Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar

Lonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar.  Soft Skull Press, 2007.  560 pp.  978-0-9796636-6-6.

… in which Kalix the werewolf girl finds herself at the center of a civil war among the werewolves of Scotland.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is the story of a clan of werewolves in Scotland and England.  The Thane, leader of the werewolf clan, has died, and there is now a war of succession taking place.  At the center of the conflict is 17 year old Kalix, the daughter and youngest child of the Thane and the cause of his death.  Banished from the ancestral family home in Scotland, Kalix now wanders the streets of London, fighting her crippling depression, drug addiction, and the people who want her dead.  Also central to the story are Kalix’s brothers, Sarapen and Markus, who are fighting each other for the leadership of the clan.  Kalix’s sister, Thrix, and various cousins all choose to stand with either Sarapen or Markus, but when it becomes clear that Kalix is the key to victory in the civil war, the battle start coming to London.

I bought this book because it had an endorsement from Neil Gaiman on the cover, and the plot sounded like it would prove to be pretty unique, compared to most urban fantasies.  In terms of storyline and characters, this is certainly an original story.  While a few of the characters seem like the stereotypical werewolf frequently found in fiction, there are also a host of other werewolves that defy categorization.  One of Kalix’s vicious brothers is secretly a cross dresser.  Her sister, a capable warrior and a powerful enchantress, wants nothing more than to design fashionable clothes.  Kalix herself wavers between being a powerful, vicious werewolf and a vulnerable, fragile teenage girl.  While few of the characters are likeable, most of them are interesting.  At times, some of the characters’ unusual personalities seem to border the line between unique and cartoonish, but for the most part, I get the impression that this was perhaps deliberate on the part of the author.  The almost cartoonish nature of the characters gave the whole book a vaguely tongue-in-cheek feel.

The plot is definitely multi-stranded, with five to ten different plotlines going at once.  Sometimes these plots converge, and none of the plots feel like they’re superfluous or unnecessary.  Kalix’s plotline is probably the most important and the one with the most pages devoted to it, but the others are still significant to the story as a whole. 

Unfortunately, the interesting characters and plot are not strong enough to save this book from its deplorable editing.  Typically, a book with multiple plots will devote an entire chapter to each story line before switching to a different one.  For some reason, this book never devotes more than two or three pages to a particular line before switching to another.  The result is that the book feels highly fragmented and the momentum of the story is really disrupted.  It also means that the transitions between sections are abrupt, and almost feel like someone arbitrarily inserted section breaks into random points in a paragraph.  It was frustrating to read a book structured this way, and felt punishing to anyone with an attention span of more than four minutes.
The writing style of the book was mediocre at best.  The dialogue was fine, and certainly went a long way to bringing the characters to life, but the narration of everything else felt a little juvenile.  A great deal of it sounded like it could have been written by a high school student, and the syntax of many of the sentences disrupted the flow of the paragraphs.  

My final complaint is my biggest complaint.  I don’t think that anyone ever proofread this book.  There were multiple places where a comma was either missing or used inappropriately.  There were several instances of apostrophe misuse, mostly in cases of plural possessives.  I found a few instances of confusion between “its” and “it’s”, and “there” and “their”.  In at least one instance, a verb was used in the incorrect tense (“cause” when it should have been “caused”).  “Princess” was once mistyped as “princes”, and apparently the author thinks that “desert” and “dessert” are the same word (perhaps werewolves enjoy eating sand and cacti as an after-dinner treat).  Essentially, it looks like someone ran the book through spell check, but not grammar check, since most mistakes were words spelled correctly in the wrong places.  

This is a hard book to rate, because I did genuinely enjoy the story and the characters, but the awful editing went a long way to ruin my enjoyment of it.  Were I to grade the story alone, I’d probably give it a 4/5, but the awful editing merits a 1/5, since I think that multiple blatant typos are inexcusable in a book by a professional author working with a real publisher.  

I’ll settle on a 3/5 stars, since our rating system doesn’t allow me to give a 2.5/5.

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