PROS: Compelling characters; interesting premise; lots of potential.
CONS: Lots of questions but few answers; predestined events lessen suspense.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting, if flawed, start to a series with loads of potential.
I didn’t get far into The Wolves of London by Mark Morris before I had to check the book description to make sure I was reading the right thing. Book One of the Obsidian Heart series starts out so grounded in reality that despite the promises made on the back cover I didn’t quite believe it could progress into the “nightmarish” and “unearthly.” It’s quite the incredible feat and I can’t say I’ve ever experienced its like before. It just goes to show how deft Morris is at writing personal drama. The Wolves of London is a book that hooks readers from the first page and though some elements of the story aren’t as successful as others, Morris tells a twisty-turny tale of the supernatural that is sure to thrill and intrigue.
The Wolves of London is the story of Alex Locke, a former ex-con. Alex is a highly compelling protagonist, he is likable from the very start. He is a man that has made mistakes in the past but has chosen to acknowledge them and move forward with his life, stepping up as a responsible father and respectable member of society. He’s a glass-half-full sort of guy and you can’t help but admire him for it. All is going well in Alex’s life until his eldest daughter Candice asks for a big favor — a £15,000 big favor. Her boyfriend has run afoul of a drug dealer, leaving Candice the collateral if her boyfriend fails to pay up. Fearing for his daughter’s life and running low on options Alex makes a phone call he resolved to never make. This single phone call thrusts Alex back into criminal underworld and throws into motion a chain of events that weaves through time and space.
The real world setting of London, the personal drama, and the well drawn and authentic characters — this is where The Wolves of London shines. The mundane details of Alex’s post-incarceration life build a compelling foundation for the mayhem to come. It’s the urban fantasy/horror aspects of the novel that prove to be slightly less engaging. There are some really cool ideas at play — chief among them the obsidian heart that the series is named after. I’ve only had limited experience with The Darkness comic book series published by Top Cow Productions (primarily the video games developed by Starbreeze Studios) but I started to get that vibe from The Wolves of London. I couldn’t help but to draw parallels between the mysterious obsidian heart and the universal force of chaos and destruction known as the Darkness. I don’t consider this a bad thing — there are a lot of cool ways to explore this concept and regardless, by the end of The Wolves of London we know very little about the obsidian heart. The same applies for the “unearthly assassins” known as the Wolves of London. Alex encounters some pretty twisted monsters but readers are given little explanation as to their origin or motivations. And that’s where the crux of my issues lie.
There is a lot going on in The Wolves of London, there are a lot of moving pieces but to Morris’s credit the plot is easy enough to follow. A lot of questions arise. A lot, a lot. And too few of them are answered by the end of the first book of the Obsidian Heart series. And perhaps it’s an unfair criticism given that there are two sequels currently planned, but it feels as though I spent too much of the novel going, “That’s awesome! But what does it mean?” Like Alex, readers are left dodging punches in the dark but with a lessened sense of peril due to pre-destined events. Alex spends the book reacting to the world around him unraveling, stumbling into trap after trap and barely managing to escape with his life. On the plus side, in the setup for The Society of Blood, book two of the Obsidian Heart, it seems as though Alex is about to take matters into his own hands and this should alleviate a lot of the problems.
Despite these issues the Obsidian Heart series has the potential to be a sweeping epic of urban fantasy and horror. Morris has set up the dastardly dominoes, all that’s left is to start knocking them over in The Society of Blood. What The Wolves of London lacks in answers to questions it makes up for in heart. I challenge readers not to develop an emotional investment in the plight of Alex Locke — go ahead, I dare you.