Review: “Feral,” Matt Serafini

Pros: Some decent humans-fighting-werewolves material; one unexpectedly interesting character
Cons: See below…
Rating: 2 out of 5

Matt Serafini’s Feral: A Novel of Werewolf Horror picks up in some ways toward the end, but unfortunately, by then it’s really too late.

Jack Markle is hanging out at a middle-of-nowhere resort with his friends and fellow college students, Lucy and Allen. Lucy’s father owns the place, so they’re staying on his dime. Jack is a slightly older English major. Lucy has a so-far-unrequited crush on Jack, and Allen is an arrogant womanizer. Allen has met a new woman–Elisabeth Luna–who seems totally uninterested in Jack and Lucy. Molly, Allen’s ex-girlfriend, earns the ire of Elisabeth by making a scene, while Lucy attempts to fend off the advances of her father and Jack just wants to relax and have a good time. Then people start disappearing right and left, Elisabeth turns Allen into a werewolf, and another werewolf (Fane)–who seems to have a lot of followers–threatens Elisabeth and Allen, and starts turning the whole town into an army. Can Jack and Lucy survive what’s happening? Will Elisabeth and Allen escape Fane’s machinations? Can werewolf hunter Amanda Church destroy this nest of werewolves?

There’s a weird vein of sexism touching the story here and there–I say weird, because I’m pretty sure the author thinks he created some strong female characters–Elisabeth, for example, can kick a lot of ass. But apparently Lucy’s unwillingness to put up with Allen’s arrogance makes their inability to get along “her fault, mostly”. The women are all absolute stunners (of course). Lucy, who is very attractive and apparently has everyone wanting to get with her, of course only has eyes for Jack, who is painted as the somewhat-clueless well-intentioned nice guy of our story. There are a number of descriptions of female characters that I think of as “men-writing-women” examples. At one point even Elisabeth’s point of view is marred with the sentence, “A familiar set of breasts bounced through the crowd.” (Objectification much?) There’s also of course the obligatory scene in which Elisabeth contemplates her own assets. And naturally Elisabeth is actually falling for centuries-younger arrogant womanizer Allen. It seems a bit odd as well that Lucy seems perfectly normal in her first scene only to reveal later that her father had tried to force her sexually a day or two ago. Even a hint of preoccupation on her part would have been nice.

There are quite a few places where the author uses words that don’t seem to mean quite what he thinks they mean. The meaning is just a couple shades off, or it’s obvious he chose a word that sounded similar to what he wanted but isn’t actually related. “Whelped” definitely doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, even though he uses it in several places.

The earlier sections of the book need to be tightened up a bit. Some conversations–especially the interminable double-date with Lucy, Jack, Allen, and Elisabeth–are, well, interminable. I hope the author meant for the fact that Elisabeth is a werewolf to be obvious from the start. I mean, she has unusual diction and her last name is “Luna” for heaven’s sake. She might as well have taken out a billboard.

Allen has a bunch of visions while he’s turning into a werewolf. I’m just not big on visions and dreams unless they actively add something to our understanding of the story, which these don’t. They just seem like opportunities to up the depravity level.

Oddly enough, the one real saving grace of this book ends up being Allen. He’s the character who actually grows throughout the story, and who becomes more complex and interesting. He’s the character I was least looking forward to reading about, but he ended up being much more interesting than Jack. Unfortunately the book seems to expect us to see Elisabeth as one of the protagonists, when she’s more than happy to tear up random humans for fun; she doesn’t have to be the stereotype of the tortured monster, but she also doesn’t have to take so much glee in it. Of course the author seems to try to make her more sympathetic by giving her a history of having saved (“Turned”) a black slave back in the day. Unfortunately the man is just a plot device meant to humanize Elisabeth.

I definitely found myself wondering how on earth there could be enough prey to sustain an entire town full of werewolves. Judging from Allen’s transformation, the wolves quickly come to rely on humans for prey, and with the number of wolves Fane’s been turning, there simply shouldn’t be enough prey for everyone. Also, the werewolf transformations remind me of the B-movie transformations of my youth (we’re talking special effects of 30 years ago). If you like that, awesome, but it kind of took away from things a little for me.

Fane and the other bad guys–especially the other bad guys–are terribly one-dimensional. They’re highly stereotypical and do little other than commit atrocities, threaten, and sneer.

My second-favorite character in the story is Amanda, but unfortunately she’s a little problematic too. Naturally she takes a liking to Jack despite the fact that he nearly gets her killed. She knifes a man on werewolf property and no one smells the blood? (Wolves are shown to have very keen senses–like being able to track a person by scent who was driving a car at the time.) Also, even a gun with a suppressor on it doesn’t entirely silence shots, so again, those with wolf senses should have heard her shooting within the house she was in.

There are a couple of other tiny things, but that’s most of it. Allen is the breakout and unexpected star of the book, but he doesn’t make up for the rest.

Content note for m/f and f/f sex, incest, molestation and attempted rape, and of course gore.

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