Friday, 18 December 2009
Lonely Werewolf Girl
I’ve just finished reading Lonely Werewolf Girl, an off beat, very funny, hugely entertaining book by Scottish author Martin Millar.
This is a most excellent novel. It’s a darkly humorous tale with a strong story and a big cast of characters who are just so much fun to follow through its five hundred and twenty pages. These people feel fully rounded with their own distinctive voices and attitudes and complex sets of problems and issues. The tone, for the most part, is darkly humorous with monsters, magic, mayhem, horror and violence mixed in with the normal everyday of work, study, failed romance, endless mugs of tea, going to gigs, going to the pub, watching cable TV, listening to and talking about music. The book feels leftfield and more than a little punk in attitude with non-conformist outsider characters that end up coming together in uneasy, difficult yet ultimately beneficial relationships. It is also, quite simply, very, very funny. I laughed out loud a lot while reading Lonely Werewolf Girl. As a total coincidence I found out after the fact that author Martin Millar is a massive Buffy geek…just like me. And Lonely Werewolf Girl does have a bit of that Buffy vibe about it – the tonal shifts in the mix of action, then quirky/dry humour, then horror, then emotional drama and often all in the space of the same scene and always with an underlying theme. But it’s not a copy or homage to the Bufster. It is most definitely its own thing with its own voice. And a mighty fine voice it is too.
The central plot hinges on a family power struggle as to who will be the next Thane of the Scottish MacRinnalch werewolf clan - basically becoming leader of all werewolves in the world. The eldest son, Sarapen MacRinnalch, thinks the title is his by right, whilst his mother, Verasa, will do whatever she can to make Markus, her younger, favoured son, the new Thane…even if it means a bloody civil war. Votes are needed at the clan council to secure the victor, to secure the new Thane legally. However, things are at a stalemate as the three members of the clan with the likely deciding votes are not around to cast them. Two of the three being the young rebellious twins Beauty and Delicious who are living a drunken hedonistic life in London while half-heartedly trying to become rock stars. The third voter is Sarapen and Markus's youngest sister, seventeen year old Kalix. Kalix, the titular Lonely Werewolf Girl, ran away from Castle MacRinnalch several months prior after attacking her father and indirectly causing his later death. Poor Kalix is a deeply troubled girl. Living rough in London, she’s lost and alone and can barely read a few words or write her own name. She suffers from extreme depression and anxiety while also being addicted to laudanum. Despite continually running away from everything and everyone, events soon conspire to throw Kalix together with two kind-hearted young students whom, by taking pity of her, become unwittingly embroiled in the complex and deadly werewolf world. And big bad Sarapen’s forces are on the move in London and Scotland. He's determined to eliminate any and all obstacles to his becoming Thane. And young Kalix is right at the top of the list.
It has to be said that Kalix is a brilliant character. The best I’ve read in a long time. You can’t help but feel for her and just want her to be happy. She lives her life on the streets, ostracised by her family, swinging from extreme anxiety to extreme depression with substance abuse (mostly laudanum) and self-harm being her main ways of handling things. She is also affectingly innocent in her ways with a very sweet, longstanding obsession with the 1970’s girl group The Runaways. Kalix believes them to be the greatest thing ever and longs for Joan Jett to be her real mother. Later on she also develops an addiction to Sabrina the Teenage Witch but can’t understand why such a great show isn’t on the TV all the time and why they keep repeating the same episodes when there should be an endless supply of new ones. Yet, despite her problems and naivety, Kalix is a ferocious and powerful fighter who, when the battle madness takes her, can tear apart other werewolves and werewolf hunters more than twice her size as if they were nothing.
A couple of funny quotes from the brilliantly hilarious, fashion obsessed Malveria, the powerful Fire Queen from another dimension:
"Their blood-soaked bodies are no doubt strewn about downstairs at this moment!" cried Malveria. "If we hurry we may save the shoes!"
"That is it. Cricket. Apparently the rules of this game are most puzzling and complex. Daniel tried to explain these rules to Vex. As a consequence of this I understand she almost lost consciousness, and had to be helped to a chair, in a very poor state of mind. It was some time before she could summon enough energy to return to her own dimension. She has subsequently refused to leave her room, and has only her favourite cuddly toy for comfort."
Bottom line: this is a great book by a gifted writer who can weave a big, complex tale with a myriad of distinct and interesting characters while juggling drama, action and humour exactly right. So if you like urban fantasy/horror with a smart, blackly hilarious and counter culture feel, then you should love this book. Martin Millar is currently working on the sequel tentatively titled Queen Vex and due out late 2010. And a Lonely Werewolf Girl movie is apparently in the works too.