Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: Naomi Clark, Dark Hunt (Queered Fiction, 2011)

Dark Hunt is the sequel to Naomi Clark’s first werewolf novel, Silver Kiss, which you may remember I reviewed on this site in October 2010, and the third instalment of her Urban Wolf series (which began with a short story published in the Queer Wolf anthology in 2009. Silver Kiss is an urban fantasy, telling the story of werewolf Ayla and her human girlfriend Shannon, who must deal with pack politics, a sinister drug being sold to young lycanthropes, a missing teenager, and, of course, the strain that all of this puts on Ayla and Shannon’s relationship.

This follow-up picks up where Silver Kiss left off. To recover from the horrors they have faced, Ayla and Shannon travel to Paris for a romantic holiday. Things don’t go to plan, however, as they soon find that there is a brutal creature (known as “Le Monstre”) stalking the Parisian streets. Is it a rogue werewolf? A human? Or something else altogether?

In my review of Silver Kiss, I said that one of the real strengths of Clark’s writing is her creation of a believable world in which werewolves live alongside human beings (though not always completely comfortably). This is developed further in Dark Hunt. What I particularly liked was that, on arrival in France, Ayla and Shannon discover that the status of werewolves in Paris is subtly different to that in the UK. The relationship between werewolves and humans is not quite the same as they were expecting. This puts a nice lycanthropic spin on the ‘tourist abroad’, as Ayla must not only deal with not understanding the language, but must also quickly learn what werewolf behaviour is acceptable in this new city. As with Clark’s first novel, once you buy into the premise that werewolves exist, the world-building is consistent and plausible.

Another strength I commented on in my previous review was Clark’s creation of character. The presentation of Ayla and Shannon’s relationship was certainly one of the most compelling aspects of Silver Kiss, and this is developed even further in Dark Hunt. I find myself genuinely caring about Clark’s protagonists – I’m happy when things go well for them, and I sigh in frustration at their misunderstandings and miscommunications. For me, this is a very important part of a novel, and a lot of fantasy writers often sideline it in favour of world-building and plot. Whether or not she is a werewolf, Ayla is a well-rounded and three-dimensional character, and this really drives the novel’s story.

Dark Hunt also features an interesting supporting cast. It’s really good to see so many variations on the female werewolf in one novel. Early on, we are introduced to the heavily-pregnant werewolf Sun, who has left her pack (and the father of her unborn “cub”) in order to pursue a relationship with a human. In many ways, Sun’s story mirrors Ayla’s own, but she has chosen a different path. A werewolf’s relationship to her pack is a complex thing, and there are different ways to negotiate this. In later chapters, we meet Clémence and Thérèse, who (like Ayla and Shannon) are trying to deal with coming out as a couple as much as with their lycanthropy. Again, while their story (in some ways) mirrors that of the protagonists, they have chosen a different path.

That said, Dark Hunt is not simply a book about (wolf)women and their relationships. It is a thriller, and the hunt for “Le Monstre” is the main ‘meat’ of the story. As in Silver Kiss, Clark creates a mystery, throws her protagonists into it and has them try to survive and solves it. Again, as in the first novel, this means that Ayla and Shannon will have to face violence from both supernatural beings and angry and confused human beings. There is a puzzle that they must solve, and the answer to this shocks the protagonists as much as it will surprise the readers.

However, though I did enjoy Dark Hunt a lot, I didn’t find the storyline quite as compelling as that of Silver Kiss. I don’t want to say too much about what is responsible for the “Le Monstre” attacks, as I don’t want to give away the plot and its twists. I will say that I found it a really interesting and unusual take on a classic paranormal trope. But the overall story arc wasn’t as strong as that in Clark’s earlier novel. Much more attention was given to the ways in which the women dealt with what was going on, and the impact the attacks had on their everyday lives. While this was enjoyable, I did feel more could be have been made of the ‘scary monster stalking the streets’ story.

The fallout from the final showdown was, perhaps, the weakest part of the novel, and the ending seems rather abrupt. After a great climactic battle, the storyline seemed to be resolved so hastily that I was left almost expecting there to be more still to come. This was a shame, as the rest of the book was very gripping.

Nevertheless, it seems that there is more to come from Ayla and Shannon, and the (somewhat abrupt) ending does definitely leave room for a third instalment of the series. I certainly hope this is the case, as I’m very taken with Clark’s werewolves.
Dark Hunt also includes some bonus material – a short story entitled “A Wolf in Girl’s Clothing”, which tells the story of Ayla and Shannon’s first meeting, and a “sample chapter” from Desire by Moonlight, the “pulp novel of a werewolf assassin who takes out vampires for the government” (the “trashy novel” Ayla is reading throughout Dark Hunt). The former is a really nice addition to the series, and was definitely a “bonus” for me. The latter, though intended to be a parody, was actually completely believable! I have read my share of that type of urban fantasy, and, in fact, Desire by Moonlight was much better written than a lot I have read. But coming at the end of the second novel, it seems all the more silly and over-the-top, as it just doesn’t fit with the world of werewolves created in Silver Kiss and Dark Hunt.

So, overall, I recommend Dark Hunt, as a well-written and plausible story of female werewolves (and humans) who are much more than simply lycanthropic. If you enjoyed Silver Kiss, then you should certainly give the sequel a go. If you haven’t yet read any of Clark’s work, then I politely suggest you start.

Click here to read my review of Silver Kiss.

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to check this series out, and your positive reviews have sealed the deal.