Here's the thing about Bonds of Fenris: I really like the concept. One of my biggest problems with werewolf literature is that werewolf characters tend to be domineering, possessive, angry, aggressive assholes, and they typically use their second nature as an excuse for this behavior. We can get into arguments up one side and down the other about this sort of thing being a fundamental part of the werewolf as a mythological creature, but my point is that Bell takes this idea of werewolves as raging, out of control beasts, and works it to fit with his own philosophical perspective. In fact, I think one of Bell's posts from his review site puts it best: "In literature, supernatural monsters rarely represent supernatural ideas. In fact, they almost always represent some aspect of humanity, some thing inside us incarnated. The werewolf is strange to us, foreign. But it is also familiar. For the werewolf is man, in a state of nature. If the writer sees humanity as inherently noble and righteous, the werewolf will represent that. If the writer sees humanity as conflicted and troubled, the werewolf will represent that. If the writer sees humanity as violent, loathsome, and uncontrollable, the werewolf will represent that. But never is the werewolf something from beyond. He is always something from within. Something that, underneath the fur and the sharp incisors, is distinctly human. Werewolves are fascinating purely and solely because humans are."
This philosophy seems to be the basis for Bonds of Fenris, in which animalistic rage is not the ideal, but in a way, the enemy.
That being said, while the concept was interesting, I don't feel like Fenris was quite able to be a completely satisfying novel.
For one thing, the pacing gave me problems. Much of the story felt rushed, squishing months at a time into paragraphs that did little more than summarize the goings-on. This means, of course, that we were left with paragraphs upon paragraphs of telling, explaining, summarizing the characters' state of minds, the mood of the household, and the misery of their lives, without getting much of a chance to actually see it. We do get snapshots here and there - times when the narrative will slow down long enough for us to get in a scene or two demonstrating things that our heroine Talia has already explained to us - but it feels so much like that, like an example rather than an experience, that it leaves you disconnected from the story itself.
But I think this disconnection is also in part due to the way the story is told. There's probably a word for the style of narrative used here, but basically, the events in the novel are being recounted to us by the protagonist after they've already happened.
A few problems I had with this: one, we aren't actually experiencing things with Talia. She's telling us about them. While you can kind of forget this in the sections where Talia is recounting things in real-time, it slips back in to the summaries often enough to be quite jarring.
Two, the narration repeatedly breaks the fourth wall by addressing the reader personally. For example: "The truly awful thing about full-moon nights is, they feel good. It’s almost like a drug. Yes, you’ll wake up the next morning feeling rotten about yourself for enjoying the blood, the murder, the loss of your humanity. But in the moment it’s euphoric, an indescribable sensation of freedom and power. You run free, king of the wild lands, all creatures within it submissive or powerless before your fast legs and sharp, killing teeth. No need for any thought but pure instinct. No need to do anything but just be.
Not the first time, mind you. The first time is pure, unadulterated hell."
Who is "you", in this context? Yes, Talia is telling her story, but to who? For who? Nobody in the book itself, which only leaves the reader, and that never, ever works for me unless the narrator is writing some sort of journal or memoir or Hell, even a blog post. It doesn't really matter, as long as there is some kind of plausible excuse for them speaking as though they know they have an audience. Otherwise, we end up with that distracting quagmire of "Why is this fictional character talking to me when they shouldn't know I exist?"
IT'S BECOME SELF-AWARE.
I realize that some books are just written this way, but that sort of style puts me off hardcore.
Speaking of telling, we got a whoooooole lot of that, too...
Read full review at You're Killing.Us