Wherewolves by John Vamvas and Olga Montes
WHEREWOLVES is the story of a group of high school seniors, most “military brats”, who are headed for an army-type survival weekend. The underdogs, Jeffrey and Doris, do not want to go as they fear for their safety among the disdain and cruelty of the popular students. In the background, a news report cautions of a wanted couple with alleged super-human strength supposedly brought on by a new drug on the streets. When the kids start disappearing one after the other, the remaining begin to unwittingly “act like the natives” carving spears, ready to face whatever is out there. What has gotten into them? What is out there? Can it really be werewolves?
When the authors first sent me this novel, I wasn't too excited about it. The title immediately suggests it to be a paranormal horror, and I imagined characters cowering in the dark as a fluffy thing with teeth prowled outside their walls, trying to claw its way in. Wherewolves surprised me, as it's so much more than that, and the fluffy thing with teeth was only a small part of the horrific jigsaw I tried desperately to piece together.
The first 10% of the novel starts off as we'd expect, with a woman running for her life from (you guessed it) two fluffy things with teeth. The suspense here is unreal, and the atmosphere created is one of sheer confusion and panic. We're thrown in at the deep end, and we think we're on a chronological line with some idea of what we're dealing with. We are incorrect.
The narrative then abruptly removes us from the forest, and throws into more familiar, yet similarly terrifying, surroundings - a high school. It's here we are treated to an in-depth characterisation of each of the students, and this does wonders to help us understand their fears and motivations. It's true to life high school, with bullying, shallow relationships, and the power struggle of popularity. The knowledge we gain of the students helps make the carnage, when it comes, much more interesting as we see how humanity differs when faced with a fight or flight situation.
It takes a while to get to the violence, but the build-up makes this rewarding. The students are taken on a trip to the forest as part of their soldier training. Rather than a study of supernatural monsters, it's more of a study on the human condition, and how we treat other. The characters react to emotional abuse, each of them battling with their own inner demons carved from traumatic past experience.
The suspense, gore, and violence involved is worthy of a B-movie. I particularly liked the monsters remaining ever so slightly out of sight, adding to the tension, saving us from an overdone focus, and keeping the unknown behind the veil until the last moment. There are a good few twists thrown our way which make us question everything we've already learned; I love being kept guessing until the last gasp and being forced to change my perception, so this was a welcome device. Seeing everything come together at the end, and basking in the horror of it all was wonderful.
Vamvas and Montes had originally written this story as a screenplay, which I'm pleased to hear is currently in production. At times, it really does feel like reading a screenplay; details seem to have been added as an after thought, and dialogue takes precedence over description. This doesn't actually impact the enjoyment of the story too heavily, instead adding to the fast paced character development, which is an important factor. I do feel some more descriptive elements could have helped the novel flow more smoothly.
A true social commentary where we come to understand monsters are human, and can be made that way by other humans. An incredibly worthwhile read, which I'm glad I was asked to review - thank you.