Benighted by Kit Whitfield (US title); Bareback by Kit Whitfield (UK title) (book review).

April 24, 2014 | By | Reply More

‘Benighted’ (UK title: ‘Bareback’) puts an interesting spin on a traditional horror story staple. The story is set in a world where 99% of the population are werewolves.

BeknightedUS

Lola is a lawyer working for DORLA, the state run Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activity. During a full moon, one of her colleagues is savagely mauled. While preparing her legal case to defend a suspect, the colleague is shockingly shot and killed. Her on-going investigation leads to links with illegal groups of ‘Lunes’ who break the strict curfew laws. Stuck between her friends, family and her work, Lola eventually has nowhere and no-one to turn to. Powerful forces are targeting her and they’re natural hunters.

Kit Whitfield has written a thought-provoking and dramatic first novel. The werewolf novel genre is populated with declawed angst ridden teenagers. It is nice to read a grown-up and well-written story full of nuance and clever detail.

BarebackUK

In Lola’s world, the law states all non-Lycos have to work for the state. Here, as in our society, working for the state is low paid but vital work. Their efforts are largely viewed with scorn and open hatred by the majority of the population. Generally, the Lycos have financial success and the security of being in the norm. Imagine a world in which government employees have the power to arrest and indefinitely detain you and, on one night a month, shoot you. It puts complaining to a traffic warden in perspective.

The initial premise of the story is very clever. The subtle differences between the two human groups are expertly written. Whitfield explores the wider effects that having all but a couple of thousand people out of action for one night per month. These effects are varied and subtle. The full moon occurs at different times around the Earth. Imagine an army invading an incapacitated enemy due to lunar differences. A bureaucratic solution and safeguard had to be found. This accounts for the vast legal powers of life or death over the Lycos held by the non-Lycos. DORLA traces its powers back to the Middle Ages and such organisations as the Spanish Inquisition. This link to organised religion informs DORLA’s day-to-day work. They literally believe they are doing God’s work.

This is a stunning novel. Whitfield handles the larger picture and the minutiae of Lola’s life equally masterfully. The passage where Lola takes her infant nephew for a walk moved me greatly with its beauty. At the same time, her subtle plot twists were full of wow moments. It is a rare thing to say but I don’t think I have read a book quite like this before.

It is worth noting that this is not an action shoot-‘em-up type of story. I think there were four gunshots in the whole story and one of those was only described via its effects. The word ‘werewolf’ isn’t used in the story ever. This seems to be in an effort to distance the book from more traditional fare.

This book should find a large potential audience. Simply put, it is an excellent story told by a master storyteller. The publisher’s notes suggest it has had its film rights bought for a six figure sum. It could be a very good film but read and enjoy this wonderful book first.

Andy Bollan

April 2014

Benighted by Kit Whitfield (US title)

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 530 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $21.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-345-49163-7

check out website: www.delreybooks.com

Bareback by Kit Whitfield (UK title)

(pub: Jonathan Cape/Random House. 388 page hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 0224-07864-X)

check out website:   www.vintage-books.co.uk

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Category: Books, Horror, MEDIA

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