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The line between what it is to be human and what it is to be a monster is frequently blurred in Das' compelling debut novel.

In modern-day India, a lonely history professor named Alok is drawn into an unbelievable story of the past by a charismatic young man who introduces himself as “half werewolf.” His mysterious new acquaintance hires him to transcribe the century-spanning saga of an immortal shape-shifter, Fenrir, whose rape of a prostitute in 17th-century India triggers a web of painful consequences for them both. Fenrir is fascinated by humans, in part because they are taboo as anything but prey for his species—creatures who are the root of all mankind's myths and nightmares and who feed off mortals, both literally and metaphorically (the frequent descriptions of violent consumption are rendered in loving, grotesque detail). Fenrir's story becomes Cyrah's—his victim's—as she trails him on her own hunt for a reckoning. Interwoven through the quests for legacy and vengeance are Alok's present-day encounters with the man he refers to as "the stranger" and Alok's own alternating fascination and discomfiture with both the story he is reconstructing and its messenger. History catches up with the present as the stranger's identity is revealed (somewhat predictably), and he and Alok have their own reckoning and consumption. At its best, Das' narrative is lush, imaginative, and hypnotic, bringing to life scenes of savagery and moments of wonder. At its worst, it treads toward an overwrought fascination with its own gore and “the stinking dark of fermented history.” Readers are left to draw their own moral conclusions as to where right and wrong lie amid the blood.

Not for the squeamish, Das' debut is an ambitious, unsettling trip into our own capacity for violence.

Pub Date: July 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-96751-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2016


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