By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan
“A book can make you find room in yourself for something you never thought you’d understand. Or worse, something you never wanted to understand.”
Sometimes it legitimately stuns me that I can be fine with reading all kinds of violence I would never, ever want to see, even on television. A Song of Ice and Fire is a perfect example — I can read about war gore and creepy wraith-things and children choking to death all day long, but give me a choking death scene on a screen, and I find myself short of breath and unable to watch. Yikes.
Anyway, this was really driven home to me with Glenn Duncan’s latest work, By Blood We Live. Werewolves are constantly ripping people’s hearts out and eating them, as it turns out, murdering normal people in their homes for no apparent reason apart from the fact that these people aren’t special like they are.
What was sort of endearing in The Last Werewolf and Talulla Rising — namely, that these wolf-people are different and special — becomes downright menacing in By Blood We Live, as the werewolves grow in number and begin to debate mounting a revolution against humans. Yes, humans. As though that’s not what they are themselves. Whereas Jake and Talulla alone seemed content to be alone, to live and (sort of) let live, to accept solitude with melancholy, suddenly Talulla has a family and a pack and something to protect. Suddenly, it’s “us” versus “them.”
And so. People are dying in really large numbers in this book. And there are more vampires, who apparently have decided to ally with their furry supernatural brethren, despite a deep-seated animosity. The vampires look delicate in comparison to the werewolves, mostly — one woman rips off a man’s jaw before she drinks his blood, but she is struggling to control her newfound strength.
As far as the violence goes, it seemed more gratuitous in this book than in any of Duncan’s others. At least Jake (the eponymous “Last Werewolf”) wondered once in a while if there was a way to avoid killing people. Everyone in this book seems to have moved past that and is just getting on with relishing the freedom to murder, and turning down the chance to return to normalcy. The sheer mindless violence following Jake’s death calls to mind what happens in real wolf packs when older, experienced wolves are killed; the puppies grow up gleefully killing every animal they can find, and not very effectively.
I guess it begs the question of what you would do if you were a monster and could get away with anything, and if you could give up that freedom. I, for one, would definitely be indulging in some of the drinking and smoking going on in this book. I think it’s Jake who says everyone would smoke if they knew it wouldn’t kill them, and truer words were possibly never spoken.
This work felt less like a conclusion and more like the middle book of a trilogy — a book hurriedly trying to tie up certain loose ends and get characters set up like bowling pins so they can fall into place in the concluding part of the story. The children are still a mystery; the Helios project is still kind of…out there. As part of a series, By Blood We Live manages to answer a few questions and to satiate readers who were pining for another installment of this story. But one can only hope that Duncan continues to go further. Like Duncan’s vampires, I find myself satisfied even while knowing I will soon want more.