Last book, despite its flaws, actually had one of the more coherent and workable plots I’ve seen. This book is the usual disaster, only worse because it’s a detective story so you’re supposed to have some clue what’s going on before the end.
Let’s just consider the central conceit (okay, first let’s pretend the central conceit isn’t “haha i got to call a woman a swear word! it’s a pun lol.”), which is that there’s werewolf killings but when Harry tries to investigate it there ends up being a giant pileup of all the different types of werewolf by amazing coincidence.
This actually could work if we give a connection between them.
Let’s take the lycanthropes. They’re dumb as-is but we could repurpose them so instead of saying they have rage spirits that are bestial therefore they’re actually beast spirits, they’re just animal-spirit people. We even just learned souls exist, so why not otherkin it up? And as dangerous as they are as individuals, they’re the danger of a wild animal, something unpredictable and anxious and willing to lash out – you know, the kind of thing humans put down for being a danger. They band together because they’re on the same wavelength, and they’re trying to fix or self-medicate or whatever with the shapeshifting – not to wolves, which have the same damn problem, but to dogs, which are not only more stable but capable of reading people. Lycanthrope/weredogs still don’t actually like hanging around humans, but they’re better wired for such complex concepts as “friendly smiles” and “pointing at objects” and “not flipping the fuck out at everything new”. Of course, the difference between a wolf and a really wolfy looking dog is pretty academic when all you have to go on is something with canine teeth ripped people apart, and it’s not like they were turning into tiny yapdogs.
These are the people Harry sees hanging out with Tera, so he doesn’t have the whole “aww theys baby nerds being sillies” nonsense babble and we don’t have the creepy sense that these were originally highschoolers that Harry’s leering at. The fact they don’t attack but disappear (you know, that thing basically any animal not prevented by physical barriers or helpless offspring prefers to do) is the main reason Harry advises against doing anything just yet, he figures it’ll just put them on higher alert and make them harder to find. We’ll keep Harry’s insistence they’re not human but we’ll actually remember that his soulgaze is a you-must-be-this-human-to-ride thing, so Harry can’t get confirmation they weren’t involved, and his speculation that this makes them fair game for magic murder will be contrasted by the fact they later save his stupid ass.
The lycanthropes not being directly involved actually works if you look at it from the viewpoint that they’ve always been there and it’s just no one cared because they actually aren’t that dangerous if left alone. The red herring of it is fair so long as Harry makes a point of noticing they’re not recent arrivals and yet there’s no sign they’ve killed anybody before. He could speculate that maybe the old leader is losing control of his gang, perhaps to the new woman, Tera, and Harry could explain without a sidetrack of frothing MRAing that although pack fighting is rare very old wolves are eventually deposed and newcomers are most likely to do so. Then we just have to add that the werewolf hunt is affecting them so they now have a stake in it, to avoid the other problem of them having no actual tie to the main plot. Also, they’re terribly high-strung and on the margins of society already, so they’re going to be even more unhappy about an unstoppable apex predator on a rampage than everyone else.
The hexenwolves should be the only killer. Look, it’s really unlikely MacFinn has security cameras proving he was in his circle each night. There’s no point in sabotaging the circle and releasing an unstoppable rage monster, especially since this isn’t the Harry Potter only-attacks-humans version so they have no protection against it themselves. It also serves to inform anyone who actually believes in this stuff that he’s being used as a patsy. What are they getting out of it? Just kill a bunch of people and then be all “hey this guy has motive also I hear he’s a werewolf” and you’re done. Better yet, by not releasing him there’s no worry that after he kills people the police will notice the bite marks differ in some way and realize they’re dealing with two different werewolf-style killers. The broken-circle effect is accomplished fine when the police make the mistake of bringing him in – in fact, all the FBI has to do is claim he had motive for it, bring him in, and he’ll wolf out and convict himself. We know the Chicago police seem to have some system of dealing with magic stuff even when they can’t admit it, so this would probably trigger whatever manner of falsifying evidence they normally use while the FBI can continue insisting they don’t even believe in magic so can’t possibly be werewolves. If Harry has to get a warrent out for his arrest, have the guy arrested a day in advance, Harry tries to sneak him out and gets caught but manages to escape alone. Or, since the point seems just to be all OMG MURPHY TENSION, have him try to sneak the guy out but he turns ragewolf and afterward no one’s sure if Harry was trying to stop this or is the one who did it.
Now, a problem is that he turns back to human during the day, so it’d have been possible to bring him back to the circle after the first wolfy demonstration. But supposedly these aren’t movie werewolves, and plenty of historic werecreatures, including the one the author picked here, do not change back during the day but are werewolves for the duration. (Maybe the circle isn’t supposed to keep him in, maybe it’s to protect him from the curse.)He’s an unstoppable wolf monster until the waning moon rises, with the only good news being he’s likely to spend the days hidden asleep rather than rampaging nonstop. (Or maybe he’s an unstoppable wolf monster for good/the foreseeable future, since the original legend has people stuck as a wolf for years.)
We end up with hexenwolves do the killing framing a loup-garou while lycanthrope-dogs freak out and a wolf that turns into a human tries to handle it. None of them are movie werewolves and none of them are proper wolves either. All of them are involved. None are aware of how many of them are involved – FBI know about themselves and the loup-garou, who in this version is the only person they’re trying to frame. Tera, MacFinn, and the lycanthrope-dogs are all aware of each other, but some of the pack disappeared after the killings, and no one’s sure if it was because a couple of them actually did it or if it’s just fear. Marcone, meanwhile, figures it’s just one werewolf because come on, like there’d be a werewolf clusterfuck when there’s never been a single one around before this.
We sadly miss out on the ultra-vanilla college shapeshifters being boring as all fuck, but sometimes that’s the price you have to pay. Instead, perhaps a point could be made that we were directly told regular human shapeshifting really isn’t worth it and that could be an actual clue that the shapeshifters aren’t human and are doing it to get something else out of it.
While we’re here, maybe not have Tera fucking MacFinn? Maybe she’s just involved because this benefits her. Harry could spend the whole book then legitimately suspicious of her motives now that love is off the table, and then at the end Morgan shows up and tells Harry that god damn you idiot, she’s not a Nevernever thing with alien reasoning. she’s just some magic-using animal, that’s a thing, were you not paying attention, no shit a wolf wants a wolf sanctuary.
“But – but she can talk!” Harry whines.
“She shapeshifted herself a human brain, of course she can talk! It’s just like selkies, they’re still just seals!”
(Harry will have earlier compared her to a selkie while explaining those are an example of Nevernever impossible alien monsters that happen to transform, because hey, remember that thing about his education getting cut off early?)
If we’re trying to stick more closely to the plot…urgh.
Okay, so here’s a thought that occurred to me while thinking about why the hell was Kim naked. There’s no given reason because the author just wanted to talk about a sexy corpse. So why?
Harry sees her dead. He tells us that it’s her and about her getting torn up, then he says out loud, “She was naked,” which is the last damn straw for Murphy but his internal narration goes on to be all, It doesn’t actually do anything to make spells better, she knows it doesn’t do anything, it’s just a superstition… He looks around and works out that Kim was trying to get the third circle to catch and it wasn’t working. There’s salt scattered around, herb powder, crystals, etc. She stripes naked as a last ditch attempt rather than running for it, it doesn’t work and she dies. We’re privy to all this but as usual, everyone else isn’t and Harry comes off as a horrible person to them.
Prior to this, Harry fucking told her how to do the circle, with the warning that it was really hard to get the focus right to activate it and made her promise she wouldn’t summon anything without making sure she could activate the circle – maybe even some magic-enforced oath that of course doesn’t trigger because of course she isn’t summoning anything. Unfortunately, the circle wasn’t sabotaged last month. It was just wrecked by our spellwolves to get him to start rampaging (they were supposed to take out Marcone the day before, but only got his bodyguard) and so Kim had no time to test anything.
So what Harry can tell from this is whoever was in the circle originally wanted to be there, because they stuck around while Kim repeatedly tried to get it to work. This isn’t a demon summoning. It must be some transformative effect. And it must be a really nasty one, because Kim didn’t leave to save herself, which means she must have thought it getting out was worse than her dying. There’s no attempt to lock the doors, so Harry guesses that it can break through any non-magical barrier, either as an actual magic ability or because it’s got some sort of Hulk-level power.
We cut the part where Harry already knows it’s all werewolves. He doesn’t think anything of the moon because the idea of moon phase controlling werewolves is a recent thing and he’s out of touch with popular culture. When he sees disembowled people and paw prints, his associations are vampires and fae, and he brushes off werewolves as pretty much not a thing when Murphy mentions it. The hint the FBI are secretly evil isn’t when they encourage him toward the lycanthropes in the hopes of getting him killed in a stupid, stupid plan, it’s when the supposedly anti-magic guys seem oddly supportive of his masterfully written “probably fae assholes, maybe vampires idk there’s a lot of vampires and they’re scary, also demons can look like anything but they’re hard to summon so like, probably not, maybe? if the problem just goes away and also you find some headless guy, it was definitely demons though” report for Murphy.
In Harry’s defense, proper spellwolves, after all, are just transformed people, they wouldn’t have any more inclination toward tearing out someone’s guts with their teeth than anyone else. The FBI, unfortunately, are not tapping into proper devilpact spell powers for transformation, they’re tapping into berserker powers for major transformation which is not supposed to be a thing (and perhaps, like last book done properly, a point would be made about this being a new sort of magic that the old guard isn’t expecting or even aware of). For that matter, traditional spellwolves are supposed to be wizards already, thus why I keep calling them spellwolves, with the human supplying some of the energy, and yet these guys are pure muggle, and that’s why the rage spirit is needed to power this. I would also say that they’re not even properly turning into wolves but the wolfman look, just so Harry can be that much more wrong about his not-like-the-movies bit. Anyway, anyone who knows anything about berserker powers would know to tie it to bears (berserker+predator that chases animals for days doesn’t end well for anybody), and Harry isn’t aware that popular culture has narrowed down shapeshifting to just wolves (because he doesn’t fucking watch TV) so magic newbies like the FBI will default to that.
As such, Harry doesn’t work out this is the werewolf book until Kim, when he remembers that also, cursing people to turn into animals is a thing and sometimes they’re buffed to be unstoppable furry murder. He will then claim to be sorta right on the basis it’s a fae curse but only get partway through his explanation before Murphy cuffs him, oblivious to the fact he sounds like he’s backpeddling to hide his obvious involvement and attempt to mislead the police.
Basically, a lot of the elements of this could work, but they all have to be completely rearranged.
Anyway! We’re now going to transition to doing Unwholly, and its Friday slot will be taken up with Children of the Dragons: Will They Ever Find the +1 Sword of Legend??? because I just read this and I’m doing Unwholly, we’re doing funtime fantasy garbage you Dresden-voting bastards and you’re going to like it.
But first……….JANUARY COMES. And so it shall be pokemon times. This month will finish off with non-me/sockpuppet because all is me posts, then it’s reviewing and author explanations/frothing madness to welcome in the new year.