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Learn to Howl
by Jennifer R. Donohue

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 7, 2024

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Published two days ago, Learn to Howl is the seventh of Donohue's books I have read within the past five months. Five were novellas, this being the second novel, and also the beginning of a trilogy. In some ways it is similar to her Run with the Hunted series, but with one major twist. All of the main characters are werewolves, but again, with a twist. Forget Lawrence Talbot, or those American guys in London and Paris. These werewolves are not created from the bite or scratch from another werewolf. It is all genetic, although there are differences between various families. They are not limited to transforming under a full moon. They can change at will, day or night, any time of year, and they become indistinguishable from normal wolves. No intermediary steps; no bipedal human/wolf hybrid. In the Culver family all children are girls, and almost all are werewolves, even though they may not exhibit that nature until their teen years. It is not necessarily related to puberty though. For the main character, Allie (full name Alleluia), her first transformation didn't occur until she was seventeen. It happened as a result of trauma, when she was attacked by a boy after a party. She doesn't recall all the details of that encounter until later, when she is relieved to find out she had not killed the boy.

The werewolf gene skipped Allie's mother, perhaps because she was one of a set of twins. Her twin, Dulcie, and her other siblings Rachel and Sela, are werewolves. Allie lived with her parents and two young brothers in Alabama. After the attack, when her mother realized Allie had transformed, she packs her up and takes her to her sisters in New Jersey, dropping Allie off unceremoniously, not bothering to talk to her sisters. It is the first time Allie knew she had aunts other than her father's sisters. She has a rough time adjusting, since her mother had not told her anything about the family situation, what she might expect, hoping of course that it wouldn't happen. Rachel is the oldest, very abrupt and domineering. Dulcie is more reassuring and supportive. Sela is shy, and mostly incommunicative. Things continue in a hapazard fashion for a few weeks or months, Allie frustrated because the others think she should know what they expect of her. The only thing she had managed, other than knowing how to transform at will, is developing her heightened senses of smell and hearing, along with a little more strength. Then Rachel asks her to perform a task, to bail out her daughter Morgan from jail. Yet another new thing for her to accept, a werewolf cousin.

The major action begins when Allie and Morgan return to find their house on fire, the other women missing, and quite a bit of blood. They manage to retrieve a few things before they run, and after Morgan had searched in the woods, where she saw a departing truck she is sure she could identify. The Culvers had had conflicts with the Ward family over the years, but nothing this serious. All of the Ward werewolves were men. Bill Ward is able to convince Morgan that truck had been stolen, and he has a suspicion of who may have taken the Culver women, so they join forces to go after them. This is the part that reminded me a bit of Run with the Hunted, particularly the second story, where they had to rescue one of their team from government agents. In this case it is a secretive medical experimentation group known as Silvernail. The Wards had been surveilling them for quite a while, so they go to one of their facilities in Pennsylvania, but only Sela is there. Rachel and Dulcie may be somewhere in Georgia, so they head south.

Allie is telling her own story, so it makes sense there is little information about her situation in the beginning, and by the end of this book she is still learning. I expected some betrayal by the Wards, and there may have been a little in Georgia, since they were more interested in what information Silvernail had on them, less interested in the Culvers. Morgan had forced their hand into taking action, and there was noticeable tension between them. Only a couple of the Wards were sympathetic to them, one a computer tech who provided them with intel from stolen computer drives. I expected Joe Ward might be inclined to join up with the Culvers full time, since his family was very condescending to him. I won't reveal why that might be though. Something that might surprise, even disappoint, some readers, is most of the story has the people as their human selves. They had to be cautious not to reveal themselves to others, especially when they might be on security cameras. On more than one occasion I though Allie might accidentally transform due to stress and worry, but that didn't happen. No word yet on the next book in the series, but I am interested, and will return to this page when I can. This is a combination of werewolf coming-of-age tale, and high action and suspense. Several sympathetic characters, others that will irritate you, some that will fill you with suspicious dread. Recommended.

 

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Author
Jennifer R. Donohue

Published
March 5, 2024

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