My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I really thought I was going to love this one. A story of werewolves and the mythology of India, from a graduate of the prestigious Clarion writers’ workshop? Sign me right up!
Unfortunately, Indra Das’ writing just didn’t capture my imagination the way I expected it to. In style, this is more of a literary allegory on gender, relationships and identity than it is a fantasy or horror tale, so if that is up your alley, your mileage may vary accordingly.
As our story opens, a young college professor, Alok, meets an enigmatic stranger at a social gathering. (view spoiler) Alok finds the stranger alluring enough that his far-fetched tales of being “half-werewolf” make him find him more intriguing, rather than just causing him to be written off as a crackpot, and the professor accepts a commission to translate an old collection of documents.
These documents, which form the bulk of the book, tell the story of a being who may or may not be the stranger, but which clearly shed light on his story. In the past, we learn of a shapeshifting race – maybe werewolves, maybe djinni, maybe something humanity has never quite understood – who have lived secretly among or apart from humans, preying upon them, for untold aeons. The society of these beings is shaped by strict rules governing fraternization both with each other and with humans. When these rules are broken, tragedy and violence follows.
I think I would’ve liked it more if there was more complexity to the plot, but the events of the past boil down to an ill-fated love triangle, with lot of poetic angst about unrequited feelings. (with lots of mentions of ‘piss’ thrown in to make it feel gritty?) The major event that the plot hinges on didn’t convince me. (view spoiler)
Meanwhile, in the present, there also isn’t any reason for our enigmatic werewolf stranger to choose to reveal this hidden past to the professor. Sure, there’s sexual attraction, but the revelation of secrets seems unnecessary. The plot point is really just a vehicle for what felt to me like a rather self-absorbed musing on sexual orientation and gender identity, with Alok’s character a stand-in for the author.
(Still – how beautiful is that cover?!?!)
Many thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.