Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Black Wolves of Boston, by Wen Spencer

Urban fantasy worldbuilding in Boston that can't quite escape its romance-genre origins.

The Black Wolves of Boston

Baen Books, 2017, 356 pages

Rebuild a life, save a city

Silas Decker had his world destroyed when he was attacked by vampires outside of New Amsterdam. He has rebuilt his life a dozen times in the last 300 years - each time less and less successfully. Now he lives alone, buried under a hoarding habit, struggling to find some reason to wake up with the setting of the sun.

Eloise is a Virtue, pledged to hunting evil. What she doesn't know is how to live alone in a city full of strangers who know nothing about monsters.

Seth is the 16-year old Prince of Boston, ward of the Wolf King. Now he is left in a city that desperately needs his protection with enemies gathering all around.

Joshua believes he is a normal, college-bound high school senior. His life is shattered when he wakes up in a field, covered with blood, and the prom committee scattered in pieces about him like broken dolls.

These four must now come together to unravel a plot by Wickers, witches who gain power from human sacrifices and have the power to turn any human into their puppet. Four people who lost everything struggle to save Boston by saving each other.

It's probably no fairer to say the urban fantasy genre is played out than epic fantasy or space opera or other sub-genres where it's very unlikely you'll see anything truly unique, and you're just looking for a satisfying yet more or less familiar story. I tend to read urban fantasies less often because so many of them are really romances with a thin veneer of vampire-slaying. But The Black Wolves of Boston looked mildly intriguing, with its mention of Grigori (the lost, fallen tribe of angels that sinned by procreating with men), so I decided to give this a listen.

Josh is a brand new teenage werewolf on the run after rampaging lycanthropes killed most of his senior class. Decker is a vampire who finds him running around in a park and brings him home, which gets him introduced to Eloise, the humorless Virtue consecrated to kill evil things in the name of God. Eventually they attract the attention of the local werewolf prince, who is also a teenager just figuring out how to be a prince.

The story was pretty good, although it turns out the author is in fact a romance author and it shows. The vampires are not sparkly and sexy (there's even a "vampires don't sparkle" joke in the book) — it's the werewolves who are all Dominant and Alpha except when they are in cuddly puppy mode, which is how the author sets up Romance no. 1, between the Grigori-descended professional witch-hunter who decides she needs a life outside of sticking magical knives into supernatural monsters, and decides she'd like a supernatural monster to do the sticking... and Romance no. 2, between the runaway teenage werewolf Josh, and the broody, depressive vampire Decker whom Josh quickly realizes is maybe just a little bit gay. And who keeps calling Josh "his puppy." And Josh eventually decides he's okay with that. It's all very homoerotic and yet humorously chaste.

The worldbuilding is serviceable — here, it's the werewolves who mostly sit at the top of the magical hierarchy, with a Werewolf King who rules all the packs in the world, and every city having a Prince who is in charge of that region. Werewolves are more or less good guys, as they fight to keep "breaches" from opening up and spilling infernal horrors into our world, but because accidentally created "feral" werewolves also have an unfortunate habit of going on berserk killing sprees, they were not very popular with the Grigori and their kin. Now there is a shaky alliance, which in Boston includes Decker the vampire. And when the young Prince of Boston comes down to see where this new werewolf came from, it unravels a bunch of werewolf politics and a scheme by the real baddies, a tribe of witches called Wickers who are very good at infiltrating themselves into human society and making people do horrible things while they plot to open breaches.

Okay, got all that? So, The Black Wolves of Boston will appeal to anyone who likes urban fantasy in general, and there are a lot of pop culture references (I was surprised that Buffy didn't seem to merit a mention). The first book ends with the imminent threat dealt with, but clearly a to-be-continued-for-as-long-as-this-series-sells for the main characters. I liked it pretty well (better than Harry Dresden, for instance), but it's much softer and mushier than, say, Larry Coreia's Monster Hunter series.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, fantasy, reviews, wen spencer

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