Review: 'Wereworld: Rage of Lions' and 'Wereworld: Shadow of the Hawk', by Curtis Jobling
These are Books 2 and 3 in Jobling’s Wereworld saga. Book 1, Rise of the Wolf, was reviewed here last May. Viking has ignored my request for review copies, so I had to wait for the Glendale Public Library to get them. Sorry for the delay.
The Wereworld Young Adult series is set on the island-continent of Lyssia on a fantasy world, in which each of the kingdoms is ruled by a Werelord who can transform into an animal, including birds and fish. School Library Journal has called the series “Game of Thrones for the tween set”. In Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf, teen farmboy Drew Ferran learns that he is adopted and is really the werewolf son of the murdered Wolf King Wergar of Westland, Lyssia’s most powerful nation, which has been usurped by Lion King Leopold who has replaced the old wolf aristocracy with his own lion nobility.
Thrown into the Seven Realms’ therianthropic politics whether he wants to be or not, Drew finds friends and allies such as Princess Gretchen, a fox shapeshifter, and Hector the young Boarlord; enemies such as King Leopold and his sadistic son Prince Lucas, and the Ratlord Vankaskan; and those who may be friends or enemies like the dynamically charismatic but utterly untrustworthy Count Vega, the Sharklord.
Rage of Lions
Jobling is a believer in the rule for writing Westerns: “Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph.” Rage of Lions begins with a daring rooftop escape and seldom slows down. Werelion King Leopold has been overthrown, but has taken refuge in Highcliff Keep, the fortified castle in Westland’s capital. His triumphant enemies who are besieging him have rallied around Drew as the heir of the previous and legitimate king:
All were united in their support of Drew Ferran, the boy who had arrived out of nowhere, having grown up as a human and knowing nothing of his heritage as last in the line of Werewolves and rightful king of Westland. The boy was still raw, looking like he might run at the first opportunity, and it was taking all the Wolf’s Council’s diplomacy and knowledge to ease him into his role as heir to the throne. He wasn’t just coming to terms with being the future king; he’d only recently discovered he was a therianthrope, a werecreature like all the nobles of Lyssia. It was hard to tell what scared the boy more. (pgs. 13-14)
However, they are hardly united themselves, while Drew is off being tutored to rule instead of participating in the Council’s heated meetings:
Vega’s transformation was swift and measured, the Sharklord welcoming the monster within. His torso rippled beneath his white shirt, chest ready to tear free, while his hands and fingers grayed over, sharp and deadly. Vega’s mouth widened, revealing his own set of terrible teeth, as he faced the enraged Bearlord. His eyes blinked, black as the night. (p. 17)
Not only are the nobles of the Wolf’s Council barely united themselves, they are having a hard time persuading the Werelords of the other realms of Lyssia to recognize Drew as the rightful king of Westland.
When Gretchen is kidnapped by the fugitive Prince Lucas just outside of Drew’s training session, he races after them, but is stalled by a lengthy (twelve pages) battle in the sewers beneath the city while the kidnappers escape. The Wolf’s Council insists that he remain in Highcliff and out of danger while their guard pursues the kidnappers. Drew has already been having doubts about becoming a figurehead king, so this is all that he needs to sneak out of the capital with Gretchen’s best friend, the tomboyish Whitley, daughter of the Bearlord, on a two-person rescue mission.
Rage of Lions turns into a series of interlocking individual stories at this point: Drew and Whitley’s adventures while pursuing the kidnappers; Hector’s struggles to restore the Boar ream of Redmire while his corrupt twin Vincent plots to usurp it; Gretchen’s plight as the prisoner of Lion Prince Lucas and his henchman, the Ratlord Vankaskan; and the Wolf’s Council’s efforts to run Westland during Drew’s absence. Wolves, lions, stags, bears, boars, sharks, rams, goats, cats, rats, panthers, foxes, bulls, horses, dogs, tigers, and more. The cast is human most of the time, but practically everyone changes into his or her beast form at least once.
As he ran he could feel the change taking him: canines growing, limbs transforming, stride lengthening as his human gait shifted into that of the Wolf. By the time he burst into the camp he was the beast born of tooth, claw, and terror. (p. 144)
Her skin burned and itched all over as she felt hairs beginning to break through the surface. She gritted her teeth as they broke free from her gums and rose up, long and needle sharp. She wanted to shout out, but held back. Her palms toughened around the sword’s grip, dark claws ripping free from her fingertips. (p. 153)
The cloven foot that stepped into the chamber was connected to a muscular gray leg that disappeared into his open red robes, dark shaggy wool hanging around his exposed midriff. His chest heaved with the effort of the change as he bent low to enter the cell, maneuvering his horns through the doorway. One of the thick horns clanged against the metal bars, ringing dully like a mournful bell. (p. 192)
Drew gains the support of the Greencloaks, the Bearlord’s ranger troops, and a new ally, the Ramlord Ewan. But the further he gets from Westland, the clearer it becomes that some of the other realms of Lyssia see the fighting between the lions and wolves as an opportunity to establish their own local supremacy.
‘So that’s it?’ asked Ewan. ‘The Longridings is an independent realm now? How long will you survive alone, Lorimer [Horselord]? Whom will you trade with?’ (p. 259)
The novel turns into a grisly saga of murders, treachery, betrayals, and necromancy as the Lions counterattack with unexpected allies.
A gut feeling told her to move, and not a moment too soon, as a Bastian sword cut through the air where her head had been seconds before. She raised her blade as her attacker followed up with another slash, knocking the dagger from her grasp and sending it flying. Whitley skidded round the table, ducking behind chairs as the warrior advanced, cutting her off from the rest of her party. The chain-shirted fighter was shepherding her toward the Redcloaks at the door. They watched, waiting for the Bastian to make the kill. (p. 345)
Shadow of the Hawk
Since Wereworld has been announced as at least six books, nobody should be surprised that Rage of Lions ends with a cliffhanger. Shadow of the Hawk begins with Drew separated from his friends and carried by slavers away from Lyssia entirely, to the volcanic island of Scoria off the coast of the tropical continent of Bast, ruled by felinthropic Werelords, to fight as a gladiator in its deadly arena, the Furnace.
The separate interlocking stories continue. Alliances shift surprisingly; Hector takes a forbidden path that seems to lead to doom; and there are more adventures involving supernatural monsters. Not too much else can be said without giving away spoilers to events in Rage of Lions, but aside from the efforts of the survivors of the Wolf’s Council (now dominated by Count Vega) to find new allies in the far North, Drew is alone in the slave pens of Scoria, tormented by some old and some new enemies. To win free, Drew must rally the seven other Werelords among his fellow prisoners to escape, overthrow Lizardlord Ignus, and return to Lyssia. New therianthropes in this book include squids, whales, walruses, lizards, rhinos, apes, crocodiles, barracudas, buffalos, wildcats, mammoths, hyenas, jackals, crows, and of course the titular hawks:
Shah arched her back, gray wings emerging with a flourish. Her head was changing, features growing sharper; her nose and mouth blending together into an amber beak as a frill of charcoal feathers emerged through her black hair. A large avian eye stared down at Drew as he stood in the Hawklady’s shadow. (Shadow of the Hawk, p. 248)
Wereworld is not all dazzling swordplay in which the Good Guys always win. Many major sympathetic supporting characters are killed one by one, and Drew himself is maimed. As he tells his fellow gladiators in Shadow of the Hawk:
‘I lost a hand in Lyssia, was beaten, tortured, and terrorized by my enemies. I need to return there, to help my people and settle some scores. You may be broken at the moment, but if you remember what it was that once made you great Werelords, come find me. I could do with some tooth and claw at my side.’ (p. 60)
Hopefully we will not have to wait as long for Book 4, Wereworld: Nest of Serpents, published by Viking on January 15th. Book 5, Wereworld: Storm of Sharks, is due on May 21st. Book 6 is scheduled for June 6 in Britain.
Does “Book design by Jim Hoover” mean that he is the dust jacket artist? Kudos for a good job, then.
[Ed.: He appears to be Viking's Art Director. Curtis Jobling tells us that Spanish artist Nekro (@NekroXIII) is behind the U.S. covers.]
Read more: Extracts of the first four books