agreed to review the third book, but also because the second book has a different narrator who is very different from Jacob and should have a completely different voice. I might miss his keen observations, but Talulla Rising has the premise for a very interesting story.