It’s the end of the line, for Talulla Demetriou and her unexpected wolfpack, for Remshi, the oldest living vampire, dating to 18,000 BC and woken with his memories in disarray to find he has lost two years to the long sleep without realising it, and for Glen Duncan, with the conclusion of his Bloodlines trilogy, following on from The Last Werewolf in 2011 and Talulla Rising in 2012.
The world is changing for both the supernatural species, the boochies and the howlers; where the werewolves had once been in decline, the virus has mutated and is now communicable again, and their numbers are rising, but both they and the vampires face a mutual threat. Biologically compelled to avoid each other by instinctive revulsion, they are no longer threatened by the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena, but two new threats have risen to take the place of that disbanded agency.
Secret footage smuggled out of China shows werewolves rounded up and executed, while from the Catholic Church has arisen God’s Army, the Militi Christi, commonly known as the Angels. Seeking out Talulla despite their mutual repulsion, the vampire Olek warns her that “genocide has always depended on getting people to see the enemy as not human, a redundancy if the enemy isn’t human,” and with this he gives her an offer, if not for herself, then for her children, Zoë and Lorcan: a cure.
As a gesture to prove his goodwill, Olek offers Talulla the object that was the quest of the man who turned her, the late Jacob Marlowe, an item which he had come to believe was mythical, Quinn’s diary, chronicling the first werewolves and how they came to be, the implication being that the story of the origin of the curse contains the knowledge of how it can be reversed.
As before, the words gush like hot blood, Duncan’s characters painfully aware of their narrative position, Remshi apologising from the first page for the storytelling choices forced upon him – “Do not start with a murder, do not start with a dream” – but for Remshi, the dream is all he has, the voice he can’t place repeating over and over “He lied in every word.”
With a life lived over centuries it is impossible for a vampire to have full recollection, surplus memories thrown out like unwanted luggage, but deeply affected by the unexpected long sleep Remshi finds random memories flashing into awareness, unsure if the connections are important or randomly generated by the blood (“the Lash“), but to the consternation of his human companion Justine, he too seeks the answers promised in the mythical text of his people. (“Yes. I’m afraid there is a book of prophecies. I know. I can only apologise.”)
Contrasting Talulla’s informed consideration over whether she should seek to change the life her children will lead is Remshi’s snap decision to turn Justine when is mortally wounded. Reborn a vampire, her revenge on the men who abused her in childhood is particularly bloody and descriptive, her impulsive behaviour drawing dangerous attention in a world increasingly aware of the supernatural. “Monster deniers were on the same shrinking bit of polar ice as climate-change sceptics.”
Too often the fodder of young adult novels, Duncan’s approach throughout the trilogy has been literary and refreshingly adult, as bold and ruthless as the sophisticated alpha predators he writes with his sharp and precise prose. Their keen senses only a fraction of their awareness of the world, Justine reflects on the idea of the objective correlative as she sees at a filthy, broken down house, the psychological concept when an external object symbolises a person’s inner landscape, at first regarding it as representing her prey before realising she is gazing at herself.
While the first volume was defiantly modern, vulgar and brash, with even the period flashbacks written in the style of a knowing pastiche, the shift of focus to vampires introduced in the second volume, who here take a major step forward as the trilogy ostensibly approaches its hugely open ended conclusion, tends towards though fortunately never reaches the indulgence of Anne Rice to which Duncan was once the antidote.
It is the richness of the characters which keeps them afloat in the sea of increasingly self-referential irony, aware of their monstrous nature yet somehow accommodating it; the violence of the werewolves is devastating, but they learn to live with it. They compartmentalise, resigned to the fact that they must kill to survive and that they will go on killing, each soul consumed in their monthly cycle but never silenced. “It’s only the best for us if it’s the worst for them. No one wants it to be true. But the truth doesn’t care about what anyone wants. The truth is innocent. You can’t blame the truth.”