Werewolves always seem to get the short end of the stick. When it comes to the undead it's always Vampires who get all the attention. Everybody considers them so sexy and cool with their pasty white complexions and unusually good fashion sense. Vampires always seem to be portrayed as having money, living in fancy castles in exotic locals, and, of course, getting their choice of buxom mortals to snack on.
More often than not when you meet a werewolf for the first time in a story or movie you're not left with a favourable impression as they're usually ripping someone's throat out. They never get to wear fancy clothes in the movies, partly due I suppose to the tendency for clothing to suffer during their transformation from human to wolf. (There is some debate as to what happens to a werewolf's clothes after they change from human to wolf, and more specifically what they do about their clothing situation when they convert back to being a human). Then there' the whole bestial thing - there's just no talking to them when they change into their wolf selves.
So it can't be an easy life being a werewolf in the first place, but can you image what it must be like if you were a teenaged werewolf, filled with all the usual adolescent angst, and being outlawed by your family? Well that's the situation that seventeen year old Kalix MacRinnalck finds herself in as the heroine of Martin Millar's The Lonely Werewolf Girl, published by Soft Skull Press, and distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada
In a fit of anger young Kalix attacked and almost killed her father, the Thane of the MacRinnalck clan, and for that crime had to flee the families ancestral home in Scotland and seek shelter in the mean streets of London. In spite of her tender years, and being skinny to the point of emaciation as a human, Kalix is a fearsomely powerful werewolf when the battle rage takes her. She was born during a full moon when werewolves are unable to resist the change so she and her mother were both in their werewolf forms. The majority of werewolves are born as humans, so when Kalix changes into her werewolf form she becomes twice as fierce and powerful as kinsman double her size.
All things considered this is a good thing, because not only has she been outlawed by the family, but the clan's ruling council has demanded she be brought back to stand trial for nearly killing her father. Some of them aren't too fussy about what shape she shows up in for the trial. In fact some, like her eldest brother Sarapen, would be happy if only her heart were to show up for the trial.
All of which means is that Kalix finds herself having to be continually on her guard against being captured or killed by minions of the family's various factions. Her circumstances are complicated even further by the fact that she is so filled with self-loathing that she's not only anorexic as a human but has developed a taste, well more an addiction, for laudanum.
Not eating for days on end, and taking a very powerful opium derivative on a frequent basis can leave one's resources rather drained. Which is how Kalix ends up being sheltered by two human teenagers, Daniel and Moonglow. Daniel accidentally saves Kalix from one of her brother's more reprehensible minions, and she is so weakened by lack of food and drugs she is unable to resist when Moonglow decides that Kalix only needs some understanding and compassion to feel good about herself again.
Of course Daniel and Moonglow might live to regret, if they live, getting involved with the scion of the MacRinnalch clan as all of sudden they are drawn into a world inhabited by more than just depressed teenage werewolves. First of all there's the rest of Kalix's immediate family, which aside from her previously mentioned eldest brother includes her mother, The Mistress of the Werewolves and matriarch of the clan; her sister Thrix who wants as little to do with the family as possible so she can concentrate on her career as a fashion designer; her other brother Markus who has a thing for women's clothing; and the cousins Beauty and Delicious who fancy themselves as rock and roll stars but haven't been sober enough in a couple of years to play a note.
On top of that are the various minions of all the parties involved, werewolf hunters armed with guns that fire silver bullets, and Thrix's main client, Mallveria, Queen of the Hiyasta, a race of fire elementals from another dimension, who has become addicted to human fashions. It's bad enough when they all start showing up at, or in the vicinity of Daniel and Moonglow's small flat in Kensington, but things get really chaotic when the Thane dies as a result of the injuries he sustained from Kalix's attack on him, and the MacRinnalch clan descends into civil war as both Markus and Sarapen claim the throne.
It is safe to say that there probably hasn't been as funny, or weird, a werewolf story written as Lonely Werewolf Girl. One moment there's a ferocious battle raging with werewolves ripping each other's throats out, and the next we're in the midst of a fashion crises. Mallveria has discovered that her deadly rival in the fire elemental realm has been stealing all of Thrix's designs and showing up wearing the same outfits. It's a toss up as to who is the more deadly - Sarapen in his quest to become the new Thane of the clan or Mallveria in her desire to be the belle of the ball and see her rival burn, quite literally, with jealousy at the glory of her outfits.
Along the way Martin Millar also manages to tell the story of how Kalix goes from being a lonely werewolf girl so filled with self loathing that she cuts herself and suffers anxiety attacks if she's treated well, to a werewolf girl with friends who make her realize that she's not such a bad sort after all. By turn hysterically funny, terrifying, and even a little heartbreaking, Lonely Werewolf Girl is a brilliantly designed and elegantly written book. What makes it even more remarkable is that in spite of the inanity of some situations and its fantastical elements, it also happens to be a very real book in its treatment of Kalix's problems.
She doesn't magically become a well adjusted werewolf teenager filled with joie de vivre. Instead she has to face up to her internal demons in the same way any other person dealing with her problems would, through hard work and lots of soul searching. In fact all of the characters in the book are drawn with a equal amount of depth. It would have been easy for Millar to make someone like Mallveria for instance nothing more than a caricature of a fashion slave. Yet he takes the time to make her a multi dimensional character who becomes more interesting as we get to know her.
Lonely Werewolf Girl has a lightness of tone that makes it a delight to read, but that never diminishes its characters or trivializes issues of importance. It's one of those rare books that make you laugh and think all at the same time, and feel better for having read it.
(Originally posted May 2008)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.