Title: Hunters’ Moon (Bad Blood #2) by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
Summary: Bitten by a werewolf, Valerie had no choice but to accept the bloodthirsty call of the full moon. Even though she vowed never to kill humans, children were being murdered in the night–drained of blood. On their necks was the mark of the vampire. Valerie knew she had to stop the creatures from killing again. But she didn’t know the vampires had the power to control werewolves.…
If werewolves are only folklore…
…then why does Val Sherwood transform into a savage wolf every full moon? Because the legends are real. Val has no choice but to accept the ancient curse — and try to live a normal life in the town of Hillside.
If vampires are just a myth…
… then why are children slowly drained of blood, drop by drop, night after night? Because a dark master and his thirsty brood have come to feed upon them all, using their unearthly powers to enslave and destroy. Val is determined to track down the vampires’ lair with her own predatory powers. But…
If vampires are able to control wolves…
…then Val and her family are dead meat.
Tagline: Night calls the hunter — and the hunted…
As Dove requested , I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors. I don’t actually use it here, even though there is a Muffin Man. Sort of.
I love this book so damn much. As we mentioned in the second episode of the podcast, Dove and I spent years searching for this series based on Dove’s hazy memory of some of the details of this specific book. I was both shocked and delighted when she told me there was a teen werewolf book I’d never even heard about, and probably built my expectations way too high, though I tried to keep them low, after some of the books I was most excited about recapping turned out to be terrible.
As with book one, I love this book. I marathoned the entire trilogy when I first bought it, and have already reread it multiple times since, over the course of less than a year. I’m so excited to share this recap with you all.
(THAT COVER YOU GUYS, THAT COVER IS SO RIDICULOUS AND SO WONDERFUL.)
We open with our favourite hero, Val Sherwood, telling us that she’s a werewolf, and a junior at Hillside High. Being a high school student causes the most physical pain and mental anguish, of course, which delights me. (High school as a metaphor for hell is one of the best parts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too.) Part of why Val likes being a werewolf is that she’s a pretty awesome specimen of a wolf, big and strong, but at 5’3”, she’s tiny for a human. If she were gorgeous like Diana, her old friend from junior high, no one would notice how tiny she is; if she were pale and delicate like her new friend Elise Barbizon, no one would care.
Val and Elise met at the library the summer after freshman year, when Val was feeling “short of friends, long on bad luck, and generally disgusted with the world.” Diana was still at private school (where she went after she shot werewolf Jay back in book one and saved the day) and then spending the summer with relatives in Maine; Val had only received two letters from her in six months, and she was feeling pretty terrible about it, even though she can’t blame Diana for wanting to get away from all the bad memories of Jay killing their friends and trying to kill them too. She thinks it’s not fair, though, that Diana and Freddie Hanger (one of the other friends from book one) had the chance to forget what happened when Val couldn’t. Val’s not being really fair here herself, but that’s understandable; even more, though, she’s not being logical about it. Sure, she is the only one who has a physical transformation, but she’s not the only one who was changed by what happened. They all went through the scary things together, and Diana killed Jay. She killed him. Someone she’d known for years, someone who had a human face most of the time (though not when she shot him). A person, even as much as he was a monster. Diana had to kill someone to keep herself and her friends safe, and that is a huge, huge deal. Val isn’t giving her enough credit here.
And that makes sense too! She’s gone through some deep shit, she’s been left alone by her best friend, she’s lonely and stressed, even as much as she enjoys being a werewolf. This isn’t shallow conflict about characters fighting over boys, this is something deeply rooted in their well-developed personalities and in response to the plot.
I love it.
Val met Elise in the fiction section, sitting and reading The Three Musketeers with a pile of books next to her. Val’s first thought was that Elise was too pretty to read that much, and Val is ashamed by that, which is also delightful. They nerd out over books for awhile, talk about Elise being new to town, and become friends pretty over the summer, mostly by hanging out at the library together. (Val thinks Elise may have some issues at home, because she never wants to stay there and won’t talk about her family much. Val doesn’t push, though, because she knows you don’t just open up to people immediately; after all, she hasn’t told Elise all her secrets, either.) [Dove: Unlike the drek we’ve read of late. Just met a hot boy, I’m going to tell him about my dead parents and evil guardian and loan him all the money in the world.]
When school started, Val and Elise had lunch together, and a few classes, and though Val still isn’t super social, Elise makes friends easily, and includes Val as she grows her social circle. She starts dating Steve Barnett, and that makes some of the girls jealous, but not Val (though that’s mostly because she’s pretty disparaging toward herself, that she’s not enough to attract somebody like Steve, and she’d be jealous if she could. Not cool, Val, but you’re so awesome otherwise, so I’m going to accept it as an interesting bit of characterisation).
In present-day October, Elise is going to the movies with Steve on Friday night, and then out for pizza, and she’s asking Val if she wants to come along on a double date. When Val says she doesn’t have a date, Elise tells her to just ask someone. Elise, you are a delight. Val isn’t super down with that plan, because the only boy she really knows to ask is Freddie, and she doesn’t think he’s even noticed she’s a girl. However, since he put a silver bullet in her last year, he owes her, and she’s maybe going to collect it for a movie date. VAL! You are worth way more than that! But I am laughing. Shoot someone with a silver bullet = movie and dinner date. That’s totally balanced.
Val says she can maybe ask someone, but doesn’t want to get pizza, because she has a food allergy to garlic. [Dove: This is one of the plot points that stayed in my mind — and it did help narrow it down… eventually.] [Wing: Based on Dove’s memory of this book, I did expect way more cannibalism than we actually got.] Nice throwback to the werewolf lore world building from book one. (Garlic makes werewolves sick.) Elise says she’d take that food allergy for Val’s metabolism, because Val still eats a huge amount of food to keep up with the energy needs of being a werewolf. (Another world building detail I love.) Though Elise is slender, she is worried about gaining weight and that she has too much fat on her hips. This is handle fairly well, too; yes, she has some body image issues, but that’s true to life for too many people, particularly teen girls. And it’s not supported by the text, but nor is she demonised for it.
Freddie has the same lunch they do, and she finds him sitting alone and reading while he eats. (He’s the “tall guy with the red hair,” and he’s reading The Mysteries of the Supernatural. Elise thinks he’s not bad at all, and that surprises Val, who’s never really thought about him like that, because he’s always been her childhood friend. As she takes a second look, though, she realises he’s gotten taller over the last few months, and he got rid of his braces.)
When Val doesn’t go ask him before lunch ends, Elise takes things into her own hands and asks him for her. He’ll pick her up at six, and they’ll figure out some other food besides pizza. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, I love a proactive, friend-positive character. On the other hand, Val should have been the one doing the asking. On the other other hand, she certainly seemed fine with Elise doing it.
That night, Val frets over what to wear, and when she talks to her dad, gets frustrated with his response: “The next thing I know, you’re going to be telling me that I look ‘fresh and wholesome.’ Or maybe ‘healthy.’ You make me sound like some kind of girl jock.”
Her dad the shrink points out that she’s maybe unfairly stereotyping girls in athletic programs, and it’s all kind of gently funny, because Val is exasperated with him, but also knows his shrink speech is basically a reflex. (Quick background reminder, Val’s mom died when she was very little and her dad was still in medical school [so technically he’s a psychiatrist, not a psychologist], and he and her grandmother raised her until just before the events of the previous book, when her grandmother decided she was old enough to not need a baby-sitter and moved down to Florida.)
They also talk about how Val doesn’t fit in with the jocks because she doesn’t really care about scoring more points or jumping higher or anything, and if she did try her hardest, she’d actually be cheating because of her enhanced strength and speed. The “Clark Kent Syndrome,” her dad calls it.
I love that he knows that she’s a werewolf. At the end of last book, we got a little bit of information about how there’s a whole shrink network for supernatural creatures, which I think is delightful. [Dove: This is by far one of the most healthy books/series we’ve ever recapped. And it has a body count. God I love this series.] [Wing: I would seriously read another 50 books in this series. I’m sad we’re almost to the end.]
Freddie turns up in a pickup truck, looking far more dressed up than she’s ever seen him before. Things are a little awkward, but soon enough, they’re off. His truck is a “rusted-out Ford pickup that had been doing farm work for almost as long as Freddie had been alive.” The cab is dusty and smells of motor oil and sweat; the floor is littered with old school papers; the vinyl seat cover is cracked and split open, and that tear is patched with duct tape. I kind of love this truck, to be honest.
They make awkward small talk about the weather, and Val is weirded out that they’re so nervous considering they’ve known each other forever. But this is the first time they’ve gone on a date. Eventually, he asks if she’s still a werewolf, though he can’t quite say the word; she wishes he hadn’t brought it up, because she was starting to feel normal, but tells him that yes, she is. He then asks if she knows where the local predators hang out, coyotes and wild dogs. She doesn’t, because she doesn’t run with them and they avoid her; it takes Val a minute to get curious about this question. I’m immediately curious, and also charmed. When she asks, he says they’re having problems with the livestock out at his family farm, and he’s wondering if she noticed something. This is foreshadowing, and I realised it the first time I read it, too, but it’s well handled here. Stine, you should take note! [Dove: Hell, every YA writer, take note. This is how you make us care.]
That’s the last of their really interesting conversation until they meet Elise and Steve at the six screen theater in the mall. They aren’t there to see any specific movie, just whatever is starting closest to the time they arrive, which ends up being a PG-rated comedy. Is this something any of you guys have done? I only ever go to the movie theater to see a specific movie (or movies, I’ve done a few double features before), never just because I want to go hang out there. Even as a teenager, going to the movies was an intentional act. (Our time-killing activity was cruising, basically driving the same path through town over and over. And drag racing parts of it. And storm chasing and ghost hunting. Small town things, really.) Freddie buys the tickets, so she gets the food, and since she buys popcorn, sodas, hot dogs, and chocolate-covered raisins, that ends up being more than the tickets, so she figures they’re even. Missed a trick not getting nachos, which is my favourite movie snack.
Val can’t concentrate on the movie or on Freddie (even though she’s hoping he’ll at least hold her hand, and she keeps the hand nearest him palm up and empty, though he doesn’t get the hint), because she feels someone watching her from somewhere in the dark behind them. Eventually, it’s bad enough she has to get up and check, making an excuse about using the bathroom, but she doesn’t see anyone paying particular attention to them. After that, though, she feels like the eyes are still there, watching, but now watching someone else, which is almost creepier.
Val doesn’t tell the others, because she knows they won’t understand, not really, but “even a once-a-month predator like me can tell when something bigger and nastier is hunting in the neighborhood.” I LOVE THAT SO MUCH.
Their town is small by California standards, but not too small to have a crime problem, and she’s glad she’s not walking home alone.
They go out for ice cream after, and then say good-bye. Val’s curfew is earlier than Elise’s, so Freddie takes her home. There’s a moment on the porch where she thinks she might actually get a kiss, but he just turns red and leaves. Oh, Val. You could have kissed him! I love that she does want some action, though; it’s a nice change from teen girls who aren’t allowed to have desires.
She’s a little down when she gets inside, and still stressed over the new predator, and her dad asks her about it, but she doesn’t really want to talk about it, either the predator or how she’s “sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” She also doesn’t believe anything is actually serious, because she knows what actual life-and-death problems look like after last year. Which is true, and a great point.
That night, Val dreams of flying high above the town looking down at people, able to see them even inside their houses. The moon is almost full in her dream, and she can feel it calling to her, trying to make her change, make her one of the things that run through the night, killing and drinking blood. Then she dreams that she’s inside her own house, walking through rooms washed with a full moon. She answers a knock at the door, and finds a man in a tailored grey suit, very respectable. He addresses her by name, and tells her it’s pleasant to find her at home. His voice is bland, but she can’t stop listening to it; his eyes are blank, like marble, and the moment they catch her gaze, she can’t look away. He asks her (tells her, really) to invite him inside; she means to slam the door in his face and tell him to go away, but instead she asks if he’d like to come inside. He does not, but thanks her, and then he leaves. In her dream, she stands there for a long time feeling both afraid and abandoned. Then her dream becomes a regular wolf dream again, and she eventually falls into a deeper, dreamless, sleep.
She spends the rest of the weekend grouchy and annoyed that she doesn’t hear from Freddie or Elise, though she doesn’t actually want to talk to Freddie much. She calls Elise on Sunday afternoon, but her mother says she’s not available.
Monday she is still grumpy, but that night will be the full moon, and that is something she’s looking forward to. It’s her dad’s turn to make dinner, and he promises that if he’s late getting home, he’ll bring something with him rather than making her wait for him to cook. As she heads out to catch the bus, her mood lifts, because it’s a perfect autumn day, and it’s going to be a perfect autumn night, and she’s starting to feel anticipation for her run.
At school, Val waves to Freddie, but while he acknowledges her, he’s talking to a group of guys and doesn’t come over to her. She meets up with Elise, who explains that she’s grounded because she didn’t get home on Friday night until well past her curfew — she stayed out until dawn, and she doesn’t care what her parents think of it. Val doesn’t think that Steve is worth it, but Elise seems pretty pleased with the whole thing.
The day of her change she’s always on edge and it’s hard to concentrate because everything seems to smell, taste, and feel sharper, “as if I had a layer of skin missing.” I love that simple description. She’s had a year of experience at focusing, but it’s still hard; that afternoon, when she’s trying to get her homework out of the way, she has to do a problem, then get up and pace around the house for awhile before she sits down to the next one. During one of those breaks, she notices a moving van, even though it’s nearly 5:30 and late for movers. Also, there’s a full-grown lilac bush strapped to the back of the van. She finds that weird, but the van doesn’t stop on her street, so that’s about all she sees. Subtle, nice foreshadowing, and generally delightful.
Her dad brings home takeout from the Clever Gourmet, a new place in a renovated Victorian across from his office. There’s no garlic in any of the food he brought home; he tells her that Regina likes the challenge of working with more understated seasonings. He blushes when she asks who Regina is, and he says she’s Ms Polidori; she and her brother run the shop together. They just moved out from New York because there were too many upscale catering services there for a new business to stand a chance. [Dove: This is another plot point that I remembered. Once we get to the end, I’ll tell you the one I got really wrong… come to think of it, maybe that was a different book?] [Wing: … are we about to go on another book hunt?]
Dinner is good enough that she lingers too long over it and has to rush around getting ready. Finally, it’s time, and she shifts; even after a year, the chance is still both scary and exciting, “like having all the bones and nerves and muscles in my body turn to water and start flowing uphill.” That is such a strange description, and yet I love it for its weirdness. She leaps out her window, howls to let her Dad know she’s going (and because it feels good), sets off the Irish setter, Fleabrain, next door, and lopes off into the night. [Dove: I love the Fleabrain thing, it’s in every book. Tiny adorable bits of continuity.] [Wing: Agreed! And my dog would act the same way. Werewolf? MUST BARK AT IT AND ATTACK IT MIGHT BE A THREAT. So I find Fleabrain utterly charming. Silly dog.]
Running under the full moon is what makes everything else worthwhile for Val, and I agree. I adore how much she loves being a werewolf as she’s howling up at the harvest moon (my second favorite full moon), crying out her territory boundaries. The packs of half-wild stray dogs that range the hills (…just how many packs of half-wild stray dogs do you have around your small town, Val?) stay away under the full moon, because the territory is Val’s. I am utterly charmed.
There’s a new smell that night, though, “vegetable, not animal; dense and unfamiliar; and mingled with it, the smell of new-turned earth.” Wolf!Val doesn’t recognize it, and human!Val’s memory only comes up with the lilac bush strapped to the back of the moving van. She tries to follow it back to its source, but it leads her away from the newer suburbs (not sure a small town has suburbs actually) and into an older neighborhood with Victorian Gothic houses and laws the size of city blocks. Mostly the buildings have been turned into offices for lawyers and doctors (including her dad), but a few were still homes. The smell is different there, too, but she can’t trace the source of the unknown scent. It bothers wolf!Val a lot, things changing their smell without warning her.
When the wind changes so it’s blowing from the north, a rotten stink washes over her, smelling so wrong it raises the fur along her spine and makes her growl and bare her teeth. (VAL’S A FUCKING WEREWOLF YOU GUYS. WEREWOLF! MY JOY, LET ME SHOW IT TO YOU!) She doesn’t go chase it, though, even though she wants to, because heading north would take her into the center of town, not exactly the place for a large wolf.
She runs back toward the fills and foothills so she can hunt her prey; she hears the rustle of wings overhead, a night-bird hunter seeking its prey (or a nicely subtle reference to how vampires sound in The Lost Boys), and then a siren wailing down in the city (another hunter, another prey), but she hunts in peace.
She gets only an hour of sleep before she has to get up for school, and though she could fake a sick day with the school to stay home (for cramps, because being a wolf isn’t the only thing that comes around once a month, she says, and makes me laugh), but she hates lying, and she can draw on her lycanthropic energy and endurance if she needs to.
She cleans off the blood and bits of meat left from her hunting [Dove: I love how they don’t prettify what wolves do, and Val always has to shower off mud and blood after a run.], then runs down to get breakfast before her dad drives her to school, which he generally does only the morning after a full moon, to let her get a little more sleep. She listens to the news while she makes breakfast (cereal, my kind of cook), and after a bunch of trouble around the world, hears about three-year-old Lamont Johnson who vanished from his home with no sign of an intruder. This makes Val sad, and she wonders if she could help with those kind of searches, tracking lost kids. Her dad says he’ll bring her in the next time it happens during a full moon, mostly joking, but then asks if she could actually do it. She’s not sure, she could follow the scent track better than cops could a visual trail, and she is at least a little smarter than the average bloodhound. She’s joking around with him because he gets stressed out when kids get hurt or disappear, and she’s trying to cheer him up. I really enjoy their relationship, and that he’s a dad who is involved in her life without stopping her from having these supernatural adventures.
At school, Val asks Elise if she noticed anything strange the night before, because she lives near where the kid disappeared. She didn’t, and says it was “quieter than a graveyard all night long.” They don’t talk too much more over lunch; Val is busy eating and then finishing her French homework, while Elise is reading Dorothy Sayers (who is probably best known for her mystery fiction).
The search for the kid continues all that night and well into the next day, but in the end, there’s absolutely no sign of him, and eventually they give up. (Pretty quickly, it seems, after only a day and a half. The police pass it on to the FBI as a possible kidnapping, and I think that’s a little weird, too; usually the local police want to stay involved.) [Dove: Or is it foreshadowing mind control?] [Wing: Well, maybe, and that would be nice, but I don’t really see what sort of benefit the vampire gets from it being passed on to the FBI. It’s not like they’re stopping the investigation completely or anything.]
Val admits she doesn’t think about it too much herself, because a missing three year old isn’t really an average high school concern, but it actually does concern her, a lot. His face starts showing up on milk cartons later, but by then, it’s too late for her to do anything. (Another nice little image that could be a reference to The Lost Boys, and Laddie’s face on the milk carton.)
October continues, her dad spends a lot of time bringing food home from the Clever Gourmet, and the weather stays gorgeous, with sunny days and crisp nights, the trees turning color. Val thinks it’s the best time of year, and I agree; October, and Halloween season, is the best. Elise disagrees, and says it’s already too cold for her; she’s started wearing thick cable-knit pullovers with long sleeves and high necks. Her eyes have dark circles and her skin is stretched thin across her bones. Excellent details that really build how sick and exhausted she’s looking.
Val is worried because she’s not eating, either, and suggests she maybe needs to talk to somebody. She’s hinting at an eating disorder, of course, and though it’s handled a little awkwardly (believably awkwardly, I mean; I was in Val’s position in high school, and handled the conversation with a friend even worse), I’m glad that it is happening. Elise gets really upset over it, though, and begs Val to let it drop. Val doesn’t want to start fighting in the lunchroom, so she does, though she regrets it later, and wishes she would have stuck with it and dragged her in to talk to her father. She feels guilty over what happens to Elise. I love Val; I’m also rather fond of Elise, and hate what’s coming.
Freddie interrupts the tension between them, finally breaking away from his normal lunch location and coming over to talk to them. He teases her a little about them not seeing each other for almost a month (since their date), and when she says it’s not her fault, he points out that she could be the one calling him, too. She admits he has a point. I like that she’s willing to admit when she’s wrong.
He hints around asking how her being a werewolf is going, without actually saying anything because Elise doesn’t know (and even if she did, he wouldn’t necessarily know that), and then asks Elise how she’s doing. There’s a little bit of flirting between them, and Val gets prickly over it, nearly starts growling; Elise notices her reaction and her expression changes in a way that is strange to watch, “as if she’d just caught herself doing something she’d promised herself she wouldn’t ever do.”
This is such a good little scene! In most of the Point Horrors we’ve read, this would be played straight, two girls who hate each other because one of them is beautiful and who fight over a boy, but here it’s a nice nod to how strange Elise is acting lately, and the thread of animal that runs through Val.
That night, Val’s dad takes her out for a fancy dinner at the Carson House, a restaurant just outside of town. She thinks it’s a little weird that they’re going out like this on a Thursday night (“I mean, who goes out to eat on a Thursday night?” Val, honey, Thursday night starts the weekend! My friends and I go out most Thursday nights.) She’s happy to go, though, and wears a velvet dress her grandmother gave her for Christmas. Dinner goes really well (she eats steak tartare, because she’s my very favorite ridiculous werewolf), and her dad finally admits over dessert that he needs to tell her something. He says that she’s probably figured out he’s seeing someone (she hasn’t, actually, but tries to play that off), and that he’s hoping it will turn into something special. He is, of course, seeing Regina, from Clever Gourmet. Val feels a little strange about it, even though she doesn’t mind him dating, not really; the “something special” part has thrown her for a loop, especially because it brings someone new into her life without really giving her a choice. In fact, the first thing she asks is whether he is going to tell Regina about Val being a werewolf. This surprises him, and he hasn’t even thought about it yet. That makes her feel worse, because he normally thinks of every detail before he goes forward with a plan.
(It’s also a great metaphor for privilege; of course you don’t think [racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/body shaming/ableist/etc. act] is a problem, because it isn’t a problem for you.)
Val is already upset that it seems like he has forgotten her, and then he says that he can’t bring secrets into a long-term relationship; she doesn’t care, because it is her secret and it isn’t her relationship. I’m actually with Val on this one. She gets to choose when and where and how and to whom she, ahem, comes out. (Metaphor clue-by-four there.)
He then says that if she had any other problem, he’d feel obligated to tell Regina about it before they made a commitment. Which is a load of bullshit for a ton of reasons. The two main ones are: you’re not getting ready to marry her at this point. Val hasn’t even fucking met her. I certainly hope you don’t spill all your daughter’s deepest secrets to people she doesn’t even fucking know just because you have some of early stage, surface level relationship. Val gets to decide who she wants to tell. Not you. If I kept my bipolar a secret (my metaphorical lycanthropy, if you will, which is a reference I make a lot), my family damn well better not be telling people about it without my permission.
The second one hits Val, too, because she goes on to make his oblique reference very clear: he’s saying her lycanthropy is “like being crippled, or blind, or crazy. A–a disability. A handicap.”
As if that’s the worst thing in the fucking world. As if being one of those things is something to make you deserve your loss of privacy and removal of your agency. As if it would be okay for him to tell her secrets and override her decisions if it was true.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: ALL THE FUCKING POINTS (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
I love this book and this series and these characters so damn much, and even then, the authors still include this harmful bullshit in their writing. I’m so angry I can’t even form coherent arguments about why it’s so terrible. I’M GOING TO BURN THE GODDAMN WORLD.
Okay, took a break, calmed down a little, moving on.
On the ride home, a black BMW races past them, and Val gets just a flash of Elise sitting in the passenger seat, her expression some emotion halfway between pleasure and fear. Val hadn’t been able to make out the driver, but she thinks he is older than Elise because of his posture, profile, and car. And it all worries her. She has bad dreams that night full of blood and voices calling in the dark.
Elise doesn’t look well at school the next day, even paler and more tired than ever. Val is deeply worried about her, and it makes her sharp when she asks who the guy in the BMW was. Elise swears that she was home alone all night, and though Val doesn’t believe her, she doesn’t push it, either. After a few minutes of silence, she invites Elise over for the night (it’s Friday night), and when Elise says she can’t leave her house, offers to come over, but Elise says she’s going to try to catch up on her sleep. Elise brushes off her concerns and actually walks away.
Val broods for awhile, over her worries about Elise, how Elise’s family doesn’t help her, and her own fears about how things will change with her dad, until Freddie comes up and says they need to talk. Another kid went missing the night before, but this time, they found a body. The police are calling it an “animal attack,” which was, of course, the same thing they called Jay’s attacks on people back when he was still alive. She points out it wasn’t a full moon, so it wasn’t a werewolf, and he says there are other things out there. Val admits that she’s been feeling something around, but she doesn’t want to deal with it because it was hard enough stopping Jay. Freddie finally tells her that he thinks vampires have arrived in town, and have been going after the livestock since summer, every night of the month.
Lunch ends before she can ask him exactly what they’re supposed to do, and she can’t catch him after school, either. She’s pretty down by the time her dad leaves for his date, and she settles down to try to do her homework, manages to drag it out until almost midnight when he gets home. He had a nice date, and wants to invite Regina and her brother over for dinner on Sunday. They clean house all day Saturday, and Val even dresses up a little on Sunday.
Regina is a petite woman with dark hair and a ruffled blouse with a cameo pinned at her neck on a black velvet ribbon. She acts shy and nervous around Val, and it’s all kind of sweet and awkward. Her brother isn’t with her, and the three of them cook dinner together. Val even ends up talking about her garlic allergy and how her grandmother taught her make meatloaf using oatmeal to bind it instead of bread crumbs. Regina makes some interesting points about how hard it is to do institutional cooking (like at schools and prisons) because of allergies and people who hate seasonings and fad food guidelines, etc.
Her brother, Jonathan, doesn’t make it to dinner at all; he calls at the last minute to tell Regina that he has to stay late at the shop to fix some sort of mix-up, but he’ll try to stop by the house after he’s done to meet Val and her dad. No one is too upset that he’s not there, and when he does show up, Val doesn’t like him one bit. He’s small, muscular, and dapper, but looking at him makes the hair on the back of her neck rise, makes her want to start growing. Regina gets all flustered over Jonathan’s annoyance and leaves early; Val tells her dad that she likes Regina, but not the brother, who comes across as a controlling jerk.
Nothing much else happens that weekend, except Val finally gets a long letter from Diana; she seems to be getting tired of her life on the east coast, and it makes Val hopeful that she’ll decide to come back home. Elise isn’t in school the first half of the week, and on Wednesday, Freddie grabs Val before she can take the bus home because they need to talk. Freddie tells her not to trust him, not to trust anyone, and if someone asks to be invited inside — even if it’s Elise — she absolutely cannot invite them inside. Val notices that he has the rearview mirror turned so he can see whoever is in the passenger seat even while he’s looking at the road.
He tells her a story: last July, a man knocked on his door just as the sun sank. He could see exactly when it happened because the door faces west. An elderly man in a grey business suit asks to come inside to use their phone. When Freddie doesn’t let him do it, he then looks right into his eyes and orders Freddie to invite him inside. Freddie almost did it, too, until he realised that there was no car anywhere in sight and his suit didn’t have one spec of dirt, as it would if he’d walked down the gravel road or through the field. Instead of inviting him inside, Freddie told him “in nomine Christi exorcio te, creatura nocturnalis” and slammed the door in his face. Because apparently Freddie now knows Latin exorcisms (or “exorcisms,” not sure how much I believe that’s a real one). Val accuses him of watching too many horror movies, and makes herself sad, because that reminds her of Bill, who loved horror movies. Jay killed him more than a year ago, and it’s all very sad.
Freddie has been prepping ever since the fight with Jay; he poured more silver bullets, grew garlic in the garden, made crosses, stakes, and mallets, and a kris and lime juice, for berbalangs, which are apparently invisible Malaysian zombies. Freddie is on top of this shit, though I have my doubts how much he was able to test any of his things. We know silver and garlic work on werewolves, at least. [Dove: Freddie is cool.]
After he shouted Latin at the man, he just disappeared, and there were no footprints on the porch. Val is a little skeptical still (which is kind of rich coming from the teen werewolf), but Freddie points out that the man showed up after sunset, didn’t leave tracks, and couldn’t come inside without an invitation. In other words, IT’S A FUCKING VAMPIRE.
I kind of love Freddie.
Though she’d been acting skeptical with Freddie, Val’s actually had similar thoughts, because if werewolves exist, why not everything else? But she’s struggling with it because she doesn’t see anything supernatural in the lycanthropy. You know, despite the fact that she TURNS INTO A FUCKING WOLF ONCE A MONTH. The little things.
Freddie has all sorts of interesting theoretical thoughts, like who made Jay. (Val has one of my favorite lines here: “Jay was born mean, […] and his father’s an asshole. So he grew up into a mean asshole. Turning into a wolf just gave him a few more choices on how to express himself.”) That’s a big assumption that it was intentional toward Jay, though; he was made via a blood transfusion, so there’s no actual guarantee that the blood was intended for him specifically.
According to Freddie, some people believe when a werewolf dies, it turns into a vampire. [Dove: This is the only time I’ve heard this theory, but then I’m not a wolfy person. Wing, is this a prevalent theory, or is it just in the book-universe that this theory is so strong?] [Wing: The only place I’ve seen it is here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not pulled from some myth somewhere. I’ll keep an eye out in my other reading.] Val’s read the same books, and knows most of the werewolf facts are wrong, and she certainly doesn’t feel like she’s turning into a supernatural creature of evil. (Dude, you don’t even think you’re a supernatural creature in the first place!)
Freddie also brings the great news that vampires may have the ability to control lycanthropes, to use them to run errands in the daylight. He thinks maybe whoever made Jay a werewolf has now become a vampire and come back looking for him to be a sidekick, and is angry that Jay’s dead. Val thinks it makes sense, but isn’t willing to fully believe there are any vampires in town.
Freddie believes, though; two kids have gone missing without a trace, plus the third who the police are blaming on wild animals, and then there is Elise. Val is already thinking along those lines, too; in a world without supernatural creatures, family trouble and eating disorders are the most logical leap, but if werewolves exist and now vampires, well, that’s a believable explanation, too. He points out how she’s looking, all the high collars and scarves and sweaters, and how that night she was out until dawn, she wasn’t with Steve, who dropped her off before eleven. There was a senior girl the month before who went through the same thing, and she’s now been missing ever since the first kid disappeared.
As Freddie drops her off, he says that he’s convinced that vampires exist, and if he’s the one who believes in them, isn’t it his responsibility to do something about it? Val agrees, and says she’s thinking about all his points, then asks him to call her before he goes out hunting this time. Which is smart for many reasons, including last time he went on a secret hunt, he accidentally shot her with a silver bullet. She’s understandably leery.
At home, Val does think over what he’s told her, and thinks back to the weird dream she had the night, the dream of inviting a strange man into her home. November’s full moon is coming up, and she’s feeling stressed over everything.
Elise surprises her with a visit pretty late that evening, just after the sun has dipped below the horizon. She tells Val that her father invited her inside, and Val is both worried and afraid.
Elise tells Val that she’s afraid, and when Val asks for details, Elise says she doesn’t want to be dead now, but she did before. Val starts wondering if they’re actually talking about a suicide attempt, and tries to figure out how to go have a quick chat with her dad before she says the wrong thing, but Elise goes on to make it clear that she was drawn to the power of death, and now she’s cold and always, always hungry. Elise, I love you.
She won’t actually tell Val what’s happening, though; she says she can’t tell. Then there’s the cheesiest and most wonderful thing ever; Val offers her a Coke (as an excuse to leave the room briefly), and Elise says, “I don’t drink — Coke.”
You guys, I literally laughed so loud I scared my dog the first time I read that. (It is, of course, a reference to the Bela Lugosi Dracula, I never drink … wine.)
Elise says she’s come to say good-bye, and Val tries to talk her out of it; Elise thought she could go on the same as she’d always been, but it hasn’t been as easy as he said it would be. She won’t tell Val who he is, but begs her to be careful because he knows about Val already. Elise then asks for help, says Val can maybe set her free.
They’re interrupted by another knock at the door, and this time it is Regina. Elise disappears before anyone else can see her.
Val calls Freddie’s house, but he’s not home. She borrows her dad’s car to go find him (though she tells her dad she’s meeting with him to work on a school project). Once she’s driving around, she has no idea where she’s going to find him. Where do you go to find vampires?
Finally she decides to check on Elise, maybe figure out how she was hiding what she was from her parents. All the windows are dark when she gets to her house, even though it is still early. She wavers a little as to whether she should actually stop in, but does; the door is unlocked, and when no one answers her knock, she goes inside. There’s another odd smell, vaguely familiar, and under it, the dead and rotting smell from the last full moon.
She finds the mirror in the bathroom smashed to pieces, which is such a gorgeous, creepy, vampiric scene, and Elise’s parents sitting on the couch, dead, necks snapped and their clothes stained with blood. Val is deeply disturbed by this, understandably, and even though she’s seen bloody things before, mostly she’s been in wolf form during it. This is much worse.
She leaves the room but not the house, because she still hasn’t found Elise. She’s not as scared as she knows she should be, in part because she has that extra lycanthropic strength, speed, and stamina — but also because she remembers how Elise came to her for help.
She finally finds Elise’s bedroom, with another broken mirror. At first it seems empty, but then she sees Elise in her bed, staring straight at her. Elise sits up in one smooth, creepy motion, and it is the “most unhuman thing [Val has] ever seen anyone do.]
Elise admits that she killed her parents because he wanted her to, even though she didn’t want to. Val feels empathy for her, because unlike Jay, who had been born bad, Elise had made a choice, the wrong one, and now she was trapped. Val thinks that is worse, more painful, than being born bad.
Now, there’s a lot that could be said here about whether Jay was actually born bad, and all sorts of discussions about nature versus nurture, but this is getting long enough without going off into that digression. (Besides, there’s a much better place for that in book three.) Mostly, I want to point out how much I love that Val is struggling with this, how she can so easily hate Jay, but can’t hate Elise, even now.
Val and Elise talk about whether Elise has to kill humans (Val says nobody has to do anything, which is a little rich coming from the girl who has to turn into a wolf every full moon), and Elise is completely worn down and afraid of “him” because he is everywhere and none of them can do anything against his will.
Elise tells her to call him Mr Grey and says that he lives somewhere in the north end of town, though he never told her where exactly. Then Val asks if she really meant it when she asked Val to set her free. Elise did; she tells Val she hopes that Val will be the one to stake her and make her truly dead.
This is a lot to ask of someone, and yet Elise trusts Val with it so much. My heart hurts for them both.
Val promises to do it if she gives her Mr Grey, which is both smart and a little shitty, and Val knows it. She even thinks that a real friend wouldn’t make her jump through hoops to get help, but she knows she needs all the information and help she can get to stop Mr Grey. Elise agrees to help her as much as she can, including finding where he keeps his coffin. Then she vanishes, “a drifting away into motes of dust that sparkled briefly in the beam of the flashlight.”
That is a lovely vampiric image.
Val wipes down the front doorknob before she leaves, glad she didn’t touch anything else, because eventually the police will find the dead parents, and she doesn’t want her fingerprints all over the murder scene. She drives across town, then calls 911 about a prowler at that address, not sure if it will do much good, but hoping someone will actually follow up on it.
She gets home to an empty house and a message from Freddie on the machine telling her not to do anything without him. Too late.
Val stays up super late doing her homework and wanting someone to talk to, and finally calls the counselor she saw after everything with Jay happened; the counselor who knows about werewolves. She wakes him up and tells him she needs to talk because there are vampires out here.
Then he says that there are vampires in here, too, and it is no longer her counselor’s voice, but Mr Grey’s voice. He tells her to deliver Freddie to him, then hangs up on her. She sits up until dawn, thinking about a lot of things, including Freddie’s theory about the vampire and Jay, and then about how little time they have, because that night is the full moon.
During breakfast, her dad gets called in to the school to offer emergency crisis counseling because one of her classmates is missing under tragic circumstances. Val pretends she doesn’t already know what he’s about to say, and ends up coming across as on edge and about to snap. She wishes she could break down and tell him everything, maybe have a good cry. About asking whether driving a stake into a vampire’s heart would count as self-defense. She can’t bring herself to tell him just yet, but she knows she’ll have to tell him everything eventually, just like when she had to tell him about werewolves.
At lunch, Val drags Freddie off to talk alone, and fills him in on what happened with Elise. Later that afternoon, she finds a note from Elise in her French book giving her an address of where to find Mr Grey.
She and Freddie head out after school. He’s wearing a silver cross, and has a bright red backpack full of hunting gear, including garlic, which of course makes Val feel sick. He puts the bag in the back of the truck, but wants to go work some things out before they go hunting. Val points out they only have a few hours before sunset, but he is adamant that they take the time. Freddie is being a complete dick here. They could easily have this conversation in the truck while heading over and not in the fucking food court at the mall, around other fucking people. Jesus, Freddie.
Freddie doesn’t want to tell her all his tips and tricks, because the less she knows the less she can tell the master vampire, and he promises not to hurt her again (by accidentally shooting her, basically). Val tells him that if there’s ever a chance that she’ll come back as a vampire, she wants him to stake her; he wants the same thing from her.
That is their entire conversation. They so could have done that in the fucking car.
Finally they head over to Mr Grey’s lair. It’s an old three-story rooming house, and there are no cars around. Freddie taught himself lock picking as a kid (random Wing fact: I just got a lock picking set as a birthday gift, and am super excited to give it a try), which comes in useful, and they make their way into the apartment Elise marked as Mr Grey’s. It’s empty, but Val can smell vampire. She then finds a wrinkled scrap of paper that is a rental agreement for an address not too far away. Val says it feels like a scavenger hunt, and she’s grumpy about it. I would be too. They are running out of time. Tick tock, kids, the full moon is coming.
The new address is a big two-story building that looks abandoned. They find an unlocked cellar door and let themselves into the basement. Again, no coffin, though there is a deep freeze. Vampires and deep freezes, I swear.
They push it open, and there’s a vampire inside all right — but this one has already been staked, and the body is half-submerged in congealing blood.
They get all the way out to the truck before they realise he left his backpack in the basement like an idiot. This is the one thing I have a hard time buying; it is just too convenient for their characterizations, including the fact that Val didn’t notice the stink of garlic was gone.
They have to go back inside and get it, even though it’s almost moonrise and she desperately needs to get home. They get back into the basement, and Val realises that the vampire in the freezer isn’t Mr Grey because they have different hair colors. Before they can get out of the basement, Mr Grey himself arrives, because of course he does.
Fine motes of dust float in the beam of their flashlight and coalesce into a human shape. Mr Grey orders Val to hold Freddie, and she does without being able to fight it at all. Val thought she knew what it was like to be afraid, but now she really does, because she has no control over her body or her mouth, she couldn’t tell whether her thoughts were her own or compulsions put into her head by Mr Grey. It is terribly creepy, and one of my biggest fears.
Freddie figures out that the dust back in the apartment was actually Mr Grey, which is pretty damn clever, both of Freddie and of the writing.
Mr Grey starts to come closer, then is stopped by the silver cross around Freddie’s neck. He tells Val to remove it, and she does, even though it is cold and burning against her bare skin.Mr Grey takes Freddie and disappears with him; Val grabs Freddie’s backpack and races up to his truck, but she doesn’t have the keys at first, though Freddie has conveniently left them lying on the seat. This is another thing I have a hard time buying.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 (+1) (“Oh, gee! You mean Billy-Bob has the exact information we need? What are the odds?”)
After she starts the car, she realises that once again she doesn’t know where to go. To make things worse, she sees Elise standing right outside the pickup. Elise tells Val that she promised, and Val says that she needs Freddie’s help, they have to get Freddie first. Elise says that Edmund likes to play with his food. Oh, so now you’re on a first name basis with him, huh?
Elise says she can help find him, because she can smell warm blood. Shouldn’t Val be able to do that too? They go back into the basement, and then up into the house, which is filled with a layer of dust. Now she’s worried that every bit of dust is a vampire, and she digs her heel into one part, hoping that it’s his face. This made me laugh. I love Val’s gallows humor.
They find Freddie tied up in one of the rooms on the second floor. First thing he asks is whether Mr Grey is controlling her still. They snark at each other a bit, and Val struggles to get him untied, because it is so near moonrise and her body is twisting toward the wolf.
They run into Mr Grey again at the foot of the stairs. This time, Val can feel him reaching for her mind, controlling her. He turns to Freddie, and his hold on Val slips enough for her to grab up the cross from where she dropped it before. Even though the silver burns her fingers, she doesn’t let the pain stop her; she slams her hand into Mr Grey’s face, the silver cross caught between them. It hurts her worse than him, until he turns into a bat and fluttered out through the open cellar door. The cross raised blisters on her hand where she touched it, but Freddie ignores that and slams the door shut. They race to close the other door, too, even though it doesn’t have a lock. Instead, Freddie puts another cross on it, and says that even if it doesn’t hold, they’re no worse off than they were five minutes ago.
Val wants to say that they are, but she can’t speak, because the moon is up and she’s changing into a wolf. She falls down the stairs, tangled in her clothes, until Elise helps her out of them, because Elise is a darling.
We also learn that vampires can hear a werewolf’s thoughts. Elise says she wishes Val had told her what she was before, because if she’d known about the supernatural, maybe she wouldn’t have — but then she cuts herself off, because it’s not really Val’s fault.
Also, why in the world can’t Elise smell that Val isn’t a normal human? Maybe she wouldn’t be able to identify what she actually is, but she should at least know there’s something different about her. [Dove: Good point.]
Elise and Freddie then go through his bag of tricks to see if he actually has anything useful. About half is junk, and the rest is stuff Elise can’t touch. There’s nothing that will seal the place tight enough to keep Mr Grey out until dawn, though.
Val is really shaken by how easily Mr Grey controlled her, and by the fact Elise can so easily read her thoughts, until her wolf thoughts start welling up, trying to take over. She runs a quick experiment, and sure enough, the more wolf she lets her brain become, the less Elise can understand her.
Wolf!Val leads them out through an unboarded window; she shatters the glass as she leaps through it, spraying shards that sparkled in the moonlight as they fell. The descriptions are always so simple and yet so lovely in this series.
Val is hunting now, hunting to protect her pack and her packmates, even though one smells like a dead thing. This is one of my favorite things about werewolf fiction, the found family feeling of a pack, and this is just a delightful version of it.
Elise says that if he’s been hurt, he’ll have to go to ground to recover, and they can still take him. Val follows his scent until it’s gone; she has to let enough human back into her thoughts to figure out that he flew away. She can’t find the scent, but they decide to drive around to see if she can find the scent. Elise demands to drive because she has better reflexes, can see better in the dark, and drive faster than him. I love Elise.
I also love this line once they get started and Val has her head stuck out the window: Anybody seeing us might have thought we were two teenagers and a dog out joyriding after dark, instead of a werewolf, a vampire hunter, and one of the living dead.
We also finally learn why Elise smashed all the mirrors in her house, and it’s because mirrors show the reality, they don’t have minds that can be cloudy by the vampire’s illusions. Val’s description of Elise is glorious:
The face that I saw in the mirror belonged to a week-old corpse: eyeballs starting to collapse inward; lips peeled away from teeth all the way around; pallid flesh smeared with patches of slimy, whitish mold.
They narrow down where the vampire is located by marking all the places Val smells a vampire and then connecting the lines to find the center. It’s not a neighborhood Val recognises, but she doesn’t care, because she, and the wolf, can smell the threat and want to fight.
They start for the building, but then Elise hides, because she picks up on another presence before Val does. Then Val realises someone else is there.
Instead of Mr Grey, they find Jonathan Polidori, smelling strongly of vampire, but also covered in flecks of blood that smell like vampire. That blood Val recognises as blood from the body they found already dead in the freezer.
Jonathan tells Freddie to put down the cross because it doesn’t work. Val knows that neither Mr Grey nor Elise marked it as junk, but Freddie can’t hear her thoughts, so he does lower the cross. (He really had the same chance to gather that information, so that’s a pretty big failure on his part.) Jonathan tells him that he can tell he’s on the right team, even if he’s on the green side. Freddie tells him that everyone has to start somewhere, and they have a good chuckle over it.
When Jonathan asks if Val is a wolf, Freddie says she’s a siberian husky cross, and the lie comes out smooth as anything; he also explains that she tracks vampires, though he doesn’t use so many words. Jonathan warns him that dogs can turn on you.
They talk a little about Jonathan also being a vampire hunter (and he introduces himself using his name); Val is shocked, and wants to know if Regina knew what her brother did, whether she hunts vampires, too, if this was the kind of work that kept him from dinner that night, and what they would do if they found out she was a werewolf. Of course she can’t ask any of these questions; Freddie’s busy narrowing down which vampires Jonathan has killed that night. The vampire in the freezer was the spawn, and Jonathan is after the master. Hunting it is not a thing for novices, and he tells Freddie to stay away, but Freddie is stubborn, and says his dog can help track it. He also calls his dog “Val” and that made me laugh out loud. It’s smart, too, making sure they both know what name to use, but none too subtle.
When Val struggles to find the real trail, Freddie tells her not to give up because they don’t have long left, and Jonathan talks about how long he’s tracked this old enemy from town to town, city to city, country to country. Human!Val catches on that as important, and she remembers that vampires need to rest in their native earth. If she can’t track Mr Grey, maybe she can track the smell of his dirt, which would smell like it didn’t belong. She finds it, and the smell of lilac, which reminds her of that moving van.
That is a pretty damn clever way of moving the dirt you must rest inside.
They find the bush, Freddie and Jonathan pull it up, and inside they find “a bloated white shape, swollen like a tick which had filled itself with blood.” Pardon me, I need to go vomit at that image. Jonathan offers him to Freddie to kill, but Freddie doesn’t want to do it, and is relieved to have someone else make the kill. Diana got her shit down, I’d like to point out, but paid the price for it, so this is probably a smart decision on his part.
After he stakes the vampire, Jonathan gloats that he has finally killed the master, and, of course, Mr Grey reveals himself just then, because Jonathan doesn’t know who he is facing or who and what his “allies” are. The vampire they just killed was another of Mr Grey’s creations, and he is still alive. How many people has he been turning into vampires in this town? Or has he just brought a bunch of new people with him? If that is true, how many damn vampires are running around? Is this Santa Carla?
Mr Grey tries to catch Val’s mind again, but she sinks back into the wolf-mind to escape him. Wolf!Val knows he’s too strong for the human member of the pack to kill, but doesn’t know if he’s too strong for her, and the only way she knows to find out is to attack him. She sinks her teeth into his arm, and it is a terrible, filthy taste, but she manages to hang on.
He shapeshifts into a wolf to fight her, but this actually gives her the advantage, because apparently even as old as he is, he hasn’t had much experience fighting as a wolf, and she has. And he’s also weirdly insubstantial, not as heavy or solid as a wolf should be. She fights him down by the throat, but then, as with Jay in the previous book, the wolf fight ends with one wolf surrendering and she actually cannot bring herself to kill him, because wolf fights don’t go to the death. This is such an interesting bit of werewolf world building, and also intriguing because a lot of the other werewolf fiction of the time, and even after, does focus on that whole abusive alpha wolf, every fight could be to the death trope that so poorly represents actual wolves.
Mr Grey runs off, still in wolf form, and then there is another wolf beside Val. It’s Elise, and they can talk together through their thoughts; it’s a neat moment when Val realises even though Elise has copied a wolf body from her, she still has completely human thoughts. She suspected there was a different vampire under the lilac bush, and promises Val that is the last of Mr Grey’s line. Val falls back into her wolf mind and chases Mr Grey, because she wants to find him and pin him until Freddie and Jonathan can arrive with their stakes, mallets, and silver crosses.
Mr Grey leads them back to the old house, and Elise and Val follow him inside, all of them still in wolf form. Val doesn’t understand why Mr Grey hasn’t changed shapes, and is a little worried that she’s turned him into a werewolf by biting him. Sorry, Val, this isn’t Underworld.
He is upstairs in a room with another coffin and an old-fashioned oil lamp on a small table. Mr Grey worries with a hairbrush, but can’t seem to get it to do whatever he wants it to do. Elise shifts back into human form, but Val ignores her and attacks Mr Grey. His thoughts are all for Elise, trying to make her pick up the hairbrush and use it on him; Val doesn’t understand why, just catches a bit about hair and young women, and Elise doesn’t seem to be controlled by him at all now.
Elise shouts at him a bit, then sets the coffin on fire, because Elise is kind of a delight. While she burns the coffin, Mr Grey struggles, but Val holds him in place, even though she, too, wants to flee; Elise tells them both that vampires die in flames, and pours lamp oil onto Mr Grey, then sets him on fire. That is too much for Val, and she backs out of the room, but remains in the hall to watch him burn.
They stay until the building starts to collapse and they hear sirens, then Elise says it is over, he’s dead forever, and it is time for Val to keep her promise. It’s almost moonset, and the time is coming. Elise wants it to happen at her home, and vanishes into bits of dust before Val can respond.
It takes Val some time to get to Elise’s house. It’s become a crime site, of course, and is blocked off with crime scene tape. (Val: So sue me. I’m a wolf. Wolves don’t know how to read.
Is there any question why I love Val?!)
She has to break in through the kitchen window, and then waits in a house filled with the smell of dried and rotting blood, and the moldering, earthy vampire smell. When she finally shifts back, she borrows an outfit from Elise’s closet, and then they go down to the basement so Val can kill her. There’s a useful workbench down there, but Elise has already gathered a hammer and a foot-long piece of a broomstick that has been sharpened at one end. Elise is fucking prepared, and my heart is breaking.
Val starts to freak out over what she’s agreed to do, and asks if she can’t just go stand in the sun at dawn. Elise says she’s already tried, and it hurts too much. She’s not strong enough to do it that way, and she needs Val’s help. This is all really heartbreaking and horrible. And the writing is kind of gorgeous.
[Elise] didn’t say anything, just went and lay down on the concrete floor in the place where I was pointing. The panes of the basement window divided the faint light from outside into grey monochrome squares. They fell at a slant across her body and washed the color out of everything they touched, making the basement corner look like a set from a black-and-white movie. Elise closed her eyes and folded her hands over her stomach. Her mouth was shut, but I could see the tips of her fangs pressing down on her lower lip. I remembered her wearing the blouse she had on to school once, back before she’d started wearing nothing but scarves and turtlenecks all the time — but there wasn’t any breath moving beneath it.
I swung the hammer down. Not as hard as I could have, with all a lycanthrope’s strength behind the blow. When I hit the wood, Elise’s eyelids snapped up and she looked right at me. Her mouth opened wide. I could see the fangs. She hissed at me, just a sound, not words. Her hands still held the stake in place. I swung the hammer again, harder. This time she shrieked. I think I can still hear it. But she didn’t let go of the stake until I was done.
MY HEART YOU GUYS OH MY GOD MY HEART.
Val is exhausted and heart broken after. She cleans up, calls the police to tell them to look in the basement, then leaves, because even if Mr Grey isn’t headed for her, a squad car will be soon enough.
Even though she’s barefoot and spattered with blood, Val has no choice but to try to walk home in the cold. Before she gets out of the suburb where Elise lived, a car pulls up behind her and she gets captured by a group of people who force a bag over her head that stinks of garlic. Obviously her captors know what she is, or at least know enough to use garlic on her. They’re also using silver to bind her wrists.
And when they talk to her, she recognises first Regina’s and then Jonathan’s voices. Uh oh. Looks like not everything is all good with the potential step mother. Because Val has been working for the enemy, she has to get staked. Well that nicely clears up nothing except for the fact that they’re going to kill her now. Val recognises the fact she’s lucky they didn’t use silver bullets to shoot her from afar. (She also calls Jonathan “crazy” because of course that’s why he’s dangerous. Fuck off, Val. As much as I love you and this book, fuck straight off with that.)
Val is scared still, but angry now too, and her fear just makes the anger worse. She has her head in Regina’s lap, her heels against the backseat door, and she slams her head down as hard as she can into Regina’s lap; Regina, of course, screams, because that sort of strength hurts. Val then kicks open the door and throws herself out of the car. She feels something crack, and hopes it’s one of her ribs and not something worse, but she manages to keep her head tucked enough not to snap her own neck.
A lycanthrope could take a head-on collision with a Mercedes and not need more than a few minutes to heal. And I was as good a lycanthrope as anybody.
Oh, Val, I love you so much. Also, nice, subtle throwback to Jay throwing himself into Diana’s car last book.
Val comes to rest in a clump of bushes, manages to get the bag off her head just in time to throw up, which does more damage to her rib, and checks to see where her captors are. They have guns now, and she’s certain they’re loaded with silver bullets.
She’s not healing properly, and it’s because of the silver handcuffs. As long as the silver is touching her, she won’t heal and her body will just get weaker and weaker. Not an ideal fleeing for her life situation. She tries to run still wearing them, but it’s getting harder and harder.
Finally, she decides if she’s going to try to get out of the cuffs, she’d better do it now or end up dead. She bends over until she can step on the silver chain, holding it to the ground with all her weight, and then jerks herself upright as fast and hard as she can. This scene is viciously written, too.
It hurt so much I didn’t have enough breath left to cry out. I felt skin and muscle tear away as the cuffs scraped down off my wrists and along the sides of my hands — then caught partway and hung. The silver burned in the raw flesh of my open wounds like metal that had been heated in a forge. I gasped and choked as I gathered what was left of my strength for one more convulsive pull.
Pardon me, my stomach is still lurching with sheer horror.
As soon as she’s out of the cuffs, her healing kicks in faster than ever. After a second, she hears the others getting closer, and she takes off again, though this time she is moving with more ease, and much quieter.
She eventually puts space between them, and after awhile, can’t even hear them anymore. Then she starts to hear her name, just a sigh on the wind. She has run all the way to her school, and Mr Grey waits for her there. She tells him she saw him burn, and he says that she saw fire but not death, and the flames actually set him free. She doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t want her to, but he commands her to come with him home.
She follows him to his BMW without saying anything, rides home with him. Finds her door unlocked and is suddenly terrified that he’s killed her dad. She goes inside, but doesn’t immediately find anything.
Apparently, when Mr Grey had Val invite him in the previous month, he moved some of his native soil to her house, and now it will be his safe haven while she makes the town his. She stays quiet, but she is pushing to rebel. She’s gained back her strength, and his hold over her isn’t as strong as it was before. She knows she can’t fight back in human shape, but also isn’t sure she can hang on for a month until the next full moon, because he’ll have had plenty of time to turn the town into his own “private hunting preserve.”
They walk farther into the house, and Freddie shouts for Val to grab him. She does, and gets a good hold on him from behind, her arms under his, her fingers laced behind his neck, her hands pushing his head forward and down. Again he has that strange lack of mass, and she figures out that he’s been dead so long he’s only dust held together by force of will, which is a really great way to describe a vampire.
Freddie comes up to stake Mr Grey, but there’s a moment of laughter because he’s wearing an aluminum foil hat. He drives the stake into Mr Grey’s chest, and he screams that same unearthly sound Elise made, but it doesn’t go all the way inside and penetrate his heart. He starts to twist his way free, and Val does the only thing she can think of to do, which is throw herself forward so they both land on the floor, the stake slamming into his chest — through his chest and into her breastbone.
For a long, terrible moment she’s trapped there, and then Freddie pulls her off the body. Then, in all seriousness, he asks if she’s a virgin.
This is Val’s response: Freddie, if you’re trying to make a pass at me, this isn’t the right time, it isn’t the right place, and I’m definitely not in the right mood.
I fucking love you, Val.
Anyway, Freddie says that’s not it, but that some books say that if you bind a vampire with a rope of maiden’s hair, he can’t change shape any more. This explains why Mr Grey was so desperate for Elise to use the brush on his fur — and how the fire set him free.
Even though Mr Grey is dead, the vampire smell is still really strong. Val’s not sure what to do with Mr Grey, and Freddie suggests they leave him where he is until the sunlight reaches him, unless she wants to haul him outside. That doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, but she doesn’t want to keep looking at him, either, so they head into the kitchen. Val’s metabolism has been working overtime healing her, and she needs food.
Freddie explains that he got her keys out of her clothes and that’s how he got into the house to wait for them (and that he’s wearing the tinfoil as an attempt to stop Mr Grey from being able to read his mind so he could ambush the vampire, which I guess must have worked, as ridiculous as it is).
Val’s only half listening to him, though, because she’s trying to figure out why the house still smells like vampires and why her dad hasn’t woken up with all the noise of Mr Grey’s death. Freddie’s still rambling on about his theories of why there can’t be too many vampires because they are such major league predators, so there has to be an underground economy of vampire hunters to keep their numbers in check, when Jonathan and Regina turn up again. Woo. The gang’s all here.
Jonathan says that Freddie’s theory isn’t exactly right, because few mortals manage to hunt vampires; they lack the stamina and wit for long pursuits. Val sees his fangs for the first time, and Jonathan knows that she knows.
He did a pretty good job of not reacting to her thoughts earlier, I guess. Or maybe we’re not supposed to think about that too hard. (I mean, if he can read her mind, which he seems to be able to do, why didn’t he know she was about to try an escape attempt?)
Val puts it very plainly for Freddie: vampire hunters aren’t people, they are other vampires.
This is such a neat bit of world building! (Despite that cheesy vampire thing where Val calls it survival of the fittest and says Charles Darwin would have loved it, and Jonathan claims he talked to him about it when he first proposed the theory. Oh, come on!) It makes so much sense that vampires would hunt each other, and that they would use everyone around them as pawns in the hunt, and that their hunts would last countries and centuries.
Val does notice that she can’t feel any pressure from Jonathan’s thoughts on hers. She’s not sure if that means he’s not in the same league as Mr Grey or if he’s too busy controlling her dad to get to her too.
Freddie pulls out a silver crucifix and thrusts it at Jonathan, who has to step back and turn away. Unfortunately, Regina’s weapon is, as she says, a more potent symbol than the cross. She has a gun loaded with silver bullets, of course.
Val tries to stall for time, because it’s almost dawn. She asks Regina why she doesn’t just give her to Jonathan (Regina’s master, and this whole bit has some deeply incestuous vibes to it, even though I know they’re not actually brother and sister), and Jonathan says he doesn’t need werewolf blood, and he already knows how hard it is to kill them. Even if he drains her, she’d just stand back up again as soon as her body made enough new blood. That is a fucking fantastic bit of world building, and also makes me want to read a story in which werewolves are being kept as blood bags for vampires, and the adventures that come from it.
Regina cheerful informs them that in order to kill a werewolf, you cut off their head then stuff their mouths with garlic. Once you’ve done both those things, then they die. Which is a terrible order, really. Fuck.
Val tries to buy even more time by promising to come with them without fighting so long as they leave Freddie and her dad alone. She’s lying, but before they can even start to respond, someone starts clapping in the doorway.
Surprise! Mr Grey is still not dead!
I’ve let it go for this long, but COME ON. I have to give it a trope counter now.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: +100 (Where the story tries to convince us that there really is a body count, only to later reveal the victim only sustained minor injuries.)
Val gives him her own trope counter point: Doesn’t anything kill him? How many times have I seen him die?
This is the Val I love and adore.
Mr Grey takes the gun from Regina; Freddie, terrified, asks how he survived this time. His curiosity is as real as his fear. This time was simple enough; they were too far to the right to hit his heart. Also, he only made himself look like a shrunken corpse, because they keep forgetting he can make them see whatever he wants them to see.
Then Mr Grey stakes Jonathan as easy as breathing, because they’ve been an annoyance to him for too long. He slams the stake through his heart, spraying blood all over Val and Regina. Regina freaks the fuck out over his death, and when she attacks Mr Grey, he easily grabs her and starts drinking from her.
Despite how much she hates Regina now, Val can’t let that happen to her, so she falls as far into the memory of wolf-thoughts as she can and attacks him. He’s shifting into a bat so he can cover ground and get to cover before the sun comes up (ummm, isn’t his dirt in your house? How far do you think he’s going?); she manages to grab him with one hand just as the change is complete. Now, if Freddie’s theory is right, he can’t change shape again until she lets him go, and she is “stronger with one hand than any bat that was ever born.” Jesus, Val, I love you so much, when you aren’t throwing around “crazy” like that’s the reason everyone is violent.
Freddie holds Regina at gunpoint, and wants to know what they’re going to tell Val’s dad when he wakes up. Val says to tell him the truth, because Val and her dad are both amazing.
Val walks out into the front yard and faces the eastern horizon where the sky is getting lighter every second. Mr Grey tries to command her to let him go, but she uses every bit of her will, and the memory of Elise clutching that stake to her chest even as she screamed in pain, and fights off his control.
She holds the bat overhead as the sun comes over the edge of the hills; when it hits the bat, it screams, that same strange vampire noise from before. Val, badass that she is, stands there and holds him in the sunlight until he dissolves between her fingers into a black mist that falls to the frozen ground. For a second, there’s a man’s body, and then it crumbles into rot and dirt and powder.
Inside, Freddie still holds Regina at gunpoint. Val walks in to tell them that Edmund Grey is gone.
They do tell Val’s dad the truth, and he believes them. Regina (her real name is Gladys Finch, who was a public school dietitian before Jonathan “flapped into her life”) confessed to everything as soon as Val’s dad wakes up. It’s hard on him, of course, but he helps get her into treatment and find a lawyer and making sure the police didn’t just pin everything to her during their investigation, because there are a lot of bodies around.
That’s all he’ll do because “disturbed people are for helping, not pursuing with romantic intent.” Now, I know she actually is dangerous to herself and others, because she has actively been being dangerous to herself and others, but the way this is written veers so close to the idea that crazy people can’t be trusted with relationships, that crazy people aren’t anything but their brand of crazy, that their craziness will be the only thing their lives can ever be, and I am just — well, to be honest, I am too tired and too worn down by how many times this comes up even in books I love, like this one, and by all the shit going on politically, particularly right here in the United States. Our current regime is a terror, and every day more and more atrocities are done in the name of the American people, and I am just fucking tired. I fight, and I will keep fighting, and one of the things I fight is the stigma society pushes onto people with mental illness, but fuck. I am tired. I am so fucking tired of fighting.
The story wraps up with Freddie asking Val out on a date. I’m done.
I love this story, though not quite as much as the first one, mostly because of how many damn times Mr Grey comes back from the fucking dead. One too many times to that well, authors, though the image of Val holding him into the sunlight while he burns to death is powerful as hell, as is the image of Elise clutching that stake to her chest so Val can finish killing her. There’s a lot of really sharp writing in this one, and I love the hell out of the characters, except for, as always, that thread of crazy = dangerous.
Also, the world is terrible, and I want everything to burn.
[Dove: I still love this story so much. The plot points I got wrong were: Regina and her “brother” ran a restaurant catering to vampires who liked to eat werewolves — it being a rare delicacy for them. They had moved to the area because there were a pack of werewolves there. Therefore our lead had to make friends with these werewolves (who were mostly soccer mom types in their non-wolfy lives). Clearly that did not happen. Did I imagine this, or is there a book out there like this?]
[Wing: … yeah, I still want that book. Sounds like we have another book search underway. Actually, we still have one going on anyway, and I’ll throw it out here in case anyone knows: Back in the late 80s or sometime in the 90s (probably early to mid), I read a short story about two siblings, I think an older sister and a younger brother, who are left alone in their house/cabin one night while their parents go out somewhere. There may be some scary storytelling, the older sibling trying to frighten the younger, or maybe there has just been talk of some sort of local monster/werewolf. They hear something scratching on the side of the house, and even though they’re already hiding upstairs, the older siblings has to go check the windows, finds one of them open and a furry, clawed paw reaching inside. Sibling slams the window shut on the paw, the creature takes off, and older sibling takes younger sibling all the way up into a loft space accessible by a ladder to wait for their parents. A bit later, they hear the window forced open, and something moving through the house/cabin. The furry, clawed paw appears at the top of the ladder when headlights wash over it through the window; the parents are home and the kids safe.
For a long time, I thought this was one of the stories in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, but I have copies of them again and it is not. Any suggestions?]
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 100
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: ALL THE FUCKING POINTS
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1