Review: 'Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf', by Curtis Jobling
I can’t believe that nobody on Flayrah has mentioned Curtis Jobling’s Wereworld Young Adult books yet. Although only the first has been published in America in hardcover so far, they are up to Book 3 in Britain in Puffin UK paperbacks, with Book 4 due in June, and the next two announced for January and June 2013. The British edition of Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf was published in January 2011.
Werewolf novels have a spotty acceptance in Furry fandom, but the Wereworld series seems designed for us. Its shapeshifters are intelligent, not feral beasts, and live in the Seven Realms of Lyssia, each of which is ruled by a different Werelord: the Werefoxes, Wererats, and so on. The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Drew Ferran, is the last of the Werewolf dynasty of Lyssia, which has recently been “ethnically cleansed” of wolves by the Werelions led by tyrannical King Leopold.
This is a well-told but stereotypical “teenage farmboy in a mythical kingdom learns that he is really a disguised prince and raises a revolution to regain his throne from the cruel usurper who murdered his parents” adventure, with plenty of shapeshifting. Two of Drew’s first allies are the Wereboar Lord Hector and the Werefox Princess Gretchen.
Rise of the Wolf begins with Drew Ferran as a teen farmboy near the English-sounding market village of Tuckborough in Westland, one of the Seven Realms of a Medievalish world. Times are hard with King Leopold the Lion on the throne, but Drew is content.
Regardless of his own skills, Drew had no desire to travel to Highcliff with his brother and join the Lionguard. His home was on the farm, and he felt no need to see the world. He knew his mother found his homebird nature heartwarming and loved the fact that her young boy would always be around. (p. 8)
But something is happening to Drew lately. The farm animals that have always been placid in his presence have suddenly become nervous, almost afraid of him. On a day when his father and brother are away at the local town, Drew himself gets mysteriously sick.
Whatever had upset the sheep had also played havoc with Drew, leaving him sick and fevered, and unable to eat his supper earlier. (p. 13)
During a storm, something breaks into their farmhouse:
Then it appeared.
The shadow seemed to build from the floor upward, a low murky shape that stood out from the darkness with a definition all of its own. Drew staggered back. As it rose, first to the height of Drew’s waist and then taller, it seemed to grow outward at the same time, filling the gaping hole that had once been the bay window. […] It quickly became clear that the creature was far removed from anything that he’d ever seen, sharing little in common with the animals that inhabited the Cold Coast. A thick coat of oily black hair covered its heavy frame, a foul-stinking pelt tht bristled with muddy rainwater. Heavy forelimbs swung down from its hunched shoulders, viciously clawed hands scraping the splintered floorboards around it. (pgs. 20-21)
The description goes on for two more pages. I am quoting it at length to show Jobling’s skill at creating a scene and describing action in depth. While Drew is too sick to intervene, the monster (which can talk) attacks his mother.
Indescribable anger and fear raged through Drew’s body as he watched the nightmare scene unfold. He closed his eyes, willing his limbs to move but was instead assailed by a feverish spasm. It started in his guts, as before, but worse. Much worse. He felt his insides tearing now, not fighting to pull free from his body but twisting about and finding fresh homes. His bowels seemed to rise from the pit of his belly and shift farther back, while his lungs grew threefold, great gasps of air racing into his chest. (p. 25)
This is only the beginning of a lengthy and graphic transformation scene.
Before the monster could move Drew instinctively leapt forward. He cleared the distance between them in one bound, crashing into the beast’s chest, and the two tumbled to the floor in a ball of flailing claw, tooth, and fur.
Drew is too late to keep his mother from being killed, and their fight demolishes the farmhouse. When his father and brother return, the farmhouse is rubble and their mother is bloodily torn apart. Even though Drew is human again, his father immediately blames him and tries to kill him, forcing Drew to flee into the nearby Dyrewood.
In a perilous place like the Dyrewood, daydreaming was a potentially dangerous distraction. Ancient and vast, the great forest was the greatest in the Seven Realms of Lyssia, three hundred miles long in all and half as wide in places. It was widely considered haunted, and few dared enter the woodlands, tales of the monsters and terrors within dissuading most. (p. 38)
Drew spends several months hiding in the Dyrewood, transforming into a beast to hunt to survive.
The creature seemed almost human, walking on its hind legs. Its hair was dark, wild, and shaggy, hanging over its face and shoulders. Its hands twitched, long fingers revealing wickedly curved dirty claws that clicked against one another in anticipation. Its face was invisible in the shadows but for the glow of its amber eyes and the glistening of its sharp teeth, which seemed to flood its face with a cruel smile. A low growl emanated from its great heaving chest, muscles rippling beneath its dark skin. (pgs. 41-42)
Sam Stevenson as Drew Ferran, from a performance design project (scroll down) at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
Eventually, Drew comes to meet Duke Bergan, the Bearlord ruler of Brackenholme; and he is suddenly thrust into the deadly politics of the shapeshifting Werelords of Lyssia. Bergan is a friend; Vankaskan, the Ratlord, is an enemy; Hector, the young son of the Boarlord Baron of Redmire, is another friend. Drew learns that his true father was Wergar the Wolf, the previous King of Lyssia who was betrayed and murdered by Leopold the Lion. Princess Gretchen, the spoiled teen werefox, provides the prickly romantic interest in this Young Adult novel.
Furry fans will enjoy the complex sociopolitical infighting among the Werelords as Leopold’s allies hunt to kill or capture Drew, while Leopold’s enemies rally around Drew, some to support him as the rightful king, others to use him as a figurehead for their own ambitions. Readers will need to refer to the map of Lyssia often. Drew, who is understandably confused by all of this (which escalates into an outright Lyssian civil war in the sequels), not to mention being able to turn into an almost-invulnerable wolf (how many wolves besides him survive?), struggles to become a real leader and protector of the common people of Lyssia, therianthropes or not.
Those who want to know who all of the Werelords are can get some clues by the titles of the next three volumes: Rage of Lions, Shadow of the Hawk, and Nest of Serpents. See also the summary of Werelords and other therianthropes (“Drew laughed at the idea of a Wereotter. ‘Don’t scoff, Drew,’ said [Hector] seriously. ‘You’d do well to remember your place if we come across any of them.’”), including their interspecies biology. (pgs. 133-135)
Wereworld is Curtis Jobling’s first book series for older readers (he has written & illustrated many British children’s picture books), but he is no stranger to adult fantasy. He worked on Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! theatrical feature and on several early Aardman Animations stop-motion films. In 1997 Jobling began to create award-winning children’s TV series for BBC TV, including Bob the Builder (Ed: "Can we fix it?"), Frankenstein’s Cat, and Raa Raa for preschoolers. With Wereworld, Jobling returns to producing dramatic fantasy for older audiences. He has always been a fine artist, exhibiting his paintings and prints in international art galleries.