I loved this book. In Kolkata, the narrator Alok, a middle aged professor at university, meets a man who professes to be half-werewolf, part of a population of shape-shifters that hunts down and kills humans, devouring both their bodies and their memories. The man gives the narrator a manuscript to transcribe, the story of shape-shifters Gévaudan and Fenrir; and Cyrah, a woman who gets raped by Fenrir, finds herself pregnant (to shape-shifters, an abomination not because of the rape, but because one doesn’t sleep with prey), and is taken by Gévaudan to hunt down Fenrir, with whom Gévaudan is in love. In the present time, a slow dance of fascination starts between Alok and the nameless half-werewolf. It is completely believable, and I love how the half-werewolf is shown as both human and not–a dangerous lover who would as soon snap your neck than make love to you.
It’s a very raw, creepy detailed story that kept me turning the pages until quite late at night, and the writing style, the wealth of details and the characters are all spellbinding and visceral. The mythology of shape shifters with their second and first selves, and the growing relationship between the shape-shifter Gévaudan and the woman Cyrah in the manuscript story strand, are among my favourite parts of the book.
However… the very last chapter threw up a couple of things I felt uncomfortable with. Your mileage may vary, but I feel I should mention them. I’ll try my best not to do spoilers.
The first is when it’s revealed Fenrir was originally a woman, and heavily implied that both his fascination with human love, and the rape of Cyrah that results from this, is linked to this first, almost forgotten nature. It’s uncomfortable because there are so few female shape shifters (insofar as I recall we only see one other one, and in a minor role), and to have one of them be villainous because of her gender made me quite ill at ease. Also, for a woman to be seeking “love” (while men seek prey) felt a little too close to gender essentialism to me?
The other thing is that this last chapter ends up making a parallel between shape-shifters and genderqueerness–one of the characters dresses as a woman and parallels are drawn between that and shape shifting. I can see what the author was trying to do, but it ends up being a little uncomfortable as well because drawing parallels between the monstrous/fascinating nature of shapeshifters (who prey on humans and eat them) and actual existing genderqueer people doesn’t sit quite right with me.
As I said–your mileage may vary (and I’m not genderqueer!), but I feel I should mention this.
I would definitely recommend you read this book if you’re into dark, bloody and gripping fantasy, albeit with the caveats above.