I'm not a fan of werewolf or vampire stories. The first because that genre has never actually interested me, and the second because vampires have become so larded with trope and cliché that they've become nauseatingly bland and ridiculously pathetic. This one was different in that first of all, the blurb writer got my interest, which is almost a miracle in itself, and the secondly, that the author made the story worth reading - as far as it went.
Note that the cover calls this a novel, but all I read was actually a novella (I'm guessing, without knowing the word-count). But you know, if Amazon is going to continue trying to force writers to sell novels at 99 cents a pop, like they involve no more work than a two or three minute song does, I don't blame authors for putting out shorter stories, or for releasing them the way they used to be released in the days of Arthur Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories: in episodic form. This one was not such a novel however. It was, as I learned after I had requested it, merely an introductory 100 pages from a four-hundred page novel, so the publishers actually made me DNF this! This review, therefore, is only of those first 100 pages.
The first thing I liked is that this wasn't told in first person. I'm tempted to build a shrine to author CD Bell for that. It would have been very easy to make that mistake and the fact that this author didn't is highly praise-worthy. The second good thing was the two main characters: Nessa and Bree, who were for me completely real and believable.
Nessa Kurland is a high school junior who is very much into cross-country running. She not only loves it, she needs it if she's to get a scholarship for college. While running one evening, she's bitten by a wolf, and over the next month she finds herself changing at first subtly, and then more scarily, until she can't deny that something embarrassingly and frighteningly weird has happened to her. Fortunately, Bree is a true friend and she begins to work with Nessa on handling this.
The story felt too thin. For a short story this would have been understandable, but for a four-hundred page novel, it's inexcusable. By 'thin' I mean there was not a lot of depth to it. It's written it like it's a first draft, getting all the essential elements down without adding any real atmosphere. I would like to have seen it a lot more fleshed-out, and by that I don't mean padding (which it evidently has if it's four hundred pages and is this skimpy), but filling in spare areas with some color and texture. The story also has a prolog which I skipped as I do all prologs. I've never regretted not reading one, nor missed it! If you don't think it's important enough to tell in chapter one or later, then I don't think it's worth reading!
For an example of the failure to flesh out, consider one of Nessa's fellow runners - a girl named Cynthia. Nessa is supposed to train with her one evening, but they miss their connection, and despite Nessa's wolf bite injury, there's nothing from Cynthia: no asking why she had not shown up on time the previous night, or asking after her health. There were several people I suspected of being the werewolf, but my prime suspect was this Cynthia, notwithstanding Nessa's inexplicable conviction that the werewolf was male.
Another such area is where Nessa wins a race but instead of hanging around at the end, she keeps running and disappears completely. There was a good reason for this, but there was no follow up to it. Any real event like that, where the record-breaking winner disappears afterwards, would caused a lot of suspicion! Maybe it wasn't Nessa, but someone else running, fraudulently pretending to be her? I can't go more into detail over this without giving away too many spoilers but this event was simply glossed over, as though there was nothing weird about it. Reality would have brought dire consequences: an investigation at the very least.
This was an advance review copy, and there were some grammatical problems with it, which I assume will be cleaned-up before actual release. There were some cases of a word missing from between two other words such as, for example, "The tooth from the wound" which should have presumably been: "The tooth came from the wound." Another was a case where 'here' was used when 'her' was meant. That's a really hard one to catch with a spellchecker! I normally list the errors I find in ARCs on my blog so an author can make use of the information if they wish, but Bluefire reader, on which I read this and which is otherwise an excellent app, makes it impossible to capture these errors. A final read-through will fix them though.
There were also occasional odd sentences, such as when Nessa walks by a garage and she can see "...a Toyota of some kind..." which sounded really strange. I think the author intended this to mean she recognized the make but not the model, but even if you don't know the model you can identify it as a car or a truck or an SUV or whatever. I think I would have just had it that she saw a Toyota pick-up or whatever it was. Or simply kept it completely neutral and said "...an SUV on a hydraulic lift..." or something along those lines. But that's just me! I also found it odd that it's copyrighted to Chooseco LLC rather than to CD Bell, but whatever!
When Nessa meets the 'shaman', the story lost a little something for me, not least because he was disgustingly racist. Also because he was precisely the trope male which turns me off these stories: chiseled muscles and so on. I thought at this point, "Nessa deserves a better dog kennel than the one that's being built for her here if this is to be her romantic interest!" Why this trope came to be associated with werewolves, which are not larded with bulky muscles (far from it!), is a mystery. It was also odd that Nessa feels, along with other physical improvements in stamina, hearing, and smell, her eyesight becoming acute. Dogs, including wolves (or conversely, wolves including dogs!), do not have great eyesight. They're most likely short-sighted, and are largely color-blind compared with humans. They do see better at night, and the reason they do is connected with their poor color vision.
It makes no sense for Nessa's sight to undergo the improvements it did. It should have become worse, except at night. You can argue that since she was hyperopic beforehand, then becoming more myopic could have corrected her vision, I guess, but that's a bit of a stretch. Wolves have a wider field of view, but poorer binocular vision than humans. So this super-powered vision is a trope which has no honest place in the cannon, although it has actually become cannon for this kind of tale. This random, nonsensical approach to telling werewolf stories is one of the reasons I'm not attracted to the genre. It's far too deus ex machina for someone like me, who thinks it would be nice if a potential writer of werewolf stories actually read-up on real wolves before they began their story instead of soaking their pages in the tainted water which they've blindly hauled-up from the well of trope that's been established by far too many YA authors of late.
So overall, based on one quarter of a novel, I can't recommend this. It started out great and drew me in, but as the story sailed on, particularly when the "shaman' appeared, it began to take on trope like a badly-holed ship takes on water, and this sunk the story for me! I don't any to read four hundred pages of this, and I can't recommend it based on what the publisher allowed me to read of it.