Monday, March 12, 2012

Heart of Scars (Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter book 2) review

    The sequel to Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter by Brian P. Easton, Heart of Scars resumes Sylvester's quest to rid the world of the Beast. I have to give props to Brian P. Easton because in two books, he's created the single most unromantic depiction of werewolves (or any supernatural creature) ever.

    It makes me want to see what he could do with vampires because the werewolves are murderous, monstrous, Satanic scum. Really, for those people who are a bit tired of the "misunderstood monster" genre this is definitely the antidote.

    Heart of Scars is less of an anthology than the previous book, which makes sense since Sylvester is slowing down in his middle years. A large portion of the book is devoted to examining the staggering toll on his sanity that the hunt for the Beast has enacted.

    Sylvester doesn't whine about his condition, though. Brian P. Easton is better than that. Instead, we follow Sylvester as he travels further and further down the slippery slope until he thinks he's no better than the monsters he fights. Except, of course, the monsters keep traveling down it themselves.

    As bad and nasty as Sylvester becomes, somehow, the monsters just keep getting worse. Seriously, they're involved in everything from cannibal flesh-trading to drugs to slavery to releasing s***** video games (okay, not the last one, but they could be). The creation of organized werewolf crime syndicates and hints at a greater hierarchy makes the monsters of this book more interesting creature than the violent serial killers of the first volume.

    Really, it's a nice dissection of the usual treatment of monster and monster hunter. In a lot of books we get Vegetarian Vampire Hunters and the mortals who irrationally want to destroy them. Here, it's shown repeatedly that no matter how bad a human being is, he'll never be as bad as he would be if he was a werewolf. Lycanthropy seems to take everything bad about a person and turns it up to the eleven.

    Surprisingly, Mister Easton grounds the story in realistic morality. He uses real-life monsters and criminal activity to give a context for the horrible crimes committed by werewolves and makes it clear they're evil but that doesn't necessarily make the people who fight them good. The opening of the book, with the trial of alleged werewolf Peter Stubbe from real-life history, makes the book feel more authentic. It also prepares the audience for the kind of messed up s*** they're going to encounter within the book.

    For example, the book touches on the age-old D&D-ism "if all orcs are Chaotic Evil, what do you do with orc babies?" I won't spoil Sylvester's answer to the question.

    Some of the actions taken by Sylvester during the book may shock readers of a delicate constitution (or who simply don't much care for ultraviolence). Sylvester is a seedy, violent, and brutal man who thinks he's willing to do whatever it takes to defeat his enemies (and usually is). The book doesn't excuse his behavior or attempt to make it cool. I've had enough of Jack Bauer being lauded as some sort of hero for torturing people, thank you very much. Sylvester is a broken man who gets by on pure grit.

    Despite its many positive qualities, I think the book has some flaws. Sylvester's struggle with the Wendigo is something that tends a bit towards the metaphysical and our hero's always been a character best grounded in hard noir reality. The ending is confusing, relying on the surreal as opposed to the physical. Finally, there's a twist at the end that's somewhat unnecessary given we've already seen similar characters introduced in Sylvester's past life.

    I also question how much Sylvester has changed at the end of his spiritual journey, mostly because he remains as ornery as ever. I suppose that can be forgiven, however, since that's what makes him interesting. If you change the main character too much, after all, you lose your audience. Sylvester is the meanest monster hunter since Solomon Kane and I wouldn't have it any other way.


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