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.