Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Wounded by Stephen Cole

The moon was just a soft glow through the flimsy curtains in Kate's bedroom, but she feared even that intrustion. She pushed sweat-drenched hair from her eyes and turned on her bedside light. Looked around at the familiar things in the room. Told herself she was normal. Normal for now...

(Cole, Stephen, Wounded, page 9, Bloomsbury, 2003 edition)

Well, my first thought upon reading the first third of this book was: "Misery-lite." Those of you familiar with Stephen King know what I mean. There's definitely a lot of Annie in Marcie Folan (she even used to be a nurse!) although, of course, the two aren't quite the same. Maybe this would hurt the reading experience for some, but it's definitely a better description of this story than the one BookLikes gives. (Twilight with werewolves. *shudder*)

The story is as follows:

Kate is part of a family of werewolves and she needs to lose her virginity to a male werewolf in order to transition herself (consent optional, as the text informs us). However, decades of intermarriage in the werewolf community have resulted in some very unpleasant results, so every now and again, they need to inject something new in the gene pool.

Enter Tom Anderson, who separates from his family during a camping trip and gets bitten. At first he is led to think Kate's family rescued him from certain death, and by the time he discovers the truth, it's too late to reverse the change.

Or maybe not. When Tom proves to have a stronger will than expected, he and Kate manage to turn the tables on her family and head off on a cross-country chase to find a cure.

So there's this thing - I really wanted to like this book. Kate and Tom are both very believably written and interesting characters. Tom is naturally thrown out of balance by everything happening to him, but he's also a responsible and quick learner. Kate, meanwhile, is delightfully cynical and cool-headed (which I imagine she'd need if she wants to stand up to her mother.) The two of them interact well and despite the Twilight comparisons, there isn't instalove in sight.

Also, unlike Twilight, this book actually has a plot. Developments come fast and hard, betrayals and twists await every turn, and the whole thing runs at a break-neck pace that will never leave you bored.

Well... perhaps a bit too break-neck. At just 200 pages, the edition I have is pretty short by YA standards, and considering all the plot, character and world-building developments, it feels just a wee bit tight. Sometimes it felt like you barely got to meet a character before they exited stage left, which is a shame because there are a lot of really, really cool characters in here!

I get it - the story demands certain things, and a bit-action packed plot is important to keep the readers going. But even if the plot didn't go further than what happens in the first third - Tom's confinement, transformation, realisation that the friendly family looking after him isn't all that friendly, and Kate's family forcing the two teens together whether they like it or not - the book would still have stood strong. Cole manages to create the claustrophobic atmosphere of classic horror novels very well, and the dynamic between that handful of characters would have been enough to carry Wounded through.

As it is, the book feels rushed at times, barely giving the reader enough space to feel afraid or intrigued before heading into the next big reveal. I'm not sure if I prefer this to YA books that go in the other end of the spectrum - 400 pages of nothing - but I was hoping for a better scare than that.

Another thing I'm not entirely sure about is some of the chivalric, old-fashioned subtext in the later parts of the book. Kate and Tom start off with an uneasy alliance that changes into something of a bodyguard-guardee relationship that bothered me at some places. Tom clearly thinks that he should protect Kate, seeing that he's the physically stronger party, but the text doesn't ever stop to acknowledge the fact that Kate's very strong too. And not because she appeals to Tom's human side whenever he's in his wolf form.

Let's think about this for a second: Kate has the potential of becoming a werewolf, and a powerful one because she's pureblood. She can shrug off her limitations, give into the bloodlust and do as her family wants. She has the threat of death and sexual assault lingering over her at every point, and yet she manages to retain her cool and stand up to the challenges throughout the book. Again, I just feel it's a shame that the text doesn't seem to appreciate that fact.

Do I recommend this? Yes, sure. Depending on your mileage, it'll be a cool supernatural horror action YA or an idea that needed more development. Me, I fall somewhere in the middle.

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