Joshua is a teen runaway; a college-bound senior who survived a horrifying massacre of his classmates during an extracurricular project. Silas Decker is a vampire who lives in Boston, one who has the magical ability to find lost things – and people. Seth is the werewolf Prince of Boston. Elise comes from the Grigori family, who trace their bloodline back to the first angelic-human hybrids. She kills things — mostly, evil things. These four characters find their paths intersecting and tangling in The Black Wolves of Boston, the first book in a new urban fantasy series by Wen Spencer.
The hardcover edition of this Baen publication, issued in 2017, has illustrations by Kurt Miller. They add a lovely touch although the book does not depend on the artwork. Spencer’s story is complicated, and many, many characters are introduced, particularly among the various werewolf clans. The danger to Joshua, particularly, is real, the villains are easy to hate and the action sequences are well done. There is a convincing magical system, although I did have a few questions about the genesis of, for instance, the Wolf King himself (although I suspect these might be addressed in later volumes).
From the cover, I didn’t expect The Black Wolves of Boston to be quite as funny as it was. There is dark humor, as Elise, against her tradition and judgment, goes hunting the villains, a group of witches called Wickers, with a werewolf lieutenant of Seth’s. There is sweet humor as Joshua and Decker grow closer, and Joshua brings the three-hundred-plus-year-old vampire into the modern world; and there is physical, frat-boy, laugh-out-loud humor at several points. The three-werewolves-try-to-cook-Thanksgiving-dinner scene alone was nearly worth the price of the book, although every single werewolf-bros-in-Syracuse scene was a close runner-up.
Despite the snickers and guffaws the book induces, the stakes are high and the consequences are serious. While all Wickers seem to be witches, not all witches are Wickers, and the Wickers plan to open “breaches” from our reality into another, destabilizing our world completely. The Wolf King has spent millennia trying to prevent this. Seth, a teenager who came into his werewolf power at an early age, must not only try to protect his wolves and his city from a distance (New York, at the Wolf King’s orders), but must fend off a threat closer to home as he deals with his envious cousin Isaiah. When Seth senses a newly awakened werewolf in Boston, he knows that things have moved to a different level. Meanwhile, Elise deals with her family, who have distrusted her friendship with Decker, who, as a vampire, is something the Grigori assassins would prefer to kill.
Against the backdrop of centuries-old enmity and politics, Joshua’s growing friendship with Decker is a lighter, sweeter storyline, although the emotions are real, and both men are confused by the places their feelings lead. Joshua, in particular, must come to grips with discovering what he is. He finds help in the form of spirit medium Winnie and her grandmother, a powerful magical being herself.
At times I was confused by the sheer profusion of names and relationships. The chapter that introduced Seth flooded me with names and relations, and I struggled for several pages to get a handle on an extended, elaborate family tree. It matters, because the werewolves’ arranged marriages, bloodlines and a long-missing werewolf son are big parts of the story. I do think there could have been fewer names at first. I also felt like Decker’s concerns about getting involved with Joshua were repetitive and stayed at one level. Joshua’s concerns, and struggles with his identity, were more plausible to me, and, without spoilers, were depicted in one way that was really charming.
This book was an enjoyable read. I do have to complain about something; the number of line-edit errors, at least one of which changed the meaning of a sentence, really irritated me. This was a not an ARC. I bought the published novel. Even the jacket-flap copy refers to a character named “Eloise,” (that’s Elise). No book, no matter how exciting or engrossing, needs this kind of distraction thrown at the reader, and The Black Wolves of Boston deserves better attention from its publisher.
All said, this was enjoyable, and would be good for readers in their late teens. There is a lot of violence and gore, but most killing happens off the page, and is implied more than graphically depicted. The book leaves few loose ends, and is nicely poised for future volumes. Count me in for the next one.