I have a bit of a love hate relationship with fantasy at the moment. I started the year by trying to re-read the Wheel Of Time – a series that I have a somewhat traumatic relationship with (read up to book 10 without stopping; author sadly dies; I huff; two years later next book arrives posthumously; I realise I've forgotten the plot and have to start over; I make it to book four before giving up in disgust). After that, I refused to look at any fantasy titles until Puffin sent me two David Whitley books to review earlier this year. These were different enough that they piqued my interest for the genre and this month I've found myself, to my surprise, greatly enjoying Wereworld: Rise of The Wolf.
The plot of Wereworld is refreshingly different, although I wasn't sure when I first picked it up. We first meet our protagonist Drew as a farm boy working for his father on a country farm. So far, so bloody Wheel of Time. However, I needn't have worried as shortly into the first chapter, young Drew finds himself experiencing a strange affinity with the moon, followed by a dramatic (somewhat gory) change into a wolf! Yes! Drew is a werewolf and why no-one has combined werewolves and fantasy before (correct me if I'm wrong) I have no idea. Suddenly he's not so welcome at home (well, they do have livestock – I can see why a wolf son might be a little inconvenient) and finds himself roaming the wild woods of Lyssia, his homeland.
As a protagonist, Drew is inherently likable. A decent if slightly under confident young chap, he just wants to get on with life on the farm, having no real ambition to see the rest of the land that he lives in. Believably, he struggles with his leanings towards lycanthropy and had events not contrived otherwise you suspect that he would have stayed in a self-imposed exile for the rest of his days. In fact, the temptation of disappearing continues to haunt Drew throughout the book and this works very well , illustrating a vulnerable, flawed side to him that saves him from being too...well...goody goody (yep, my words are clearly failing me today). His character development is subtle with the Drew at the end of the book being only slightly discernibly different to the young man that we see at the end. I much preferred this to the somewhat rapid coming of age that can sometimes be seen in YA. Saying that, I did have difficulties believing that Drew and his friends were mainly teenagers - their speech and actions sometimes seemed a little older to me.
These friends of his are equally enjoyable characters. I particularly liked Hector, with his bumbling kindness and eagerness to please and to prove himself. Whitley is another great character who, while not featuring an awful lot in this book, is sure to play a larger part in future installments. The wider cast of characters is even more interesting as, in the land of Lyssia, all the nobles seem to be descended from a race of were-creatures. Yep, Drew's not the only one getting in touch with his inner animal on this block, which brings me on to the world building and plot as a whole...
The wereworld is beautifully imagined. The world building is comprehensive and the were-creatures well drawn. I loved that there were all sorts of manifestations of were-ness – from lions and bears to boars, foxes and snakes; it sets things up nicely for a carefully judged hierarchy within the land which in turn lends itself to the ongoing story as regards Drew and his chums. Drew's own tale (no pun intended; I lie – every pun intended of course) is enthralling, if not entirely unpredictable for fans of the fantasy genre – I particularly liked the set pieces towards the end of the book, especially those at sea. The book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with a few questions arising at the end of the story and a hint of future romance for some characters – Drew certainly has a lot resting on his somewhat reluctant shoulders (poor pup - life's clearly tough when you've just found out you're a wolf) and I am curious to see how he handles it.
I have to say that had I seen this title in a bookshop or online I wouldn't have given it a second glance. Sadly, the cover of Wereworld is absolutely not to my taste – in fact, I detest it. However, it would seem that there is some truth to the old adage of never judging a book by its cover as Wereworld is really very good. It's great to see a YA fantasy title out there that easily stands up to it's counterparts on the adult shelves and Curtis Jobling is definitely a writer to look out for in the future. If you want to start the new year with something a bit different, and with a werewolf who spends less time wandering about topless and more time doing interesting stuff then Wereworld: Rise of The Wolf is for you. As for me, it may have finally cured by fantasy phobia – on with The Wheel of Time, then? Perhaps, people, perhaps. Eagerly waiting the next title set in the fascinating Wereworld? Absolutely.
Werewolf: Rise of The Wolf is released tomorrow. Thank you to Puffin for sending me this title to review.