“When I change I change fast. The moon drags the whatever-it-is up from the earth and it goes through me with crazy wriggling impatience . . . I’m twisted, torn, churned, throttled — then rushed through a blind chicane into ludicrous power . . . A heel settles. A last canine hurries through. A shoulder blade pops. The woman is a werewolf.
The woman is Talulla Demetriou.
She’s grieving for her werewolf lover, Jake, whose violent death has left her alone with her own sublime monstrousness. On the run, pursued by the hunters of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), she must find a place to give birth to Jake’s child in secret.
The birth, under a full moon at a remote Alaska lodge, leaves Talulla ravaged, but with her infant son in her arms she believes the worst is over — until the windows crash in, and she discovers that the worst has only just begun . . .
What follows throws Talulla into a race against time to save both herself and her child as she faces down the new, psychotic leader of WOCOP, a cabal of blood-drinking religious fanatics, and (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire.”
Thoughts: In The Last Werewolf, readers met Jake, a 400-year-old werewolf who believes that he is the last of his kind until he meets Talulla and his entire world suddenly takes on new meaning after hundreds of years of ennui and survival. Talulla Rising picks up roughly seven months after The Last Werewolf with Jake dead and Talulla alternating between fear at her inability to balance her monster with motherhood and grief over the loss of her true love. Upon the kidnapping of her son immediately after his birth, what follows is a breathtaking story that allows the reader to run the gamut of emotional responses at Talulla’s actions and inactions, her warring instincts, and own inner turmoil. Told in a similar journalistic fashion as The Last Werewolf, readers get true insight into Talulla’s internal conflicts, her self-disgust, and her opposing desires.
The idea of a monster becoming a mother is nothing new, but Mr. Duncan is able to bring a freshness to the story that is intriguing. More importantly, even though Talulla is female and turns into a literal monster once a month, he manages to create her story without delving too horribly into the cliché of women’s monthly cycle, something that would be all too easy to do. Talulla’s struggles drive home the issues that arise when any woman becomes a mother and must adjust her entire lifestyle to accommodate these changes. Yet, the story’s true heart is the idea that someone completely conflicted about her role as a mother is willing to move heaven and earth to recover her stolen child. When Talulla is at her most driven, the reader becomes utterly captivated, and the reader’s despair over her grief is nothing compared to the reader’s feelings of impotence when things look the bleakest for Talulla and her allies. It is an emotional investment that is totally absorbing.
Make no mistake, however, that Talulla Rising is more than a trite and tortuous rescue mission. There is just enough gravitas and psychological discussions to please even the most discerning of literary critics. While The Last Werewolf was an introduction into Mr. Duncan’s world of supernatural creatures, it is through Talulla’s eyes where his world takes on substance. Everything a reader thought s/he understood from Jake’s story is quickly found to have no meaning as her experiences show that the world of supernatural creatures and their hunters is more complicated and fraught with peril than Jake ever knew. Keeping track of the overly large cast of characters may be complicated, but there the reader implicitly knows that it is essential for understanding the depth and details of Talulla’s world and vital for future storylines.
In The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan introduced readers to an entirely new version of werewolf that was at once fascinating and disgusting. In Talulla Rising, he continues his masterful storytelling and ups the ante by adding a nurturing element that drives home the monstrosity that is the werewolf curse. While Jake wrestled with his own issues after having been alive for over 400 years, Talulla’s story is sufficiently more complicated and human. Not only must she deal with her own monstrousness, she has to wrest away enough residual humanity to become a mother. Mr. Duncan’s vision of werewolves is still graphically violent and overtly sexual, but due to her youth, her inexperience as a werewolf, her pending motherhood, and her abrupt switch into rescue mode, there is a poignancy to Talulla’s story that outshines the gory explicitness. With its twists and turns and surprising ending, Talulla Rising is a worthy sequel to one of last year’s more exciting novels.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Kim Thornton from Random House for my e-galley!