Title: By Blood We Live
Series: The Last Werewolf / Bloodlines
Author: Glen Duncan
Published: 6 February 2014
Publisher: Canongate Books
Genre: fantasy, horror
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
By Blood We Live picks up two years after the events of Talulla Rising. The 20 000-year-old vampire Remshi wakes up to find that he’s been asleep all this time, much to the dismay of his human partner Justine. They’re still trying to sort out their issues when they’re attacked,and Remshi is forced to turn Justine in order to save her life. Through Justine’s blood, Remshi recovers his memories of his obsession with Talulla, who he believes is the reincarnation of his only love, a werewolf named Vali who died 17 000 years ago.
Meanwhile Talulla and the twins are still with the pack from the previous book. Talulla is still with Walker, but their relationship is strained. She never loved him like she loved Jake, and things were never the same after Remshi came to see Talulla and said he’d come back for her.
There’s an outside threat too. WOCOP is no more, but they have been replaced by the Militi Christi, a militant Christian group determined to wipe out werewolves and vampires for the glory of god. The werewolf population has exploded since the virus was cured, and Talulla and Madeline started creating new wolves. The world is turning against both vampires and werewolves, and when Talulla learns of a possible cure, she has to decide if that’s something she wants for herself and her children.
Like the previous two books, By Blood We Live has everything that has come to define this series. Loads of gory violence, most of it involving monsters eating humans. Lots of musing on the psychological experience of being a monster who eats humans and absorbs their memories along through flesh and blood. Conflict with a human organisation whose aim is to kill monsters. There isn’t quite as much sex as before, but there is something new – a vampire having sex with a transformed werewolf (it was really only a matter of time).
However, there are some crucial differences in By Blood We Live. There are two vampire narrators, so for the first time we get some insight into their experiences. While Talulla and Jake spoke of the Curse and the wulf, Remshi speaks about vampirism as the Lash. We also have four narrators total – Remshi, Justine, Talulla and Walker. Justine leaves Remshi shortly after he turns her, believing that he’s going to leave for Talulla anyway. She decides to track down the people who abused her as a child, now that she has all these new vampiric abilities. Remshi goes after her while trying to track down Talulla at the same time. Talulla has been given the book that Jake was looking for, which describes the origin of the werewolf race and apparently gives the cure. However, the pages detailing the cure have been removed; to get them Talulla will have to meet with the vampire who sent her the book. At any rate, she has more immediate problems – the Militi Christi are trying to kill her family. Poor Walker knows that he’s relationship’s about to end, thanks to a dead werewolf and a mythical vampire. He’s well aware of Talulla’s awkward attempts to get him to have sex with his maker Madeline so that she won’t feel so guilty about leaving him.
There’s an interesting moral quandary regarding the attempt to wipe out werewolves and vampires. One of the defining characteristics of this series is that Duncan doesn’t hide the monstrousness of vamps and weres but emphasises and explores it. It’s impossible for them to exist without killing humans so obviously peaceful co-existence is impossible and violence is inevitable, as Talulla explains:
Here was the core of monstrosity: if you were a monster the human world had nothing to offer you but the just demand for your death. And since they were, in the last analysis, your food and drink, what could they be but right? There was no argument you could bring against them. All you could bring was your monstrous enmity.
Because the vamps and weres are the protagonists, the reader has the opportunity to empathise with them, but they’re still the bad guys. They’re murderers who can’t make any moral objection to the attempts at their genocide. I thought Duncan made a fantastic moral dilemma out of this in the previous book – Talulla was tortured, experimented upon and almost raped, but she admitted that nothing those people did to her was any worse than things she’d done. She wanted to survive but she couldn’t really complain about the violence per se. She was a monster attacked by other – lesser – monsters.
In this novel, Duncan sets up a similar dilemma although I found it less interesting. The Militi Christi are, in one sense, the good guys, because they’re trying to save humanity from a terrifying danger. However, they’re a bunch of militant Christians, and that already sets off lots of alarms. Then you get a closer look at them, and to no one’s surprise, they’re a bunch of ridiculous hypocrites. My problem with this is that’s it too easy to dislike them and side with our monstrous protagonists. WOCOP was also unlikeable, although in different ways. Given that there’s a very good reason for humans to want to wipe out werewolves and vampires, I thought it would be more complex and engaging to have an organisation the reader might actually side with.
Because, honestly, I’ve gotten tired of this monster formula now and I want something to shake it up. It was good in The Last Werewolf and it was great in Talulla Rising, but it’s old in By Blood We Live, especially since I read all three books within a short space of time. I know all about how the Curse (and now the Lash) makes you enjoy being evil. How “It’s only the best for us if it’s the worst for them.” God’s dead but irony’s still rollickingly alive. The great mathematical silence. How werewolves and vampires are like libraries because they absorb the memories of their victims (this is actually awesome, but I often wish Duncan would do more with it). Remshi seemed liked an interesting badass guy in the previous book; here, he’s actually quite a nice guy, but also quite boring.
That said, this book is not without its merits. The way memories are absorbed through the blood becomes really twisted when Justine drinks the man who sexually abused her, and in doing so gains his memories of the abuse, seeing herself through his eyes. Drinking/eating people is compared to reading, and Remshi warns her of the danger of it:
Reading a book is a dangerous thing, Justine. 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.
Each of the books has at least one really horrific moment, and this is the one that stood out for me.
I also like that the characters are struggling with the possible truth of myths, dreams, patterns and prophecies. They’re all cynics who don’t believe in god, religion or fairytales, so when they’re faced with the myth of the origin of werewolves, prescient dreams, Remshi’s prophecy about joining the blood of the werewolf (which he wrote himself), and the patterns and connections that appear after feeding, they feel absurd. While they have to admit that they’re all fairytale creatures themselves, they’re disgusted by belief in dreams and prophecies, especially when it seems like they really are caught up in some cosmic plan. It’s amusing in a macabre sort of way.
Appropriately, the prophecy also gets entwined with the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning. I’m not familiar with it, but Talulla describes it as a poem about going on and on without hope, on a quest without any clear purpose. This applies to Remshi in particular, but is starting to characterise Talulla’s journey as well. How can she and her children live on in a world that wants them dead? It’s a question I paused to think about a few times during the book.
Ultimately though, the flaws outweigh the merits for me, and I judged this to be my least favourite book in the series. I didn’t hate it; I just found it a bit boring. If the series continues, I doubt I’ll continue reading it. And there is a definite possibility for a fourth book, which could focus on an all-out war between humans and the werewolves and vampires. Which, admittedly, could be interesting. And maybe I just need a break from this sort of style and content to appreciate it more. We’ll see.