I am an author. I don’t know yet whether I fit into any one genre, but my largest project is about werewolves. Many seasoned authors have issued the keen advice, “To write in your genre, you must read in your genre.” This is a practice observed not only for the purpose of knowing your competition, but to learn from your competition. In the spirit of this advice, I headed to my local Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange to find some examples of lycanthropy in fiction. Specifically, examples of lycanthropy that are not erotica, camp, or otherwise too stylized to fit into the niche I’m hoping to fill in the market. Unfortunately, that is incredibly difficult, which is one of my deepest motivations for finishing the story. I want to prove there is an alternative to the stereotypical werewolf fiction.
Per a GoodReads suggestion list, I picked up Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. At first, I was hopeful. The story of the Wolves of Mercy Falls begins curiously enough, with the story of the main character, Grace, and a childhood run-in with the wolves that inhabit the woods near her family’s home. Grace goes on to harbor a fascination with the wolves, waiting every summer for the heat to dissipate into the crisp cold of fall, for it was only in winter that the wolves returned. Meanwhile, our second narrator, Sam, shows us the story through his own eyes, as one of the wolves. Just as Grace has watched the wolves, Sam has watched Grace. Now, in the encroaching winter of Grace’s seventeenth year, the two have finally come together after an unfortunate accident that brings Sam back to his human skin, despite the wintry cold. With Sam’s secret revealed and now kept tightly between them, the two rapidly develop a romantic connection. Their singular focus then becomes to beat the clock on Sam’s curse, before winter takes him back. To further complicate their love affair, a local boy has gone missing and is believed to have been taken by the wolves. Together, Grace and Sam must move quickly against the snowfall and find the rogue new wolf before time runs out, or before he reveals himself to the humans of Mercy Falls.
Or, ya know, some shit like that.
Let’s take a note from Stewie Griffin‘s book and do what he likes to call a “Compliment Sandwich”: First, I will talk about something I liked about the story, then I will talk about where I believe it could have used improvement, and then I will end on something positive.
I did like the new spin on lycanthropy, which was a spin I had not yet seen. The idea that the change is triggered, not by the full moon, but by the cold, was very interesting to me. Within the story, Stiefvater goes on to explain the different layers of this rule she’s invented for her wolves, and I find it holds water. Stiefvater builds palpable suspense and tension in the moments that she describes Sam’s struggle against the cold, and ultimately his struggle to remain himself, in his own skin. Despite the story being told mainly from Grace’s point of view, I found Sam’s voice to be the more compelling and genuinely conflicted of the two. The stress of warding off a change he can neither compel or resist comes across easily in the narrative. Overall, Sam’s mind was a pleasant place to be, and my preferred window through which to watch the story unfold.
The list of my grievances is quite a bit longer than that of my praises. I find I have some of the same complaints about Shiver that I had (and still have) about Twilight, in that first and foremost, good ideas were laid by the wayside in order to spend time on angst. Several times I felt as though worthwhile ideas were given very little development, despite how simple it would have been to focus on them even temporarily. Screen time, so to speak, was dedicated in large part to teenagers fumbling through feelings instead of to actual action. Similarly, no time was spent developing characters’ digestion of their environment. Grace went quickly from discovering Sam was a werewolf to being completely comfortable with it, literally within the space of ten seconds. A valuable opportunity to explore Grace’s mind was sacrificed in order to advance the love story instead of her character. This same sacrifice is made with another character’s secrets later in the story, but constitutes a spoiler.
The term “wish fulfillment” is used frequently when criticizing Twilight, and there are moments in Shiver that the same accusation stands, particularly toward the end. What teenage girl who feels as though she does not fit in would turn down the chance to take part in an overly dramatic love affair with a supernatural boy? Who among us that did not experience true love in high school does not use her imagination to fill in the blanks? A great deal of us, surely, and for those of us who write, it comes out in the narrative. As much as I resent this trend in popular fiction, I resent even more the new trope of the female protagonist always being a book reading, homework loving, bad parent having Mary Sue with no remarkable features or talents, whose worth is communicated only in the aforementioned prerequisites for Young Adult front women. Sam loves Grace for no reason. None at all. I understand that apple doesn’t fall far from the teenaged tree, but if what you want is for me to be drawn in by something special, it needs to be – well, fuck – special.
Furthermore, in the real potential that was lost in fluff are fleeting moments of action that I think, maybe, were meant to lure me into a sequel. If that’s what it was, then there were better ways to do it. What was the point of Shelby? Is she coming back? What about Beck’s newbies? Do they have a point? The only person I want to see come back in the sequel is Olivia. Her little moment toward the end of the story was truly poignant for me. I hope to see her again.
Despite my disagreements with the narrative, obviously I never stopped reading. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, at all times. The dialog felt natural in almost every scene, and Steifvater worked a comedic edge into the dialog that felt very natural. Whenever Isabel spoke, for instance, I heard her in my head as clearly as bell, and more than once laughed aloud at her effortless cheek. Like I said before, I enjoyed the inside of Sam’s head, and its quirk for writing song lyrics to describe his experiences, even if the lyrics were completely typical and groan worthy. As much as I criticize the angst, a great deal of it was well written, if what she wanted us to focus on was the angst and not the story. I will be picking up Linger in the near future in order to finish the story, and I hope the next chapter(s) will be more solid, and less fluffy.