Like many other readers, I have to credit Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga for initiating me in the ways of paranormal romance. Prior to meeting Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black, I never would have dreamed of venturing beyond my realm of realistic fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. Twilight opened my eyes to a totally different genre than the ones I was used to, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Though I’ve expanded to paranormal fiction, I have to admit my experience within the genre has been decidedly lopsided. I’ve gobbled up countless vampire novels, but the werewolf side of the house has been noticeably anemic. Hemlock is the beginning of my attempt to balance this out.
In Kathleen Peacock’s novel, the world is coming to terms with the existence of werewolves and dealing with the fear and prejudice that go along with this. Strict rules regulate werewolves, requiring that anyone who becomes infected by lupine syndrome, the disease that triggers a transformation from human to werewolf during periods of stress, anger, or other intense emotion, reports themselves within 30 days. At that time, the werewolf forfeits their assets and basic human rights and is relocated to a rehabilitation camp, where they must live out the rest of their lives “quarantined” from the rest of the population.
In the town of Hemlock, the general fear and mistrust is exacerbated by a rash of brutal werewolf attacks. When Amy, teenage granddaughter of a U.S. senator, is savagely murdered, the senator calls in a group of hunters known as the Trackers to help maintain order in the town and apprehend the wolf responsible. The group has its roots in white supremacy groups, so as you can imagine their methods and ideology leave something to be desired.
Amy’s best friend Mackenzie wants justice for Amy and the other victims, but she doesn’t agree with the Trackers that justice means the eradication of all werewolves. When it becomes evident that the police and the Trackers are more committed to furthering their own political agenda than actually solving Amy’s murder, Mac decides to take matters into her own hands and launch an investigation of her own.
I haven’t read enough werewolf books to truly gauge how Hemlock stacks up against its peers, but it didn’t strike me as particularly awe-inspiring. It’s a decent book, and I enjoyed Peacock’s writing style, but the plot is extremely predictable, and the mystery didn’t really wow me. The book also lacked the depth and weight I’d been expecting from a book about murder and prejudice and hate.
One thing I did like about Hemlock was watching the evolution of the characters’ relationships. When Amy was alive, she and Mac were part of a happy posse that included Amy’s boyfriend Jason and his best friend Kyle. After Amy’s death, the relationship between the three survivors understandably changes. Jason’s guilt and grief drive him into a self-destructive downward spiral, and Mac’s determination to help him out of scrapes causes friction between her and Kyle. Grief, secrets, prejudice, and vastly differing opinions about the Trackers’ mission test the trio’s limits and strain their friendship.
I always find it fascinating to read about relationships where people try to operate as though nothing’s changed when it obviously has. It was interesting to see Mac try to reconcile the Jason and Kyle she knew and loved when Amy was alive with the Jason and Kyle who are left behind after Amy’s death. The “new” Jason spends a lot of time getting drunk, getting into fights, and basically being a dillweed, but Mac can’t help but remember the great guy he used to be before Amy’s murder. She can’t stop herself from caring about that Jason, and this is what keeps her in his corner, even when he’s acting like a jackass.
This is another thing that I liked about Hemlock: it doesn’t glorify being a “bad boy” like a lot of other YA novels do. While I’m all for fictional troublemakers, it’s a nice change to see a book that sends the message that dealing with drama and danger isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Jason is rich and gorgeous, but the fact that he’s undependable and self-absorbed detracts from his appeal. As one character points out, “Someone needs to tell him that the drunken and tragic antihero isn’t all that sexy in real life.”
If it weren’t for the relationships in Hemlock, I probably wouldn’t have given this book more than 2 stars. As it stands, though, I feel like the trilogy has good potential, and I look forward to seeing the plot and characterization taken to the next level in the sequel, Thornhill.