Richardson opens his Darkest Hour trilogy in the trenches of World War I near Arras, France, there to watch English and German soldiers fall prey to werewolves.
It's 1914, but Richardson imagines that the Inquisition, that "vile and uncouth relic of a past age," has continued across the centuries, with the worst of its "fallen deviants" exiled into the "abyss of lycantropy"—turned into werewolves. After a priest’s murder, Poldek Tacit, an Inquisitor, has been dispatched to Arras. Tacit is Polish, the only survivor of a family massacred by Slovaks, and he’s Richardson’s most fully developed and intriguing character—shell-shocked by his family’s death, singularly focused on duty, psychologically warped, a taciturn giant who lives on brandy. The Vatican is wary of him. There’s speculation over how he bears the "weight of his celibacy." Sent along to watch over Tacit is Sister Isabella, "who looked more like a prostitute than a patron of divinity." Contrasting with the cascade of minor characters bearing ecclesiastical titles, Richardson offers deeply affecting descriptions of war’s barbarity through the eyes of platoon leader Lt. Henry Frost. Hidebound stupidity, obtuse brutality, and general incompetence mean Frost must cope with a commander who disciplines with summary executions and suicidal frontal attacks. It’s war and other evils that bestir Hombre Lobo, and the werewolves emerging from caves might serve as complex metaphors for modern theocratic violence. Frost finds empathy in the arms of a beautiful free spirit, Sandrine Prideux, whose character dominates the later part of the book. Richardson is a gifted wordsmith. His descriptions of transformation from human to wolf, wolf to human—"coarse hair covering the beast’s body receding and sinking back into the beautiful cream skin"—are alone worth the price of admission.
Allegorical and erudite, this imaginative first volume establishes a world, a monolithic villain, and a catapult for Tacit and Isabella, Sandrine and Frost to confront the evil lurking in the volumes to come.