When Bridget from Books as Portable Pieces of Thought recommended Come the Night by Susan Krinard to me, I was a little hesitant to read it, since I don't usually go in for werewolf stories. As soon as I started Come the Night, though, I knew why Anachronist had suggested it--it had a very unusual and interesting setting, and a great premise.
Seeing as how we both read the book, we decided to have a discussion about it. Bridget is also posting her own review of Come the Night today on her blog, so be sure to check it out!
First, a bit about the book:
Gillian Delvaux, nee Maitland, a young widow with a 12-year-old son, belongs to a very exclusive pure blood British werewolf family. Noblesse oblige – she must marry an appropriate candidate even if it is the 20th century and normal people have something to say about it. She doesn’t. The problem is her father, sir Averil Maitland, still treats his children and household as if he was a medieval prince and them – his chattels. It concerns mainly Gillian but also to some extend her younger brother, Hugh. Marrying or in fact doing anything without their father’s consent is out of question. Sir Averil plans to organize a Convocation of all pure blood werewolves from Britain and abroad and he wants to choose Gillian a new husband (of course without consulting anybody, let alone his own daughter).
Still there was that Great War not so long ago (the novel is set in the Roaring Twenties) during which Gillian worked as a nurse in London and met a very nice young American soldier, Ross Kavanaugh. Ross was only ¼ of a werewolf but somehow it didn’t bother her. In spite of the fact her dad would disapprove (to put it mildly) she decided to have a child with him (and didn’t inform him about it – are you seeing a pattern?). Then she married promptly a Belgian werewolf who, very conveniently, went to war one week after his marriage ceremony and died. The boy, named Toby, has been raised at Snowfell, the manor his grandfather, and, being a bright boy, found out about his real father and decided to visit America and meet with Ross. All alone and without as much as by your leave of course. Like mother like son…
Meantime Ross Kavanaugh, a disgraced ex-police officer, is having a lot of free time as a down-at-heel unemployed without any hopes for a new career and hardly any money. What’s more, the New York police force, his former buddies, are almost sure he has been corrupted by a mafia and has killed a woman. When young Toby shows up as a stow-away and declares he is his son it seems that it is just another stroke of bad luck, especially that his mother and uncle are close behind. Who needs a son when he hardly has two dollars to rub together? Who needs a former aristocratic lover who abandoned you once for no reason at all and haven’t contacted you ever since? Who needs more problems? Or maybe it is actually a chance to start anew?
What was, in your opinion, the most important message, conveyed by this story?
Tasha: Probably that there’s no such thing as a “pure race” of whatever you happen to be. Also that love conquers all. ;)
Bridget: Yes, ‘love conquers all’ is a very good summary of this one. I would also say: ‘never give up, no matter what circumstances’. Very uplifting.Was Gillian, in your view, just another ‘doormat heroine’? Do you think any sensible, reasonable guy would stick by her no matter what?
Tasha: That’s a really good question. I don’t think Gillian was a doormat heroine, but she was pretty passive-aggressive. She reminded me of that blonde chick from Vertigo, only more difficult to relate to. And no, I didn’t understand why Ross and the other guys in this novel were so into her. If someone rejected me purely based on my antecedents, I’d be like, “Well, that’s the end of that relationship!”
Bridget: Personally I was surprised how repressed she remained for most of the novel. After the Great War plenty of women learned how to take their life in their own hands - it was one of the reasons behind that “Roaring Twenties’ phenomenon after all. I imagine Gillian would have loved to join their ranks, move out and start living as a ‘normal’ human being, no matter the cost. Still she didn’t. Maybe it was the ‘pack’ thing - in most stories few werewolves are able to live on their own. When it comes to her sex appeal or lack thereof...yes, she was such an ice princess I was rather surprised she was able to attract attention of so many suitors. Ross definitely deserved somebody warmer and less snobbish. Still there is no accounting for tastes - some like it hot, some like it cold.What do you think of the “roaring twenties” background, presented here? Do werewolves fit it?
Tasha: I knew you would ask that. :) I love the Roaring Twenties in NYC as a setting, and I think I found it more plausible here than you did; but Krinard didn’t do a very good job of setting the scene. I think it’s mainly just lack of research: things like clothes, cars, buildings, etc., are hardly ever described aside from a few isolated mentions. Even Coney Freaking Island wasn’t described very well (and there was no point to that scene, either). I feel like the book could have just as easily taken place in the 1930s, ‘40s, or ‘50s, and that a later time period would have made more sense with the theme of the story.
As for werewolves, I liked how the NY werewolf packs were similar to gangs, but again that could have been set into any other time period. And the European werewolf packs were kind of Nazi-ish and didn’t really feel as if they “belonged” in the 1920s. But admittedly I don’t know much about Europe in the ‘20s outside of Berlin and Paris (and then just the artists in those cities).
Bridget: Oh, I know, I am so predictable ;) The whole conference/convocation thing reminded me a bit of “The Remains of the Day” book by Kazuo Ishiguro (and the movie based on it) so I liked that aspect of the setting. It was also a classic plot device straight from any Agatha Christie novel : gather all the interesting characters under a pretext in one place, keep them there because of a murder and show how they interact. Still I admit the fact that there were just few “Roaring Twenties” scenes made me disappointed.What did you think of Toby?
I admit the idea of werewolves as race-obsessed Nazis won my heart - they were somehow right, with all that pure blood craze which made them even tolerate Hitler, a ‘mongrel’ if not worse, just because he promised them more power. As far as I remember Nazism started in the twenties of the 20th century so at least the timing was historically correct (it is true that Hitler consolidated his power from 1933 to 1934 but it had to start earlier). NY werewolves were too schematic to suit me, though, maybe because we saw so little of them.
Bridget: A precocious, intelligent child, surprisingly normal, taking into account the lack of peers’ company (or any healthy company in fact) and what household he had to endure. He also proved that ‘mixed’ parentage can be a very good thing for your gene pool - it seems he got the best traits from both his parents. I am pretty sure Toby is the future alpha werewolf in making. ;)
His character was used as comic relief - a typical, likeable ‘double trouble’ urchin which makes you smile whenever he appears on the page. He acted often as a catalyst - the very person able to move the plot forward, speed up the action and motivate other characters (mainly his mother and father but other people too).
Tasha: I loved Toby! He was definitely my favorite character. I agree, he’s an alpha in the making. ;) But I also think he’s possibly the only main character who embodied the zeitgeist of the 1920s. He’s the only one who used expressions from the time period and brought that energy of experiencing new things one associates with the Roaring Twenties. The kid had chutzpah, for sure. I’m not sure I’d want the entire book to be about him (not this book, anyway), but he did pull the entire novel together for me.Why do you think Ross and Gillian were both so emotionally repressed? Did that draw a convincing connection between them as characters?
Bridget: That’s a very acute remark - they were repressed like hell, both of them but for different reasons. Gillian was most of her life under the thumb of her monster of a father - I actually was surprised he didn’t smother her or his grandson in the cradle! She had few chances to show her real self or to enjoy the luxury of free choice; she was also constantly fed lies and worthless propaganda. Ross was expelled from the police force under false accusations - it was as if he was thrown out of his family! I suppose he felt guilty even though he knew pretty well it wasn’t his fault.
You would think Ross and Gillian should sympathize with each other from the very beginning but somehow they didn’t, mainly because they lacked enough information about each other’s situation and, mostly in the case of Gillian, they were too afraid to ask pertinent questions. Have you noticed how Gillian froze almost every time she was afraid?
As a result, the connection between them was far from convincing for most of the time, at least in my view; surprisingly their loneliness and misery kept them isolated even when they kissed and had sex (proving that both those activities can’t substitute a meaningful conversation). Only their son was able to puncture their respective bubbles from time to time.
Tasha: I did notice that Gillian would freeze whenever she was afraid. It also seemed like she never expected anyone to have any emotions (probably because of her father). For example, her confusion over what Ross “wanted” with Toby--yeah, why would a guy want to spend time with his kid, for heaven’s sake? *eyeroll* She only expected people to act with the basest flight-or-fight responses.Do you think this is a coming of age story?
I can kind of understand how repressed Gillian was, but it seemed over-the-top. I also thought making Ross similarly repressed just didn’t work. For one, he didn’t really have a reason to constantly suppress his emotions like Gillian did; and for another, to me it made it seem less believable that they would ever get together. Opposites attract and all that. I would think someone more outgoing and demonstrative would be a better match for either of these two.
Bridget: You know, initially I was rather inclined to say firmly ‘no’. It seemed to me rather a story about finding out what is the most important thing in your life - whether these are family bonds, love, the truth about you and your parentage or support for an idea. It was somehow connected with discovering your inner core, your real self and allowing it to resurface. Then I thought how men remain children for most of their life (sometimes even their entire life) and I suppose Ross, while rediscovering his strengths, matured a lot as well. Also Gillian emerged as a much stronger person who finally knew how to arrange her priorities. So yes, to some extent it is a coming of age story. Among other things of course. ;P
Tasha: I definitely think of it as a coming of age story, although it’s certainly not framed in the usual way. After all, finding out what you stand for and who you are is part of growing up! Not only did Toby find his father and his inner wolf, but Hugh (Gillian’s brother) came into his own, as well.
I also felt like Ross’s inability to change into a wolf made him feel emasculated, especially since the woman he loved left him over it. After all, she changed RIGHT AFTER they had sex for the first time, then abandoned him as soon as she realized he couldn’t turn into a wolf. He was, in fact, a strong wolf/man, but he couldn’t see that at the beginning of the book.