"An engaging, suspenseful occult novel..."– Kirkus Reviews
A man cursed with “wolf magic” travels to 19th-century Europe in search of a possible cure in Morris’ (When Brothers Dwell in Unity, 2015, etc.) horror fantasy.
Before he dies, Edvin bequeaths a wolf pelt to his grandson, Alexei. But it’s not an ordinary animal skin; it’s a magical one that transforms Alexei into a werewolf. According to tradition, he must protect his Estonian village by driving storms away from the farmlands; he does this by battling storm hags and cloud giants. Edvin warned him about the “powerful temptations” of donning the pelt too often and relishing the taste of earthly blood. Nonetheless, Alexei can’t stop his wolf self from executing a particularly savage attack on his village, forcing him to flee and try to discover a way to banish the wolf magic. Along the way, he receives guidance from his late grandfather’s voice. In Latvia, he continues to have trouble controlling his transformations and winds up enslaved by the so-called Master of Wolves, who asserts that werewolves may only eat when he gives them permission. Further south, in Lithuania, another werewolf appears to besiege a village, killing brides-to-be and abducting children. Alexei thinks that he may be able to help the villagers, as well as another family that’s enduring its own curse. However, he still hopes to find someone who can release him from his affliction. This decidedly adult werewolf story feels like an adventure yarn as Alexei pursues a quest and encounters allies and baddies along the way. Although the novel is certainly cohesive, it’s structured like a collection of short stories, with each country boasting new characters and a different wolf moniker (such as the Polish “wilkolak”). Morris’ werewolf isn’t a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who’s both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal. The ending takes a drastic, rather jarring turn, but Morris does allow some room for interpretation.
A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves’ teeth.
Morris’ (Come Hell or High Water, Part 2: Rising, 2012) fantasy series bridges the 14th and 21st centuries in a web of supernatural intrigue set in Prague.
Naïve, young Magdalena leads a large cast in this convoluted tale. She tangles with a witch’s ghost who pulls her into an underworld of sorcery and vampires. That encounter propels her and various helpers and enemies through the first two novels in the series, leading up to this installment, which ties up the trilogy with pyrotechnics and a twist reminiscent of Mario Bava’s film Black Sunday. Despite some interesting conceits (tarot cards are used as chapter themes) and a strong pace, the overall narrative doesn’t coalesce. The characters and dialogue aren’t especially engaging and often deliver clunky exposition. The most significant flaw is that the book reads like the last third of a novel rather than as a fully developed story. Those who haven’t read the previous books in the series will be lost. The first chapter begins without description of the characters or their setting beyond a brief note of the calendar date. The work doesn’t supply sufficient orienting information for some time. Even with a useful synopsis, keeping track of the large cast and multiple locations becomes a challenging exercise in memory. Also, though much of the background seems to be well-researched and authentic, occasionally something will give the reader pause. For example, a character gives the Christmas greeting, “Váno? ni strome? Ek!” (which means “Christmas tree” in Czech). This may very well have been a common holiday greeting among 14th-century Bohemians, but the modern reader may be somewhat puzzled.
An interesting but incomplete story.
An engaging, suspenseful occult novel set in historical and contemporary Prague.
In this sequel to Come Hell or High Water: Wellspring (2012), a group of professors specializing in folklore and magic attempts to prevent George, a powerful priest, and Elizabeth, an Irish vampire, from unleashing an evil that threatens to destroy all of Prague. Both George and Elizabeth were called to Prague by Magdalena, who summoned them to help fulfill the dying wishes of Fen’ka, a woman burned alive as a witch in the 14th century. Unbeknownst to Magdalena, Fen’ka seeks the return of Svetovit, a pagan god who will bring destruction to the modern world. Both sides scramble to find four magical items that protect Prague from evil: a sword, a staff, a pentacle and a chalice. The first half of the novel is a mystery in which the professors try to identify the magical items, while the second half becomes a suspenseful race as both sides try to obtain the items. The plot in this volume is more exciting than Wellspring and also more erotic, especially the scenes showing Elizabeth seducing men and then feeding on their blood. Chapters alternate between the main plot and loosely connected stories of the occult from medieval Prague that illustrate the effects of Fen’ka’s curse. Those historical episodes, which aren’t linked to the modern chapters, sometimes seem like parts of a different novel; however, they include evocative scenes featuring Czech slang and medieval social and religious practices, with characters, particularly women, using the occult to rebel against the rigid social bonds of the time, marriage especially. Carrying over from Wellspring, dialogue is still somewhat awkward, although it’s more naturalistic here. While the previous volume felt slow to develop, the sense of danger in this outing is palpable from the start, and the intensity, at least in the modern chapters, rarely lets up. Also included are several Czech legends, such as the story of Rabbi Judah ben Loew creating the Golem, which should appeal to readers with an interest in folklore.
A stark division of narratives, but each is absorbing, especially for history fans.
This occult thriller explores the legends of medieval and modern Prague.
Magdalena, a bored administrative assistant in Prague, discovers the ghost of Fen’ka, an old woman burned alive as a witch in 1356, and agrees to help her pursue justice. Magdalena becomes more and more involved with the occult: She communicates with the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortuneteller murdered by the Nazis, and seeks out powerful demons to aid Fen’ka. Her story is interwoven with the novel’s strongest chapters, set in medieval Prague, which dramatize the effects of Fen’ka’s last dying curse on the city. Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves. Each self-contained medieval chapter builds tension fairly well; the chapters set in modern times, however, suffer in comparison, with uneven, diffused narrative tension and characters who only come to life through their interest in the occult. As a source of knowledge into occult practices—such as reading tarot cards, which provides the backdrop for many of its scenes—the novel sustains interest, although its momentum flags when trying to depict the mundane. However, the plot picks up toward the end, culminating with powerful demons let loose in Prague and the development of a compelling theme regarding Magdalena’s temptation to gain power and the price she’s willing to pay for it. Although the dialogue could use more subtlety, with characters often flatly stating what they believe, the plot and portrait of the 14th century are gripping enough to keep readers engaged.
An entertaining account of Czech folk and occult legends marred by uneven plot and dialogue.