Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf is one of the quintessential needles in a haystack - unless you know where to look for them, you'll find yourself grasping at straws most of your time. Good werewolf novels are drowned in the sea of bad ones. In my case, my eyes happened upon this book quite by an accident at a bookstore. It was a translation, which already told me that this was worth looking at (they don't just bother to translate just _anything_ into Finnish) and I soon got the sample and then the full book onto my Kindle (the English language version, of course).

The title of the novel reveals the central theme of the story: Jacob Marlowe suddenly learns that he's the last werewolf on Earth and that WOCOP - World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena - is planning to take him out come the next full moon, ridding the world of the Curse forever. At first, Jacob could not care less about his planned fate; he's tired of life and eager for it to stop. The Hunter who is after him does not like his prey to just sit still and wait for his end, however, and finds ways to motivate Jacob to fight back. The last encounter between a human and a werewolf needs to be a grand one, after all.

Glen Duncan's writing style is energetic, although he is perhaps a bit too much in love with abstractions and literature and pop culture references. But given that his hero has lived for a long time (more about that later) and is well-read, it is relatively easy for the reader to take the constant abstractions and world weariness as part of the character. Still, some cutting down on this might have been in order as some of the writing comes through as pretentious or pompous, rather than in-character. Especially so when there's another character whose first words early on in the story reflect the same kind of pretentious references as the protagonist's. The story is a page-turner, however, and even though I managed to spoil the ending for myself (do NOT read the description of the sequel before you've finished this book!), my enthusiasm to finish it never diminished. The action is fast, but the author still takes time to build up the atmosphere before moving to the next twist.

Duncan's version of the werewolf is more or less traditional: every full moon, a person turns into a bipedal monster, hungry for human flesh. The hunger cannot be denied and no other kind of flesh works as a replacement. The Curse is well explained and fleshed out with details, but the essence is familiar to anyone who's ever heard of werewolves. However, unlike most other literary examples, Duncan's werewolves can live for up to four hundred years - working nicely to give Jacob Marlowe the kind of world weariness that makes him an interesting character. Also, the Curse has changed: for many decades, people who have been bitten no longer turn into werewolves, they merely die within twenty four hours.

Overall, I rate this book amongst the better werewolf novels that I've read, perhaps second only to McCammon's The Wolf's Hour. A great read, even if the beginning - more laden with pretentious language than the rest of the book - may turn off some readers.