5 out of 5 stars
Wow. Whatever I was expecting when I picked this book up, it was not this.
From first glance, I thought it looked like a typical YA paranormal novel, admittedly I didn’t really read the blurb properly. What it actually is, however, is a witty, paranormal YA novel filled with black humour and pop culture references, that cleverly and effectively weaves the supernatural into our world. I mean, what’s not to like about the idea of a family of aristocratic Scottish werewolves sat around in a draughty castle in Scotland, having family meetings in drawing rooms in their werewolf forms? Whilst nursing glasses of fine whiskey, I hasten to add.
The McRinnalchs are a beautifully dysfunctional family. Kalix has been exiled for attacking her father, the Thane, her sister owns a fashion house in London and designs for the queen of the fire elementals, one brother is hell bent on revenge and becoming the next Thane, and the other harbours a secret desire to dress in women’s clothing. Their mother schemes and seems to care little for her children. You would think this would make them a rather despicable family, but no. There was also a rather interesting section on the background of the family’s history.
I especially thought I would dislike Kalix. She is a very troubled character, who relies on laudanum, alcohol and self-harm to get her through the day. She mopes and sulks, but I just couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. The more you read, the more you realise that Kalix is so innocent (despite, you know, the whole werewolf attacking people thing…) and shy, and is practically still a child, despite being on the edge of adulthood. She was never taught how to read properly, and when she learns – through a computer program designed for children, that involves rescuing animals – I honestly just found it so cute. The way she was written, I could immediately sense how empty and lonely her life was, which immediately made me warm to her.
Millar really got some humourous moments in, including Thrix, the fashion designer werewolf, contemplating on how awkward it is to type with werewolf paws. For me however, the best character and frequent comic relief, was Malveria, the queen of the fire elementals. I actually can’t describe how much I loved her! One sentence states how proud she is after mastering the art of ringing the doorbell – because of course she is unused to human ways – and like Kalix, she is another childish character, but in a different way. Instead of innocence, she has inquisitiveness. She constantly appears in Thrix’s office, insulting her and saying that Thrix has ruined her, but is easily distracted by shiny new dresses or accessories, like a little puppy. She also develops a love for pop-tarts. Moonglow and Daniel, the two students who become entwined in the lives of the McRinnalch clan (or more accurately, the other way round), also add comic relief, and a touch of reality to the story. They are perhaps a little too over-stereotyped, the goth and the metalhead, but are pretty genuine characters all the same.
Overall, I enjoyed the book so much more than expected, it was a real surprise. Millar has created a rich collection of characters, who despite their ‘typical’ YA character traits (in some cases) are surprisingly refreshing. It was also nice to read a werewolf story with no vampires involved (although there are also fire elementals and fairies). I did notice a couple of typos in the final printed version, but there weren’t too many, nor were they too major. I do also think this particular cover might put a lot of people off the book, which is a shame.
I would recommend this to any fan of paranormal fiction, be it YA or adult – the paranormal themes and dark humour make a fantastic mix that should appeal to many. Apparently book two was published in 2010, which makes me wonder if that’s it or if there’ll be any more – I will be looking out for the second one!