The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Grey Wolves Grey (Review: 13 To Life; S. Delany)

13 To Life
Shannon Delany
St. Martin's Griffen 2010

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort. The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early. (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

My umpteenth werewolf book of recent times, I knew nothing about this when I picked it up. Had UK Book Tours not sent it off around the country I probably would never have read it – and I would have missed out, because 13 To Life is a whole new take on the usual werewolf story.

Protagonist Jess is a bit of a winner. Down to earth, happy to speak her mind and just pretty normal she was a breath of fresh air throughout the book. Dealing with her the recent death of her mother, she is clearly more than a little messed up and is coming out of what is hinted at being a pretty dark time. However, it's not all gloom and doom as she's picked herself up and seems determined to get on with things. Her friendship with best friend Amy is really well written with them being both supportive and, lovingly, critical of each other. Neither girl is afraid to tell the other how things are and their banter flows easily and believably. I particularly liked Jess's reaction to meeting Pietr. She doesn't swoon over him straight away and, most importantly, she doesn't start declaring her undying love by page five. Yes, 13 To Life is one of the rare YA paranormals where the relationship of the leads stumbles along realistically, falling into some excrutiating/embarrassing/frustrating potholes on the way. YAY for excrutiating/embarrassing/frustrating potholes!

Pietr himself is, predictably yet happily, suitably swoonsome. He had me from the moment he gave a stern talking to to a kitten. Hot boys and kittens – yes please; stereotypes are there for a reason and I appreciate authors who pander to them. I liked that he was Russian, although at times the Russian phrases became a bit tiresome – mainly because sometimes they disappeared altogether before appearing en force in the next scene. His interaction with Jessie was interesting, although his relationship with Sarah seemed odd to me. I really don't understand why he maintained it after a certain point. Talking of whom, the lovely, gentle Sarah is a character who adds real edge to this book. Anyone with knowledge of even the most basic pop psychology can see why Jess has become so attached to her and while sometimes touching, increasingly the whole situation seems like a pot ready to boil over. The author imbues real menace into the simmering situation and I often found the rising tension here more frightening than the paranormal aspects of the story. It really is a completely original take on friendship, loyalty and obligation.

The story itself is a fairly slow burner but all the more gripping for it's measured pace. Shannon Delany has, somehow, managed to combine werewolf mythology with the Russian Mafia and the CIA without coming out looking utterly ridiculous. Rather, she has created a genre busting concept that will absolutely keep readers on the edge of their seats. Seriously, you read correctly: Werewoves, Russian mafia, CIA. I know

13 To Life is the first book of a series and so the bulk of the book is fairly introductory. However, it is always interesting, had me turning pages as quickly as I could and by the end Delany has ensured that we have a fully rounded, fascinating world from which to jump into the craziness. I would particularly recommend this book to those of you who, like me, have been suffering a bit of paranormal fatigue. Yes, this is a book about werewolves but the author is taking them places that I've never seen them go before as well as providing us with an excellent, contemporary thriller. Take away the wolf aspect and you'd still have a pretty good read here. Great stuff and I really can't wait to read more.

13 To Life is available now and the sequel, Secrets and Shadows, will be out in February of 2011. Thanks to UK Book Tours for providing this title.


Liz. R said…
I've been wanting to read this for ages! I'm a werewolf fan, and this looks a bit different from a lot of other stuff I've read. Great review - I love the way you write, it's hilarious :P.
Jim said…
Wow, this looks awesome and I love the review. Thanks!
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