Content note: Foster homes, childhood abuse, childhood trauma, dead parents
Recap: Elena has just rushed to her old home at her former pack leader, Jeremy’s, beck and call, since he left her an urgent message and refused to answer the phone since.
After her plane lands, Elena tries calling again, and of course, there’s no answer. Then we get our first mention of Jeremy’s adopted son, Clay:
There were two phones in the five-bedroom house. The one in Clay’s room was connected to the answering machine, but the phone itself had lost the ability to ring four years ago, when Clay whipped it across the room after it dared disturb his sleep two nights in a row.
Anger issues, destruction of property, and an inability to replace broken shit in four years. That’s a great first impression.
There was also a phone in the study, but if Clay needed to use the line for his laptop, he often neglected to plug the phone back in, sometimes for days.
Spoiled and narcissistic, too.
Even if, by chance, there was an operating telephone in the house, both men had been known to sit five feet away and not bother picking it up.
Are we supposed to like these guys? Because I’ve got no love for them now. Elena sits and fumes about it, refusing to leave the airport until someone answers the phone and tells her what’s going on. Two hours later, she gives up.
Mary Sue Trait 1 (angsty past) rears its head again:
My parents died when I was five. We’d been coming home from the fair, taking a back road because my mother wanted to show me a miniature pony foal she’d seen at a farm along there. I could hear my father laughing, asking my mother how she expected me to see anything in a field at midnight. I remember him turning to look over the seat, grinning at me while he teased my mother beside me. I don’t remember what happened next, no squealing tires, no careering[sic] out of control. Just blackness.
[…]All I remember is sitting in the gravel beside my father’s bloodied body, shaking him, talking to him, pleading with him to answer and not understanding why he didn’t.
Also Mary Sue Trait number 7: unusually crystal clear childhood memories. Seriously, age five and she remembers that much detail? I guess it’s possible, given the trauma, but you always see that trope in use in angsty fanfiction, so I’m not too fond of it.
Mary Sue Trait number 8: Unusually good looks.
I can still see [the first foster couple], kneeling before me, cooing and ahhhing about what a beautiful child I was. So tiny, so perfect with my white-blond hair and blue eyes. A porcelain doll, they called me.
Mary Sue Trait number 9: extreme reactions to trauma. Note that everyone experiences trauma differently, and there’s no wrong way to go about it; any of these traits individually are perfectly fine, it’s just adding up to a badly-written picture.
Their precious doll sat in a chair all day and never opened her mouth, then at night — every night — she screamed until dawn. After three weeks they returned me.
Mary Sue Trait number 10: absolutely no glimmer of hope or love in an absurdly tragic upbringing.
So I went from one foster family to the next, always taken by the ones utterly charmed by my face and utterly incapable of handling my scarred psyche.
As I grew into adolescence, the couples who picked me from the home changed. It was no longer the wife who chose me but the husband, picking up on my childish beauty and my fear. I became the favored choice of male predators who were looking for a very special kind of child.
Seriously, was any of that necessary to tell the story? She’s already got an abusive pack full of manipulative, sex-crazed strangers, why does she also need the Tragic Backstory? She seems high functional, so it’s not as though it appears to have much effect on her day to day life. A sucky but not Tragic backstory would have worked the same way — maybe she never fit in with other kids so she never learned to socialize well. Done.
(Mary Sue Trait number 11: Her backstory has 0 effect on her daily life)
Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s real story or real-life reaction to trauma. I just feel like this is handled badly and exploited for the sake of adding cheap “depth” to the character without any real narrative purpose.
Anyway, she overcomes her victim mentality via track and weightlifting or some bullshit, and we return to the present day, where she’s arriving at Stonehaven. The taxi driver informs her that there’s been killings by “wild dogs” in the area, a pack of them — a common plot theme when werewolves are involved. We finally get a physical description of Clay:
Despite the cold night air, he wore only faded jeans and a black T-shirt, displaying slim hips, a broad chest, and sculpted biceps. In the decade I’d know him, he hadn’t changed. I was always hoping for a difference — a few wrinkles, a scar, anything that would mar his model-perfect looks and bring him down to mortality with the rest of us, but I was always disappointed.
[…] His Deep South drawl mangled the [word Darling] into a “dah-lin” straight out of a country-and-western song. I hated country music.
I’d start a list of Gary Stu traits for Clayton but… it wouldn’t last long, knowing what I do about where this plot goes. Elena, however, wastes no time letting us know just how much she dislikes Clay:
I didn’t dare ask Clay what was going on. That would mean engaging him in conversation, which would imply that I wanted to talk to him. With Clay, even the simplest overtures were dangerous.
Sounds like a decent, upstanding fellow with a clear respect for boundaries, no? Anyway, Jeremy’s not even home:
Did Jeremy expect me to fly all the way here, then wait on his convenience? Of course he did.
I mean, if the point here is to make the Pack into the real villains of the tale, this book is doing a great job, but I get the feeling we’re meant to like these guys at least a little, and I’m already tired of their bullshit four chapters in. She decides to go find Jeremy, who is probably out running in the woods, so she shapeshifts again.
As a human, I could deny that Stonehaven was my home, that the people here were my Pack, that the woods here were anything more than a patch of someone else’s land. But as a wolf in Stonehaven’s forest, one chorus trumpeted through my head. This forest was mine. It was Pack territory and therefore it was mine.
Well then, the wolf is wrong. There has to be love to have family ties; the usual trope is that if you are abused and flee, your wolf realigns itself to being a lone wolf, and wouldn’t automatically feel kinship with the old Pack lands anymore. But apparently that’s not an option here. Once you’re in a Pack, you don’t ever get to leave, no matter how fucked up they are.
Anyway, she romps and plays and wrestles with Clay and generally has a fun, wolfy time until she hears a gunshot, which is a huge no-no on Pack land. She goes to investigate, but Clay stops her, physically preventing her from going that direction and herding her back to the house. She rages at him about how she’d be safe because clearly the gunshot was off the property and she wouldn’t have left it, but he tells her it was on the property so she might have been shot if she’d kept going.
More of Clay the Gentleman:
The story goes that Clay had dismembered the last trespassing weerwolf finger by finger, limb by limb, keeping him alive until the last possible moment, when he’d ripped off his head. Clay had been seventeen at the time.
The idea that either Clay or Jeremy could be responsible for the woman’s death was equally ludicrous.
I’m sorry, but no, you don’t get to tell us how Clay tortured someone to death and then claim he couldn’t possibly have murdered a woman. Apparently he hates human so much he wouldn’t deign to touch them so he wouldn’t kill them.
Blah blah, more Pack politics bullshit, more history of werewolves — the usual stuff, how the 20th century changed everything and now the police can track murders so werewolves have to be careful when murdering people and how Jeremy is the bestest leader of all time and so on and so forth. There are non-Pack werewolves, called “mutts”, and they’re second-class citizens, murdered if they step out of line thanks to Jeremy’s gracious rule.
Though it came as a shock to most who met him, Clay had a brain, actually a brilliant brain, one that had earned him a Ph. D in anthropology He specialized in anthropomorphic religions. In other words, he studied man-beast symbolism in ancient cultures.
Keep that in mind for a bit.
Anyway Jeremy redecorates often, except he hasn’t redecorated in 14 months since she left. I guess he’s sad for her departure or something? Fuck if I care, guy’s a manipulative bastard. He’s also grown a bit of a beard, usually a sign he’s too distracted to shave.
His cheek twitched. With Jeremy, this was the equivilent of an emotional outburst “When I call, you call me back,” he said, his voice deceptively soft. “I wouldn’t call you if it wasn’t important.”
Interestingly, she doesn’t say a word about actually, you know, having called him back, dozens of times. Instead she quibbles that she shouldn’t have to because she left the Pack — something he apparently didn’t realize she’d done. They bitch at each other, with him insisting he needs her specifically because Clay is a wrecking ball and the errant mutt is a mouse or some other cryptic bullshit. I’d just like to point out that he mentions he’s called a Meet, which we find out next chapter involves a half dozen other werewolves who are already at his beck and call, so why her specifically?
We end on this cheery note:
“I’m glad you’re home, darling. I missed you.”
I nearly tripped over my feet running from the room.
Clay: no redeeming qualities whatsoever thus far.