I first got to know Donald Armfield as a sergeant in the Bizarro Brigade, so I knew that whatever he sent me to read wasn't going to be your average,I first got to know Donald Armfield as a sergeant in the Bizarro Brigade, so I knew that whatever he sent me to read wasn't going to be your average, run-of-the-mill, mainstream bit of fiction. I expected it to be a bit strange, to toy with some taboos, and to dispense with any sort of rigid narrative structure.
Well, The Alpha Wolf Bent Me Over is pretty much exactly what I expected, the literary equivalent of an 80s slasher flick, but with the sex gratuitous and the violence suggestive, rather than the cinematic reversal.
Miranda is a sexually frustrated virgin, the kind of good girl who usually finds herself at the centre of these tales. Her best friends are a pair of sexually liberated twin girls, so exaggerated in their promiscuity that they'll sleep with anything that moves - including one another. Much of the story revolves around the sisters expressing themselves, leaving Miranda's frustrations to mount alongside them.
Eventually, we get to the heart of the tale, a campfire urban legend about an Alpha Wolf who stalks the woods, looking for a young virgins to abduct and abuse. There's an old diary, found buried in the dirt, to corroborate the tale, along with the standard sole survivor who came back to tell the tale of those who had gone missing before her. Where the twist comes in is that, instead of cowering in their cabins, terrified of the big bad Alpha Wolf, Miranda decides to don her best little Red Riding Hood outfit and traipse off into the woods, looking for it.
Perverted, and deliberately over the top, The Alpha Wolf Bent Me Over is an interesting read for anybody who watched those 80s slasher flicks and groaned every time the camera panned away from the 'good parts'.
Alternately violent and comic, with a subversive sort of satiric spirit, Stars and Other Monsters is a most unusual vampire tale. It almost feels likeAlternately violent and comic, with a subversive sort of satiric spirit, Stars and Other Monsters is a most unusual vampire tale. It almost feels like a Bizarro novella at times, when Phronk really rides the narrative edge, but it never quite crosses the line, remaining absurd but entirely accessible.
Where else can you find David Letterman, a down-on-his-luck paparazzi, a vampire cougar, an extraordinary clever dog, a celebrity hottie with a taste for the dark arts, and a homeless man who is not nearly as crazy as he appears? The story starts simply enough, with Stan Lightfoot sitting in his car, waiting for the aforementioned David Letterman to kiss, hug, or otherwise hold the woman with whom he's been having an affair. It's the photo that will make his career, and he's a press of a button away from capturing it when his car is bumped from behind . . . and Letterman is obliterated by the car that did it.
Taking the driver's advice to get out before the police can come is probably the worst decision Stan has ever made, but it isn't until later than night that he discovers why. It seems the kindly driver was actually a vampire, blinded by the sun, and she wants his help tracking down Damien Fox, the celebrity hottie upon whom she's developed an immortal crush. If Stan doesn't help her, she'll kill him and his dog. If he does help her . . . well, she still plans to eat them, but at least it may buy him time to escape.
What follows is a very odd sort of buddy road-trip story, as they two make their way across America, with Stan keeping the dog's directions as vague as can be. It's quite funny, and almost romantic at times (in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way), but then it gets very dark when we discover the truth about Damien Fox and his plans for his pregnant girlfriend. There vampire hunters are a nice touch, simple bodyguards outfitted with pseudo-scientific gadgets by the crazy homeless man, and his true identity turns out to be a genuine surprise, and one that brings Stan's story full-circle.
The climactic battle in Wal-Mart, with Dalla creating a make-shift army from the late-night shoppers, is definitely the high point of the story, with everything coming together in a grand finale that pays off in more ways than one. Without spoiling the fun, there's even an appearance from a certain celebrity guest star to help save the day. It's a very bloody, very violent, sometimes cruel story, but one that is also very funny - ranging from satiric snark to slapstick absurdity. Stars and Other Monsters is just that, a story of stars and monsters, but neither one may be who you expect.
I know this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, part satire and part parody, but it was entirely too sophomoric and simple for my tastes. It felt like a wI know this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, part satire and part parody, but it was entirely too sophomoric and simple for my tastes. It felt like a wish-fulfillment fantasy, quickly scribbled down by a teenager who doesn't quite know how to build a proper story around his admittedly fun concept of a gender-bending were creature. Everything just sort of happens, dumped on the page with the bare minimum of description. I tried to stick with it, to enjoy the story on an ironic level, but the insta-love, trust-hypnosis was just one eye-roll too many....more
As opening scenes go, The Wolf at His Door has one hell of a kick-ass means of dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the story. It all begins withAs opening scenes go, The Wolf at His Door has one hell of a kick-ass means of dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the story. It all begins with a flashback to a pregnant mother, suffering from both physical and emotional distress, convinced that something is terribly wrong with her unborn child. It's a chilling scene, and one in which this woman attempts some unspeakable acts in an attempt to end the life eating her alive from the inside.
I thought I knew what to expect from Adrian Lilly's pitch, but was excited to discover that this is a full-on, hardcore horror novel - with a strong undercurrent of mystery. It goes to some very dark places, and takes some exceptionally violent roads to get there. Werewolves are often wasted in the genre, used to symbolize some sort of internal struggle, but Lilly lets the wild side of the monsters loose. They are allowed to be monstrous here, to be wild and fearsome, with matted fur and bloody fangs contributing to the carnage.
Similarly, where I expected the gay romance to be more of a factor here, with a strong connection between coming out as either gay or wolf, it's less of a plot device and more of a character element. Lilly doesn't devote a lot of attention to building up the romance, and simply drops the sexuality angle into the story, with no time wasted on big revelations. Alec and Jared are friends who happen to be gay, but it's their friendship that's central to the story, not the romance.
If I were to have one complaint about the novel, it's that the characters don't always make a lot of sense, and fall prey to poor decisions again and again. There were numerous instances where I thought they were slow to react, or where I felt their response to the horror and carnage around them was somewhat muted. It's a shame, because the story itself is strong, and the horror element is fantastic, and I think stronger character reactions would have really helped to sell the fear.
With The Wolf at His Door being the first book of a trilogy, there's a lot of world-building and mythology that's hinted at, but not yet fully developed, and that's a bit of a frustration. The plot is both deep and complex, with some creative twists (including those not yet fully revealed), while the gruesome scenes are superb, especially when contrasted against the few romantic/erotic elements. You can sense this larger story beneath it all, though, one that has much larger implications than just a family struggle, but it seems we'll have to wait for the next two books to have it fully developed. What is here, however, is interesting enough to make me want to keep reading, and that's about all you can ask for the opening stanza to a larger tale.