During a recent conversation about the popularity of supernatural creatures in fiction, a hardcore and highly opinionated reader claimed that, “Werewolves are dead. They’re boring. All the storylines are the same.” I began to disagree—but then realized she was partly right. There are plenty of formulaic werewolves out there (particularly in paranormal romance), and a lot of uninspired stories employing the same old conventions and stereotypes (full moons, silver bullets, wolfsbane, etc.).
Granted, werewolves may never be as popular as vampires, but they are far from boring. Here are five perfect examples of how an imaginative writer can take a well-trodden myth and use it as the foundation for highly innovative and exciting story lines. If you’ve ever walked through the streets of Soho in the rain with a Chinese menu in your hand, looking for a place called Lee Ho Fooks, these five incredibly diverse novels are absolute must-reads.
5. Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow (2008)
Written entirely in free verse, this will be one of the most unique novels you ever read. Revolving around packs of lycanthropes living—and thriving—in Los Angeles, this debut novel is brutal, visceral, and in its own way breathtakingly beautiful.
4. The Wolf’s Hour, by Robert R. McCammon (1989)
This novel was a dramatic departure for horror writer McCammon. A blend of WWII espionage thriller and werewolf-powered dark fantasy, the story revolves around Russian-born, British Secret Service operative Michael Gallatin, who just happens to be a werewolf. Highly principled and deeply introspective, Gallatin is a tormented soul struggling to understand who (or what) he is. Intricately plotted and meticulously described, this suspense thriller offers up a unique take on the werewolf mythos.
3. Pride Mates, by Jennifer Ashley (2010)
The first installment of Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series doesn’t get the credit it deserves, in large part, I believe, because it’s classified and marketed as paranormal romance. What Ashley has done in this series is quite remarkable: she’s created an entirely new lycanthropic mythology that seamlessly fuses elements of science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery. It’s been 20 years since shapeshifters, hunted down and on the verge of extinction, have agreed to become collared and “accepted” into human society. That acceptance, however, is extremely limited—although the collars repress the shapeshifters’ violent tendencies, they’ve been forced to live in Shiftertowns on the periphery of society, and are still universally hated and feared for their extraordinary abilities.
2. The Werewolf of Paris, by Guy Endore (1933)
This classic novel, set largely in pre-Revolutionary Paris, was out of print for almost half a century until Pegasus Books reissued it a few months ago. Though it has been 80 years since its initial release, it’s still a powerful—and influential—read.
1. The Wolfman, by Nicholas Pekearo (2008)
I first read and reviewed Pekearo’s debut novel for The Chicago Tribune back in 2008, and to say that I was blown away would be an understatement. Every time I write about this novel, it saddens me deeply. Pekearo was such an extraordinarily gifted writer, and The Wolfman could’ve been the first installment in a series that had the potential to help redefine crime fiction and urban fantasy. His murder was a tragedy: not only for his family and friends, but for the millions of readers who never got a chance to read all of the Marlowe Higgins novels that Pekearo could’ve—and should’ve—written.
What’s your favorite work of shapeshifter fiction?