BOOK REVIEW: THE WOLVES OF LONDON / AUTHOR: MARK MORRIS / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
London-set urban fantasies are almost a distinct literary category in themselves these days. What with a large chunk of the UK’s population living there and, as the national media would have us believe, absolutely nothing of any note whatsoever happening outwith the confines of the M25, increasing numbers of authors are setting their contemporary magical worlds in the nation’s capital. The urbanised ancient forces of Ben Aaranovich’s Rivers of London; the modernised magic of Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift books; the phantasmagoria of Simon Green’s Nightside; and the blue-collar exorcism of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series are only some of the supernatural sagas currently setting fire to the city’s streets with paranormal chaos.
The Wolves of London is the latest in this sub-subgenre, the first of a trilogy titled after its macguffin, the Obsidian Heart, a self-explanatory supernatural artefact that reformed ex-con Alex Locke is singled out to steal for reasons never adequately explained, and for his trouble becomes the quarry of the novel’s titular group of supernatural assassins. Reminiscent of the Witchblade (although involving far less strategic shredding of clothes), the Heart appears to be a mutable weapon/armour shaped by thought, but Alex’s control over it is shaky at the best of times and its full nature remains a mystery. It’s also infused with the power of time travel, bringing with it some temporally circular cause and effect of the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey variety.
The premise of the story is an interesting one, but is unfortunately let down by the execution. Alex spends the entire book stumbling blindly from one situation to the next, remaining completely clueless of what is actually going on. The first-person narration often does little more than echo the questions of the reader, occasionally reiterating unresolved mysteries to remind you they’re still outstanding, but never actually progressing them towards anything resembling an answer. Several chapters are ended by the Heart whisking Alex from one point in time and/or space to another without anything in the way or reason or prompting, a convenient overreliance akin to the seemingly limitless powers of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
Even the Wolves of London themselves remain a somewhat ill-defined and nebulous threat, although the two encounters who are almost certainly of their number are the story’s most interesting parts: a shape-shifting entity consisting of thousands of insect-like creatures combining and recombining to mimic living people; and a mad undead surgeon with an entourage of nightmarish biomechanical chimera, steampunk cyborgs of flesh both human and animal fused with clockwork weaponry. A couple of Victorian thugs whose M.O. consists of emerging behind someone from a cloud of eldritch smog and slashing their throat might be connected to the group in some way, but like the rest of the book, no elaboration is forthcoming.
While trilogies are by definition structured of three tales tying into one overall narrative, it’s also necessary for each individual instalment to act as complete story in itself, something The Wolves of London utterly fails to do by any stretch of leniency. Its myriad of unanswered questions will doubtless be addressed in the forthcoming The Society of Blood and The Wraiths of War, but by itself the book is a frustratingly incomplete experience. Even the ending isn’t an actual conclusion, merely an arbitrary point at which the ongoing and unresolved story just… stops.
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