Review: 'Wereworld: Nest of Serpents' [and] 'Wereworld: Storm of Sharks', by Curtis Jobling
These are Books 4 and 5 in Jobling’s Wereworld saga. Book 1, Rise of the Wolf, was reviewed here in May 2012, and Books 2 and 3, Rage of Lions and Shadow of the Hawk, were reviewed in January 2013. The final volume, War of the Werelords, will be published on October 8.
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 therian 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.
In Rage of Lions and Shadow of the Hawk, the animal nations of Lyssia fall into civil war over whether to acknowledge Drew’s claim to the Westland throne, or whether they should acknowledge any ruling nation rather than declaring their independence; while the supporters of the Lions try to reconquer the whole island-continent. Drew gains allies, but he is betrayed several times, and loses his left hand.
How complex the series has become is shown by Nest of Serpents beginning with a Cast of Characters that takes four pages. Wolflords, Lionlords, Catlords, Staglords, Hawklords, Ratlords, Crowlords, Jackallords, Bearlords, Foxlords, Horselords – you name the animal, and there is probably a werelord for it. (I don’t think there are any Skunklords or Raccoonlords – but those are North American animals, and these are American editions of British books.) And lots of human commoners.
“Wereworld:?Nest?of?Serpents”, Jan.?2013, hardcover?$16.99?([xiv]?+?494?+??pgs.), Kindle?$9.78.
“Wereworld:?Storm?of?Sharks”, May?2013, hardcover?$16.99?([xvi]?+?454?+??pgs.), Kindle?$9.78.
Both by Curtis Jobling, published by The Penguin Group/Viking, with a map by the author.
In Nest of Serpents, the civil war in Lyssia is in full slaughter. The novel begins with the siege of Stormdale, the Staglords’ castle and last stronghold, by the armies of the Crowlords and Ratlords. Drew is flown over the enemy lines by a hawklord to encourage the exhausted Staglord nobility to hold out. Drew needs all the allies that he can get, but privately he admits that Stormdale seems doomed. Can he do anything to turn the situation around?
The bloody action never slows down. Chapter titles include “Take No Chances”, “The Dead and the Buried”, “To Build an Army”, “The War Machine”, “Help from the Heavens”, “Cold Comfort”, “The Sharpest Teeth”, “Dark Deeds”, “The Camp of the White Bear”, and “Terror in the Treetops”.
Here is a battle between a young Bearlady and a human soldier:
She snatched the Redcloak’s hand in hers, the blood pumping from her torn forearm as they wrestled for control of the knife. Her knuckles popped and cracked as her hand contorted, shifting in size and beginning to smother the Lionguard’s. Whitley gritted her teeth, which were sharpening all the while, her gums slick with blood as the sweat beaded on her brow. The young soldier brought his other hand around, snatching at her transforming limb, trying to prize it loose as claws tore free from her flesh. His fingers splintered, crushed by her shifting hand as she ground them against the grip of his knife. He struck her across the face with his free hand, stunning her momentarily, loosening her grip enough to yank his maimed hand clear. (p. 9)
Or a battle between Werestags, Wererats, and Werecrows:
‘For Stormdale!’ Reinhardt shouted, antlers emerging from his brow as he leapt down the gatehouse steps after the Vermirians. Drew directed the attacks of the bowmen skyward, while the Werecrows were distracted by the Blackcloaks who dashed across the courtyard. Two of the Crowlords tumbled, their bodies peppered with arrows. The steel-headed arrows wouldn’t kill them, but the defenders in the courtyard held nothing back. The injured avianthropes squawked and screamed as old men, women, and wounded warriors attacked them with picks, swords, shovels, and staffs. None was silvered, but the relentless onslaught eventually took their lives. (p. 209)
By Nest of Serpents, the brotherhood of Drew and his close friends and supporters has become splintered into a series of separate adventures, told in succeeding chapters; Whitley the Bearlady, followed by Drew and the Staglords, followed by Whitley and Gretchen the Werefox, followed by Lord Bergan the Bearlord, followed by Drew and the Staglords again, followed by Hector the Boarlord, followed by Drew’s brother Trent, and so on and on. Desperate situations grow ever-more hopeless, and there is constant treachery. The book is almost half-over by the time the giant, poisonous Wereserpent appears:
‘Pray to your god all you like, child. It’ssss time you learned there isss only one true deity: Vala, the Ssssserpent Goddesssss!’ (p. 228)
Wereworld: Storm of Sharks moves the action from the Seven Realms of Lyssia to the High Seas around the island-continent. The enemy Catlords have made their most brutal member, Lord Onyx the giant Werepanther, the Beast of Bast, their military leader on land; and his sister Opal, who may be more cruel than he is, has left to take command of the Catlords’ navy fighting against both pirates and neutral maritime nations that refuse to acknowledge the felinthropes’ mastery. Drew Ferran, the Gray Wolf of Westland, and his surviving supporters have moved to the wintry waters of the White Sea to combat them. The Sharklords (both Great White and Hammerhead), Whalelords, Squidlords, Crablords, and other marine therians make their appearances here. The cast of characters has grown to six pages.
Here is an argument between a Vulturelord and a Hippolord:
‘Don’t be casting aspersions about this council, Costa. We each have a role within King Lucas’ army, duties that keep us tied to this camp and our men. Besides, if I had wings, do you not think I’d be fluttering around these miserable mountains spying on our enemy?’
Costa scoffed at the claim as he took a swig from his goblet. ‘A Hippo with wings? I’d pay gold to see that, General Gorgo!’
The Hippolord gnashed his teeth, his features trembling as his leathery flesh darkened. The great tusks began to appear at either side of his broad mouth, skin splitting as the ivory blades emerged from his jaw. (p. 31)
And here is the transformation of Lord Ghul, a.k.a. the Kraken, a Squidlord:
Vega watched in horror as the flesh of the Kraken’s hand tore apart between thumb and forefinger. The gash ran up the sea marshal’s arm like a fault line, severing the limb in two as the twin appendages thickened. All the while, the remainder of the Squidlord remained unchanged. Ghul had complete mastery over his therianthropy, able to control individual portions of his form as only the greatest Werelords could. The digits disappeared, fused into the transforming skin of the Weresquid, the pair of tentacles beginning to burst forth circular suckers that shone with sharp teeth. One writhing limb caressed Florimo’s face as the man cried out fearfully the razor rings catching his skin. (p. 152)
Jobling goes overboard with alliteration in this book. Some chapter titles are “Perilous Passage”, “Lackeys and Lickspittles”, “Bound and Beaten”, “Scarlet Seas”, “The Shark, the Shackles, and the Shanty”, “Banquet for a Bride”, “Battling Back”, “Ballad of Butchery”, and “Waves of War”.
Jobling is an excellent author. The books are well-written, and the action never slows down. However, by this point in the series, the constant mood is one of bleak despair. Jobling will presumably turn things around in the final volume, but for now, be prepared to be depressed.