REVIEW: Camwolf by J.L. Merrow
Dear Ms. Merrow.
I have historically said I don’t read werewolf books, but when I saw your name, I said to hell with that rule (again). I love your short stories and was just thrilled to see a longer story by you. And wow, was it worth it.
You are (obviously) English, you make no bones (har!) about it, your stories are set in England, and even when I don’t understand some of the slang (even though, as a colonial, I’m mostly bilingual), I appreciate the utterly English voice of your stories. In fact, that’s what I love about all your stories — your voice is brilliant. Not at all the same for each story — the style and atmosphere changes — but still very distinctive and one I, apparently, respond to.
Nick is a Cambridge fellow. Now, despite the fact that I’m an English professor in the US, I have very little idea what that means. I could work out that he’s got his doctorate and teaches students. And I think this (lack of) detail, with the assumption that your readers would be able to follow along without too much “as you know, Bob” explanation, is fine. It helps the atmosphere and certainly helps characterization. Nick seems to be your typical bumbling History graduate student/professor, halfway stuck between being a perpetual student and actually achieving in his field, halfway stuck between figuring out what he wants to do with his life and coasting along, happy not to make decisions.
But he’s also, by the way, a werewolf. He was converted three years ago by a boyfriend. He fought with the boyfriend, physically, after his first transformation ( a fight that is given a different spin later), and has been alone ever since, except for one disastrous attempt at a relationship. He’s now got a huge crush on Julian, an ethereally beautiful undergraduate student. Nick’s wolf instincts rise to the surface when he sees Julian giving a random hookup a blowjob one night behind a pub, and he scares the hookup away by growling at him. Julian is terrified as well, until Nick confronts him to attempt to apologize and Julian reveals that he’s a werewolf too, but an “omega,” extremely submissive. He wants Nick’s protection, and he can teach Nick about the joy of being a wolf. But Julian’s old life won’t leave them in peace — the abusive right-hand-man of Julian’s father is hunting Julian down, determined to get him back.
I love how my view of Nick changed through the story as I began to see him as alpha through Julian’s eyes. It shows that alpha doesn’t necessarily mean asshole. Although there is some domestic abuse in Nick’s past and he treats Julian in vaguely questionable ways occasionally, all of that comes back strongly and reasonably enough to the wolf that it’s obvious he won’t act like that again once things are worked out with Julian.
I loved the secondary characters: Nick’s colleague and her girlfriend, and Julian’s misnamed friend, Tiffany Meadows, who all help to recover Julian when he’s abducted. Oddly enough, however, the story was told from the perspective of Nick and of Julian’s friend Tiffany. I understand that you made the conscious choice to stay out of Julian’s head but still wanted to show him away from Nick. It was just…jarring, at times, to dump into Tiff’s head.
I can’t really say exactly what I adored about this book, except to say that I adored it. The characters were brilliant. The world-building was so subtle and so well-done — how different the wolves were from the humans, but how Nick used both sides of himself to win Julian and the battle against Julian’s abusive partner and Julian’s father. The tone/voice was pitch perfect. The setting was wonderful. I love that Samhain is just going with the flow of your Englishness to the extent that they’re not even changing English spelling to American. Everything just worked perfectly. And here’s a long quote just to show everyone how brilliant you are:
Nick nodded, feeling a little foolish at not quite knowing what to say. “Ah—can I offer you a coffee?” he asked. Surely, even among werewolves, the offering of refreshment was traditional? Although, of course, a pack-raised werewolf might have very different ideas of what refreshment to offer. No. He was being absurd.
“Thank you. White, no sugar, please.”
Well, if Nick wasn’t behaving how a werewolf should, Julian at least seemed to be taking it into his stride. Perhaps Nick would pluck up the courage to offer him a digestive biscuit. Or, if he was feeling really brave, a Jaffa Cake. Nick grinned at himself under cover of boiling the kettle.
As they sat together with steaming cups of instant, Nick found himself hoping like hell Julian would take the conversational initiative soon, or any minute now he’d be saying “Well, this is nice, isn’t it?” like a member of the Women’s Institute taking tea with the vicar, and then he’d have to kill himself. He managed not to sigh in relief as Julian rested his mug on his knee and cleared his throat.
“We should go for a run together, sometime. You know, as wolves.” Julian’s manner was a little hesitant, and his finger traced a circle around the top of his mug.
Was he offering because he thought he ought, or because he wanted to? “I—well, are you sure that’s wise?” Visions of Carl shot through Nick’s head. God, there’d been so much blood…
“As long as we don’t go to Coe Fen, why not?”
“You don’t think we might, well, fight?”
From the look Julian gave him, one might have thought he’d just suggested they invite the Master and all the fellows along for the trip. “Of course we would not fight.” He blinked. “You have places you like to go?”
“Ah, yes. Well, a place. Some woods out to the south of town.”
Another sidelong look. “You think it’s safe to go to the same place all the time?”
“Well, it’s only once a month, after all.”
“Once a month? You mean you don’t change any more frequently than that?”
Nick was getting rather tired of Julian’s incredulous expressions. “Since that is the approximate frequency of full moons, no, I don’t,” he told him rather shortly. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Julian stared at him in that curious way of his, tilting his head away and looking at Nick out of the corner of his eye. “You mean you’ve never changed except at full moon?”
“I wasn’t aware that it was even possible,” Nick said slowly. “In any case, why on earth would I want to? It’s hardly a barrel of laughs. Why would anyone want that kind of pain any more often than they had to endure it?”
Julian drew in a sharp breath. “If you change more frequently, the pain lessens. Considerably. I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”
“Well, forgive me for not having been brought up by werewolves!” Nick regretted his temper immediately, as Julian’s face took on that closed look he’d seen all too often. “Look, I’m sorry,” Nick forced himself to say. “It’s just a little galling—I’ve been a werewolf for three years now, and here you are, telling me I’ve been doing it wrong all this time!”
You, Ms. Merrow, have become an autobuy for me. I’m looking forward to future books almost as much as I do K.A. Mitchell’s. ;) I’m going to spend the summer hunting down your apparently extensive backlist (of entirely short stories — oh well, I’ll take what I can get).