Hodder, hardback out now; paperback out April 24
A plane traveller kills all but one of his fellow passengers; a bomb devastates a political rally – can the divide between wolf and man be overcome?
It’s been said that the reason that the West will never win the so-called War on Terror is because the vast majority of people there – including those in charge of the military – simply have no comprehension of the vast gulf in mindset between them and the “terrorists”. If you don’t understand your opponent’s goals, you have no chance of stopping them achieving them.
That rift is at the heart of Benjamin Percy’s bleak and powerful novel of alternate history, in which those who suffer from lycanthropy stand in for various different groups across history. Percy never lectures – save for the odd scene centred around one of his key characters, a former activist turned lecturer – but by the end of the book you’ve got a pretty good idea of the changes in our history that have led to the state of events at the start of the novel. The ways in which various disadvantaged members of society have been treated are amalgamated into the lycans’ past, with some curveballs thrown in to ensure that you never are exactly sure how far an analogy is being taken.
Percy has a very direct approach. His sentences are, usually, short. They tell you what you need to know without unnecessary embellishment, but you never feel cheated on descriptions. Locales, including Percy’s native Oregon and the bleak fictional Republic, are brought to life so clearly that you could be presented with a photograph and recognise it instantly.
One benefit of this is that the shocks become more powerful. One thread of the novel deals with a politician who – as may come as no surprise – isn’t exactly true either to himself or what he stands up for. We witness his bodily functions, and are privy to his thoughts – but, like one of those closest to him, we are still shocked when the otherness to which he is now subject takes control.
Verdict: With a shock ending that dramatically ups the stakes even further (and in a book that features devastation on a massive scale, that’s saying something), this is a novel for those who like early Stephen King or Robert McCammon. Recommended. 8/10