Rival gangs of werewolves duke it out for control of Los Angeles in this dark but oddly tender free-verse novel.
The werewolves of Barlow’s imagined world don’t adhere to traditional rules—descendents of the ancient lycanthropes, they feed on flesh and are able to change from man to dog whenever they please, regardless of the lunar cycle. Unofficially, there is room for only one woman in each pack, and she tends to link herself to the leader. Lark is the dominant dog in the beginning, until his girl (who remains unnamed) strays, and he is betrayed by Baron, a member of his pack. There are a few changes in leadership, but eventually Baron pairs with Sasha, a darkly seductive female werewolf, to form a dangerous rival gang. Lark’s former girl hides out in human form with Anthony, a fully human dogcatcher. The girl is desperately worried that her new love will uncover her secret, yet she continues using her charms to seduce and murder threatening members of the werewolf community. Lark, meanwhile, seeking temporary refuge, turns himself over to the Pasadena Animal Shelter, where he is adopted as a pet by Bonnie, an insecure and lonely suburban woman. While Bonnie is at work, Lark organizes a new pack, made up of an unlikely cast of characters, including the token woman, an abused bartender named Maria. In other events, just as Lark’s former girl gets ready to leave the werewolf life and flee Los Angeles with Anthony, she is attacked by Sasha, who is trying to bump her off. Though the fight ends in the girl’s favor, it compromises her hopes for a simpler future. Lark is left with his own struggles, as he juggles his role as pack leader and his (unexpectedly content) life with Bonnie. Though the free-verse form takes getting used to, it serves to heighten Barlow’s visceral imagery.
A refreshing leap across genres.