What are you looking for when you pick up a fantasy novel? Because in Rise of the Wolf, the first in Curtis Jobling’s six-book Wereworld series, he pretty much covers all the bases for me. Young hero discovering a greater destiny than he ever imagined? Check. Exile, pursuit and deadly peril? Check. Stakes as high as you could wish for? Check. Nobility in the face of bad guys whose villainy makes you clench your jaws even as you read? Check. Attractive antiheroes who wait till the last possible moment to reveal their true natures? Oh, check.
Drew is a young farm boy living a hard, but on balance happy life with his family on the dreich Cold Coast of Lyssia; he’s good with the animals, so he’s unsettled one night when the sheep are skittish and scared around him (to the point of one ram going over a cliff rather than be rounded up). There has to be something bad in the vicinity, right? Drew suspects there’s a monstrous presence near the farm, and all his fears seem confirmed when something horrific invades his house that night, attacking his mother. The creature is the stuff of nightmares - this has to be what terrified the livestock, and now it’s come for Drew’s family.
But then the horror and the terror spark something inside Drew himself, and he feels a shocking change overtake him…
When his father and brother return from market and find a scene of carnage, they (understandably) misconstrue the situation. Fleeing his home, wracked by grief and shock, Drew escapes to the Dyrewood. And there he might remain for the rest of his life, turning more animalistic with the passing months, but for a chance encounter with the scouts of Duke Bergan the werelord…
From the moment Drew is dragged (almost literally) back to Duke Bergan’s stronghold, the story takes on a breathtaking momentum. Captivity in the Bear Lord’s castle is the least of his problems, as rapidly becomes clear when the troops of the King, Leopold the Werelion, arrive to take him into custody. The extent of the monarch’s cruelty and oppression is made very clear in a few harrowing pages, and the reader is very quickly rooting for Drew and his new allies and friends to escape and win out - but also for the overthrow of a king who may have come to the throne through very foul means indeed.
Curtis Jobling draws the world of Lyssia so vividly you can taste the air and smell the blood on the battlefield. Each danger that Drew overcomes seems to lead only to another, worse threat, bringing him finally to the stronghold of the vicious and tyrannical Leopold - and you’re rooting for him all the way. Rise of the Wolf is a thrilling page turner, piling adventure on adventure. But there’s mystery and (perhaps?) budding romance in the mix, too, as Jobling weaves in the history of the werelords, the secret of Drew’s origins, and two flinty but appealing heroines.
The concept of the werelords is a wonderful one, bringing a new and enthralling dimension to the classic Hero’s Quest. There aren’t just werewolves and werelions in this universe: there are werestags, werebadgers, weresharks and more, and there’s huge fun in seeing how their bestial natures affect the human side of the characters (especially the wereboars and their reaction to a plate of pork stew). There can’t be many child readers who could resist this heady blend of thrills, peril, friendship, monsters and thoroughly impressive werelords. The whole series is published, so you don’t even have to wait between episodes. I for one can’t wait to find out Which Were Wins…
Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling; Puffin, £5.99
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