The New York Times Book Review
If books were required to list the nutritional value of their contents, Duncan's sumptuously gluttonous werewolf saga would rank as high in pure cane sugar as it does in omega-3s…his scathingly intelligent psychological insights and flat-out killer writing, his companionably high-mannered narrative voice…and his mad plot chops [make] Talulla Rising a high-calorie blast…Duncan delivers with intelligent humanity a monster we want to track and befriend, even knowing she would happily eat us alive.
Decidedly not for the squeamish, Duncan’s disturbingly raunchy sequel to his 2011 supernatural thriller, The Last Werewolf, finds newly turned werewolf Talulla Demetriou hiding out in a remote hunting lodge near Fairbanks, Alaska, mourning her dead werewolf lover, Jake Marlowe, by whom she’s pregnant. After Talulla delivers boy-girl befurred twins, vampires kidnap her newborn son as a sacrifice to bring back their mythic progenitor. With baby daughter Zoë in tow, Talulla sets out after the vampires in a quest to regain her son that will bring her in contact with more of her kind. Once a month she changes into a nine-foot-tall monster who lusts after her victims before killing and eating them, but in between gorges she fancies herself Moll Flanders, “immoral, shallow, hypocritical, heartless, a bad woman.” From time to time Talulla endures tortures that would have been more powerful if suggested rather than wallowed in. The philosophizing may strike some readers as painfully facile, even for a werewolf. Agent: Jane Gelfman, Gelfman Schneider. (July)
From the Publisher
“Gorgeous. . . . Irresistible. . . . As with The Last Werewolf, Duncan writes with caustic edge and pop-culturally relevant humor. ” —Dallas Morning News
“A lusty, visceral, bloody tale. . . . This is enjoyable stuff. . . . Talulla has the wit and pluck to entertain us.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Horror fiction at its best.”—The Oregonian
“Duncan’s antihero is an apex female predator, the antithesis of Stephenie Meyer’s gothy milksop. She’s smart, confident, and a caring mother. She’s also a ferocious man-eater . . . The spectacle alone is worth the price of admission.”—NPR
“The horror genre at its best—wildly imaginative, written with wit and intelligence, wickedly entertaining.” —The Times (UK)
“Flat-out killer. . . . This harmonic hybrid delivers sweet (plot), salty (character), sour (emotional pathos), bitter (psychological probity), and umami (stylistic and linguistic panache). . . . Best described as a gleeful three-way between Raymond Chandler's entire oeuvre, Anne Rice's vampire novels and Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. . . . A high-calorie blast. . . . Duncan delivers with intelligent humanity a monster we want to track and befriend, even knowing she would happily eat us alive.” —New York Times Book Review
“A howling good read. . . . Horrifying and humorous, imaginative and energetic.”—CNN
“Duncan is an immensely talented literary novelist, and with Talulla Rising, he has again proved you don’t have to be driving with a learner’s permit to enjoy a good vampire-versus-werewolf book. . . . Its descriptions of sex and violence—by turns hallucinatory and anatomically precise—might render Twilight fans blind and mute. Everyone else should have a blast, though.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“In Talulla Rising, Duncan again creates an oddly engaging world defined almost exclusively by the abnormal . . . The story moves from Alaska to London to Italy to Crete, makes good use of the monsters’ special powers, offers cliff-hanging moments. . . . Duncan can be awfully entertaining.” —Bloomberg News
“A lusty, visceral, bloody tale [told in] capable, muscular prose . . . This is enjoyable stuff . . . Duncan’s werewolves are never cartoons . . . Talulla has the wit and pluck to entertain us.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“As well as being thought-provoking, it’s all great fun . . . Duncan’s writing does more than transcend genre fiction: it creeps up on it in the dead of night, rips out its heart, then eats it.”—The Guardian
“I like now and then to be reminded that I am a companion of the Wild Beast, and Glen Duncan ensures that I never forget it. He writes brilliantly of the presence of evil in its most contemporary disguise, with its heady temptations of heedless abundance, hunger, and satiety. Never again will it be possible to think of werewolves as mere metaphor. This fierce, witty, and erotic novel is full of surprises, both provocative and illuminating.” —Susanna Moore
Duncan did something remarkable in The Last Werewolf. Instead of glamorizing werewolf protagonist Jake (and his stinky enemies, vampires), he made the werewolf act of transformation and feasting ("fuckkilleat") viscerally ugly. Yet at the same time, Jake is sympathetically, conflictedly, yes, human. Jake met his end, having discovered that he really wasn't the last werewolf, and here werewolf love Talulla mourns him deeply. She also discovers that she is pregnant, which raises a crucial issue: werewolf babies? Alas, vampires desperate for werewolf blood, needed to resurrect the world's oldest vampire, kidnap Talulla's son, Lorcan, at the moment of his birth. Disgusted that she didn't resist, Talulla sets out to save Lorcan—with the help of her familiar, Cloquet, and some renegades from WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena). VERDICT What results is a bone-crunchingly, page-plungingly good book (necessary reading just for the language) that limns the primal darkness within us but is ultimately about love. Yes, love is flawed ("We'd have a damaged love with my shame at the core, but it would still be love"), but—human, werewolf, vampire—it's real. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/12/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Werewolves and vampires are again at each other's throats. This sequel to Duncan's The Last Werewolf (2011) follows the life of Tallula Demetriou, one of Jake's lovers. Her mother had always told her she'd been a "Very (pause) Bad (pause) Girl," and in this story she continues to follow her wicked ways, for after all, she's a self-acknowledged "agent for the forces of darkness." Early in the novel she discloses that she's pregnant and being cared for by her friend Cloquet. For convenience, they're keeping Kaitlyn, a young woman, in the basement for when "the Hunger" strikes, but on the night of a vampire attack, Kaitlyn finds herself freed in the confusion and Tallula gives birth to a son, quickly stolen and whisked away by the vampires. But wait...Tallula unexpectedly has a second child, a fraternal twin she names Zoë. In a bow to the plot of his previous novel, Duncan again resurrects the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena, a group that is once more realizing that they'll be putting themselves out of business if they do in fact track down and kill all the werewolves. Walker and Mikhail, a couple of rogue agents formerly with WOCOP, introduce Tallula and Cloquet to a mythic book of vampire lore that predicts the return of Remshi, a kind of vampire deity who's expected to return and inaugurate an age of vampire ascendancy. The Age of Remshi seems prophetic indeed when rumors spread that vampires are now beginning to walk in daylight. Through Tallula and her ilk, Duncan reacquaints us with the extreme notion of the Hunger, which is inextricably linked to both sex and violence, libido and id. Duncan leaves no doubt about his commitment to the intellectual and the bestial traditions of werewolves and vampires, for he sustains a tone both brainy and vicious.
Read an Excerpt
“Oh. mon Dieu,” Cloquet said, when he opened the lodge door and saw me on the floor. “Fuck.”
I was on my side, knees drawn up, face wet with sweat. Pregnancy and the hunger didn’t get along. Hated each other, in fact. I pictured the baby pressing werewolf fingernails against my womb, five bits of broken glass on the skin of a balloon. And only myself to blame: When I could’ve got rid of it I didn’t want to. Now that I wanted to it was too late. Conscience from the old life said: Serves you right. I’d fired conscience months back, but it was still hanging around, miserable, unshaven, nowhere else to go.
“Did you get it?” I gasped. Behind Cloquet the open door showed deep snow, the edge of the pine forest, frail constellations. Beauty mauled me even in this state. Aesthetic hypersensitivity was a by-product of slaughter. Life was full of these amoral relations, it turned out.
Cloquet rushed to my side, tugging off his thermal gloves. “Lie still,” he said. “Don’t try to speak.” He smelled of outdoors, dense evergreens and the far north air like something purified by the flight of angels. “You have a temperature. Did you drink enough water?”
For the umpteenth time I wished my mother were alive. For the umpteenth time I thought how unspeakably happy I’d be if she and Jake walked in the door right now, grinning, the pair of them. My mother would dump her purse on the table in a puff of Chanel and say, For God’s sake, Lulu, look at your hair—and the weight would lift and everything would be all right. Jake wouldn’t have to say anything. He’d look at me and it would be there in his eyes, that he was for me, always, always—and the nightmare would reduce to a handful of solvable problems. (I’d expected their ghosts, naturally. I’d demanded their ghosts. I got nothing. The universe, it also turned out, was no more interested in werewolf demands than it was in human ones.)
Pain thickened under my toenails, warmed my eyeballs. Wulf smirked and kicked and cajoled in my blood. Come on, what’s a few hours between friends? Let me out. Let me out. Every month the same delirious bullying, the same pointless impatience. I closed my eyes.
Bad idea. The footage ran, immediately: Delilah Snow’s room, the wardrobe door swinging open, its long mirror introducing me to myself in all my grotesque glory, what I was, what I could do, the full range of my options. Monster. Murderer. Mother-to-be.
I opened my eyes.
“Let me get you some water,” Cloquet said.
“No, stay here.”
I had hold of his coat and was twisting it. My dead moaned and throbbed. My dead. My restless tenants. My forced family of thirteen. Those ghosts, yes, of course, as many as you like. The only way to be sure of never losing the ones you love. The Dahmer Method. Extreme, but effective.
“Breathe, chérie, breathe.”
Chérie. Mon ange. Ma belle. Lovers’ endearments, though we weren’t, and never would be, lovers.
One by one the broken-glass fingernails withdrew. The pain furled shut, like time-lapse film of a flower closing. By degrees, with Cloquet’s help, I made it to the armchair. Wulf smiled. The prisoner’s smile at the guard, knowing the breakout gang’s already on its way.
“Did you get it?” I asked again, when I’d caught my breath. “At least tell me you got it.”
Cloquet shook his head. “There was a screw-up. It’s stuck in freight clearing at Anchorage. It’ll be in Fairbanks Saturday morning. There’s more snow coming, though. I’ll have to take the Ski-Doo and trailer.”
I didn’t say anything. I was remembering an artwork I saw once at MOMA: a foetus made entirely of barbed wire. Lauren and I had just stood there looking at it, silenced.
“Don’t worry,” Cloquet said. “It’s two days. You’re not due for six weeks. I’ll go back to Fairbanks Saturday first thing. They promise it’ll be there. It has to be.”
“It” was a consignment of obstetrics equipment, including oxygen machine, forceps, foetal and adult stethoscopes, heart monitor, PCA pump, sphygmomanometer and sutures. “Fairbanks” was Fairbanks, Alaska. Necessary obscurity: WOCOP—World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena (think CIA meets Keystone Kops meets Spanish Inquisition, Jake had said)—knew I’d survived Jake’s death and was carrying his child. Its hunters wanted my head and its scientists wanted me strapped down in a lab. It didn’t stop there. Having found a correlation between survived werewolf bites and increased sunlight tolerance, vampires were after—what else?—my blood. More than all that, my straw-clutching subconscious had seen the snow as a sterile environment, a natural hospital. Conventional medicine was out of the question (Well, Miss Demetriou, as you can see on the monitor, here’s the umbilicus, and here’s a very healthy-looking placenta, and of course here’s the—JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WHAT IS THAT?) so Cloquet had found the converted hunting lodge, with its exposed beams and wood-burning stove and wardrobes that smelled of camphor. Three thousand dollars a week, no other residents within fifteen miles, no phone reception, a half-mile of dirt road through the Christmas trees’ thrilled hush to the highway, from which Fairbanks was a ninety-minute drive southwest. I could scream as loud as I liked. No one would hear. I had a recurring vision of myself lying on the dining table in a pool of blood, screaming as loud as I liked. I had a lot of recurring visions.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “This thing’s going to kill me anyway.” Gratuitous. Post–Delilah Snow I was full of random cruelties. I knew how the fear of me dying gnawed him now that he was an accessory to murder. Murders, plural. Looking after a werewolf uniquely disqualified you from doing anything else, as Jake’s poor minder Harley could have confirmed, if he hadn’t had his head cut off. That Cloquet had become my minder still occasionally mesmerized me, the giant absurdity of the fact. Yet I remembered the feeling of dreamy inevitability that night in the forest five months before, when I’d put out my hand—my changed hand, clawed, wet and heavy with blood—and he, after a cracked laugh, had taken it. What had happened moments before—carnage, death, vengeance, loss—had left the two of us with a raw permissive consciousness, and into it this new relationship insinuated itself. Expect the absurd, Jake had warned me. Expect the risible twist, the ludicrous denouement. Expect the perverse. It’s the werewolf’s lot.
Cloquet shut the door, took out a big white hanky and blew his nose. The cold had given him a look of surprised innocence. Sometimes I saw him like this, humanly, the mangled person and the road back to his childhood strewn with wrong turns and ugly coincidences.
Long ago he’d been a little boy, side-parted hair and a volatile world of loved toys and stormy adults. Now, as he snuffled and swiped, nostrils raw, eyebrows raised, I had an image of this dark-eyed child standing alone on a jetty looking out over black water, waiting for the reunion that would never come. Tenderness stirred in me—and like an awkward reflex the new force obscured it, said it didn’t fit the grammar, wasn’t the done thing. There was too much else going on in me to argue, but I’d already made it known I didn’t like rules. God only knows to whom I’d made it known. Some vague werewolf scheme of things I didn’t even believe in.
“How is it?” he asked.
“I wish you’d take the drugs.”
Just say no. So far I had. Acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine, codeine, Demerol, morphine. All with potential side-effects my imagination made certainties. Administration of this drug during the first trimester can cause behavioural abnormalities in the infant.
Behavioural abnormalities. Jake and I would’ve exchanged a look. But ironies were like secrets: unshared they died. Jake and I would’ve. Jake and I. Jake. I. There were these moments when there was nothing between me and the reality of his death, when the future without him yawned, a vast space of sheer drops and wrong perspectives. There’d be more and more of these moments, I knew, until eventually they wouldn’t be moments at all, just the continuous, crushing way things were. The way things were that having our child was supposed to alleviate.
“Save the drugs for when I really need them,” I said.
We both knew I really needed them already, what with wulf jamming the room with its stink and the cattle-wire shocks in my fingernails and ringing iron in my eye-teeth and outside whispering the dirty talk of the wild. Transformation was less than twenty-four hours away.
“You don’t have to be brave, you know,” he said.
“I’m not. I’m just thinking ahead.” I didn’t want to think ahead. (I didn’t want to think back, either. There was horror in both directions.) Rufus, my fish supplier for the Brooklyn diners, had described watching his wife having their baby. I want to tell you it was beautiful, he said, but basically it looked like someone had taken a twelve-gauge to her pussy. This image kept coming back, as did the Sex Ed video they showed us in high school, yellowed footage of a big-thighed woman sweatily giving birth. Unanimous teen revulsion. Lauren had said to me: Fuck the miracle of life, where do I sign up for a hysterectomy?
“I’ll go and check downstairs,” Cloquet said.
“No, I’ll go.”
“You should rest.”
“I need to move. Ow. Fuck.” The baby shimmied, scraped something in me. It sent these violent communiqués. The same communiqué, every time: I saw you. In the mirror. You and Delilah Snow. Mother.
I waited for the pain to fold itself away again.
“You sure you don’t want something?” Cloquet asked.
I shook my head, no. Then held out my hand to him. “But I don’t think I can get out of this chair by myself.”
One minute you’re little Lula, eight years old, sitting on the counter in the Tenth Street diner drinking a vanilla shake under the pink Coors neon—the next this, the stink of liver under your fingernails and the water in the shower running red around your feet. In the thought experiment you commit suicide. I wouldn’t do it. I’d kill myself. In reality you don’t. In reality you kill and eat someone else. You start at one end of the experience, go through it, come out the other side. You’ve killed and eaten a human being. Blood winks on your fingers, mats the hair on your arms and snout. The gobbled life flails and struggles in what it touchingly mistakes for a bad dream. The moon sets. The next day you wake up in sheets that smell of fabric conditioner. There is CNN. There is coffee. There is weather. There is your human face in the mirror. The world, you discover, is a place of appalling continuity. I ate his heart. It seems incredible the words don’t refuse, don’t revolt. But why should they? You didn’t. There’s your horror, yes. But your horror’s a tide going out: every wave stops a little farther away. Eventually the tide doesn’t come in any more. Eventually there’s just the sighing delta, the new you, the werewolf. The last werewolf, as it happens.
Jake had thought he was the last. He’d thought he was ready to go, too. One by one I’ve exhausted the modes, he wrote:
hedonism, asceticism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miser-able Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism’s worn out. I don’t have what it takes. I still have feelings but I’m sick of having them. Which is another feeling I’m sick of having. I just . . . I just don’t want any more life.
Then he’d met me. Courtesy of the risible twist, the ludicrous coincidence. Love has come, he wrote.
Full, incendiary, unarguable with. Love has come, and with it the renewed pricelessness of time. I think of an hour with her—then of my hundreds of thousands of hours before knowing her was possible, wasted hours, by definition. The life we could’ve had if she’d been around a century ago (or fifty years, or ten, or Jesus Christ five) is an obscenity in my imagination. The bigger obscenity, of course, is the question of how much life we’ve got. There’s no God but I know his style: He wouldn’t teach you the value of time unless you had fuck-all time left. . . .
He was right. We had two months. Careful what you wish for, he’d sent me, dying, in my arms. Before we’d met he’d wished for death. Death had listened. Death had made a note. Unerasable, it turned out.
A century and a half of loneliness coda’d by sixty days and nights of love. Not much of an equation. Reversed, it looked a lot worse: sixty days and nights of love followed by hundreds of years of loneliness. No wonder I missed every abortion appointment I made.
I had three recurring daydreams. One was of me with a twelve-year-old daughter living in a Los Angeles villa. Turquoise pool, cactus garden, sunlight, Cloquet in a straw hat and white bermudas teaching us French.
Another was of a little werewolf boy in a shredded school uniform covered in blood, a leftover eyeball in his lunchbox, a human tongue flopping out of his blazer pocket. Of course it was darkly hilarious. Dark hilarity’s always an option, if there’s no God.
I said three recurring daydreams.
Halfway down the basement stairs my legs buckled. I grabbed the banister, slid to my knees and vomited. Bile and water, since I hadn’t had solid food in twelve days. It hadn’t always been this way. I’d swanned through the first eighteen weeks of pregnancy symptom-free. Then, without warning, everything had changed. Cramps, vomiting, night sweats, visual disturbances, nosebleeds, back ache, diarrhoea, breathtaking uterine pains. Overnight, biology made me its punchbag. If I was lucky I got about a week’s grace post-transformation, when the bodily violence subsided, but when the moon hit first quarter it started up again, and the fiercer the hunger, the more maternity beat the shit out of me. A curse on top of the Curse: you’re starving, but your appetite makes you sick. (My last victim, an onion-and-whiskey-flavoured pimp in Mexico City, had brought on X-rated vomiting less than an hour after I’d eaten him. A pointless death. Now he was an oddity among my dead, confused and wraithy from having not been taken in properly—or from having been taken in and then half forced out again.) For a while I’d clung to a moral theory, that motherhood abhorred murder. But things had happened. Things had happened, and the theory had gone.
“It’s okay,” I croaked down to Kaitlyn. “It’s just me.”
The stuff you come out with: It’s just me. Your other kidnapper. How reassuring. Kaitlyn didn’t reply. She was on her feet by the camp-bed, holding the restraining cable. Twenty-three, according to her driver’s licence. Pale skin, greasy blonde hair, slightly bulbous blue eyes and a blow-up dollish mouth. Overall a look of not being quite clean (I imagined a grimy navel and a bedroom like the site of a poltergeist freak-out) but slim and pretty enough not to have suspected anything worse than a one-night stand when Cloquet picked her up in Fairbanks.