If revenge is a dish best served cold, then what better place for it than the Canadian North? In the bizarre landscape of the Arctic’s “drunken forest” and forsaken settlements such as Port Radium, David Wellington crafts an intriguing, original take on the werewolf mythos in Frostbite.
Wellington had already shown his taste for revamping classic monsters, in novels such as Vampire Zero and 13 Bullets. In Frostbite, he makes the rules for his lycanthropes all the more strict and frightening, while at the same time presenting a very human story.
Chey Clark is alone searching for her monstrous quarry and despite her careful preparations still gets more than she bargains for when she catches up with the gigantic wolf she believes killed her father when she was a teen.
It’s a point of prehistoric interest that Wellington delves into and creates a werewolf mythos older than folklore. His are humans who assume the shape not of a half-man beast nor of a wolf as we know them, but of the extinct dire wolf — and in that form, they are possessed by an overpowering hatred of humans. Wellington reaches back to an age when there was no protection from modern civilization from the threat of a superior predator.
There are no feel-good aspects to lycanthropy in Frostbite; the change comes every single time the moon rises, whatever its phase, making a normal life impossible. And as Chey learns when she comes face to face with “Monty” — a Canadian First World War veteran who has been isolating himself in the Arctic for decades due to his uncontrollable transformations, there is no cure.
Wellington also eschews the clichéd agony-filled change from human to wolf — his rationale is that it’s a change on such a deep level, like a caterpillar’s into a moth, that there are no shifting bones and sudden sprouting of fur. It’s total, and instant, and — fortunately for his lycanthropes — heals most wounds. Silver, however, is still deadly.
To discuss too much of what makes his story so compelling is to give too much away. But Wellington shies away from neither the real-world concerns he raises — such as how the Canadian government would react to a werewolf imperiling its mining interests in the north — nor the practical aspects of recovering from a lupine rampage in which you may have killed those nearest and dearest to you.
Chey’s quest for revenge against Monty is complicated by many things, not least of which is being thrown into the same boat as he when high-tech-outfitted hunters come looking for him and opt to use her as bait. She also learns some of his tragic story before he discovers who she really is and why her path has finally crossed his.
Throughout, Wellington’s tale rolls crisply along, with suspense growing until the dark climax on the radioactive shores of an abandoned mining outpost. He crafts a superb horror tale that never loses sight of what his monsters want most, and are afraid of losing: their humanity.
UPDATE: For more monsters you can read Julianne Snow’s interview with David Wellington on his vampire and zombie novels here.
- by David Wellington
- Three Rivers Press, New York
- 277 pp, $17.99