In 2011, Glen Duncan introduced us to Jacob Marlowe, who believed himself to be the last werewolf. Through diaries he shared wisdom accumulated over two centuries of walking the earth as a man always possessed by beast, driving and guiding him even outwith its monthly manifestation, his perspective on life skewed by his compulsion to bloody violence and the inherited memories of the consumed dead within him.
Then two things happened to Jake. First, he encountered a thing rarer than another werewolf, for Talulla Demetriou was a recently made female werewolf. And then Jake himself was killed. A year has passed for readers, but the narrative resumes sooner for Talulla, heavily pregnant with Jake’s child and on the run from both the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena and the vampire families who believe that the werewolf virus may confer resistance to sunlight.
What Talulla does not know is that both WOCOP and the vampire families have fractured: while there is now a splinter group of militia trained to fight the supernatural who may assist her, though only so much as her goals coincide with their own, there is also a third threat from the Disciples of Remshi, an emerging vampire cult led by Jake’s nemesis Jacqueline Delon, who believe that the resurrection of the oldest of their kind will be triggered by the sacrifice of the child of a werewolf on the forthcoming lunar eclipse.
Written with swift and economical language, Duncan has rendered any other lycanthropy texts redundant, offering a stream of images expressed through shared memory and understanding, forcing us to become participants in the horror of Talulla’s overwhelming existence, a life simultaneously abhorrent, fascinating and inappropriately sensual. For all that the human within her is repelled, the hunter who shares her body revels in the kill.
To exist as a predator atop of the food chain is to be free of the constraints of morality and society, and the book flips between outright brutal horror and absurdist hilarity on every page, channelling the duality of Talulla’s existence, a single mother-to-be coping with the imminent birth of her first child without aid of modern medicine, unable to allow even an ultrasound for fear of the doctor’s reaction to the foetal beast she is carrying.
The violence of the book is constantly inventive, the shocks accentuated by the beautiful phrasing, from scintillating moonlight on Alaskan snow to the ancient ruins of Italy, the journey made personal by Talulla‘s fears for herself and her offspring. Aware that many predators consume their young and with little research available on the parenting habits of werewolves, she is uncertain whether her inability to form a maternal bond springs from her realisation that she may pose a greater threat than her pursuers. When the moon comes, she knows there will be a choice, but it will be wulf who makes it, not her.
Reviewing The Last Werewolf, my criticism was that as Talulla’s narrative succeeded Jake’s during the final chapters of that book she spoke with the same voice. While that still holds true in this second volume, the criticism is qualified in that not only is she possessed in the same way as Jake, but her experience of wulf is informed and influenced by the singular point of view of his diaries.
While she still shares that frame of reference, as we come to know her better her opinions are recognisably her own, such as in her encounter with Madeline, seen rather differently from “the one dimensional dolly” described so unflatteringly by Jake. Every new experience changes her more, every moon adds to her chorus of dead voices, “the ingested lives… standing around confused and weeping like children on their first day at school.”
He may be dead, but Jake still claws his way into every page, a constant presence through Talulla’s direct memories of him and the diaries she inherited, coaching her from beyond the grave with assuring cynicism. Having escaped punishment when told as a child that she was a bad girl, her transformation is both a manifestation of that guilt and liberation from it, allowing her to take all she wants with impunity. “You took a life and the theft went unpunished. God didn’t strike you down. The sky didn’t fall. It was the most prosaic obscenity: you kept going.”
Already a serious contender for the best book of 2012, Duncan has already teasingly tweeted on the forthcoming conclusion of the trilogy – “By Blood We Live, 2013, multiple narrators, origin myths, vamps get their moment in the sun,” though whether they will walk or burn remains to be seen.