As a kid, I could never get enough stories of vampires, ghosts and werewolves, and the hunger for such grisly literary fare stayed with me. Annette Kurtis Klause's The Silver Kiss, the story of a tortured vampire named Simon made a huge impression when I was younger, and was my favorite book on fictional vampires. Time passed, and I wasn't as diligent about keeping up with favorite authors as I am now, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear she'd written Blood and Chocolate (in 1997, I'm a little slow about these things). This book centers around the mythology of the loup-garou, or werewolf, and I was happy to see that Klause's writing didn't disappoint me even after all this time.
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Howling at the Moon
Vivian is young, beautiful, and fifteen. She's also a werewolf, part of a pack nearly torn apart by the loss of its leader, Vivian's father, and a terrible fire that killed many of the pack members. Struggling to relocate and re-establish the pack, they've temporarily taken up residence in the suburbs of Maryland to lick their collective wounds, find a permanent home and choose a new pack leader.
All of this, however, is of less concern to Vivian than trying to fit in with human society. She misses her father terribly, and hates to see her mother dating other pack members. She also hates the increasing pressure of her blooming sexuality and how it's altered her relationship with the Five, a group of male packmates (sort of like cousins) that were her former companions and are now an uncontrollable dangerous gang. Rafe, the leader of the Five, seems intent upon pairing off with her despite her disgust for his callous attitude towards humans. Her mother Esme embarrasses Vivian by constantly catfighting with another female named Astrid for the attentions of Gabriel, a gorgeous male in his twenties. And Gabriel himself also seems entirely too interested in Vivian for her own comfort...
Tired of all the squabbling and politics, Vivian falls in love with what the loup-garoux call a meat-boy, a gentle neo-hippie named Aiden. They have an immediate connection, one so deep that Vivian longs to reveal her secret life to him, despite cautions from the pack about what danger it could bring on them all.
Stuff I love
How great is that? It's horror, coming-of-age, and a romance all wrapped up in one, and Vivian is a very engaging heroine. I even forgive her for being predictably drop-dead gorgeous and a temptation for every man who sees her. Let me reassure you, this is not one of those corny "I was a teenage werewolf" stories. Vivian's troubles are very real, and very easy to identify with despite the fact that she's a werewolf. She loves and hates her family by turns, she's rebelling against growing older...and she longing to fit in with other kids her age, even though they don't seem to want her. Likewise, her relationship with Aiden is also very realistic, both of them dealing with strong emotions like love and lust all at once. I also really enjoyed reading about how Vivian dealt with life as a werewolf. She doesn't see her werewolf nature as being a burden or something disgusting--to her it is natural and incredibly freeing. In fact, she can't imagine not being one, even when this secret of hers conflicts with her relationship with Aiden.
Klause does such a great job in establishing this whole werewolf subculture, and she does it very smoothly. They're just just humans who get hairy once a month, they have an actual culture and customs unique to them. We're quickly thrown into Vivian's life as a packmember...not quite like a human family, but almost like living with your extended family, where there is a definite hierarchy based on strength, and pecking order for everyone. In this, I thought it was very realistic compared to what a real wolf pack is like--the challenge for the leadership role, the attitudes on sexual relationships (monogamy being unusual in the animal kingdom), etc. Although members of the pack can change at will, they must change at the full moon, and they hold their own gatherings where every wolf is present. One of the most exciting elements Klause writes about this werewolf culture is the Ordeal, the ancient choosing of a new leader for the pack based on combat, the last two challengers fighting until only one stands.
I really loved reading about the pack's problems trying to remain conspicuous, especially since not all the members agree on what is the best approach towards humans. Many prefer to stay out of humans' way, keeping in mind that hunting human prey will only bring trouble on the pack. Others believe that whatever (or whoever) is weaker is rightful prey. There are many conflicts in this book, not just between Vivian and the other members of the pack, but within the pack itself as it fights to remain whole without a strong leader...especially when a rash of vicious local murders start to make the pack question who the killer among them may be.
If there are any in this book, it's in the pacing and perhaps a bit in the character development. The plot comes to a very rapid finish, so much so that I kept one eye on the page and one eye on the pages remaining, wondering if Klause was going to make it! (She did, with pages to spare for excerpts from her other books. Wow.) While I understand that such a dynamic story needs a big, dramatic finish, I kind of wished she'd slowed down just a tiny bit.
This is mainly because the story wraps up with one of the not-so-sympathetic characters becoming sympathetic, and the transition is a little too quick to be credible for me. I felt like it needed a bit more preparation, because it's difficult to switch from disliking this sleazy person to realizing that they're actually quite honorable after all. It wasn't enough to ruin the ending for me, but I ended up bit less satisfied than I might've been.
This is a young adult book, but I can certainly see where adults would enjoy it, too. There is quite a bit of sexual content, though, so parents might want to keep that in mind. Vivian is, the book stresses, one gorgeous creature, and partly because she's a teenager and partly because she's a werewolf, she's very much in touch with her physical urges and has no qualms about acting upon them. For example, there's never any self-doubt or questioning about the wisdom of losing her virginity at age 16. Arguably, the morals and ethics of a loup-garou aren't going to be the same as those of a human being necessarily!
While Klause never actually includes a sex scene in the book, she gets close enough--but not tackily gratuitous, in my opinion. Parts of the book are also somewhat graphic, particularly the section about the Ordeal itself which involves the wolves fighting a rather bloody battle.
No doubt there are messages one can take from this book about growing up and the frustration and futility of venturing outside your own social group, but...I prefer not to think of the book that way. I don't think Klause necessarily meant to draw such parallels with her werewolf vs. human conflict, and indeed, if you interpret it that way, the book may end up to be somewhat disappointing to you. It's not really that complex, and it doesn't have to be.
I would've loved this book as a younger reader, and I was very impressed with it now. Klause adapts the werewolf tale very credibly to a modern setting, her portrayal of the loup-garou subculture is fascinating and not the least bit phony-sounding. There was really too much in the
book to include in one review without spoiling key plot points, but I can easily say this was a richly detailed and well-written werewolf tale... and it will be a keeper for my personal collection.
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