Leaders of the Pack (Anthology)

Standalone Book - No Series

Since the dawn of time, across almost every culture, there have been legends of shapeshifters. Men who turn into beasts and prey upon anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. Of the shapeshifter tales, none invokes as much terror as the legend of the werewolf.

The stories of men who become wolves persisted through the centuries from campfire folk tales to the modern age, where we are still thrilled and horrified by tales of bloodthirsty predators in our midst.

Twelve of the most successful authors of werewolf fiction in the 21st Century have returned to their worlds and characters, to bring you a truly blood-soaked collection of werewolf horror.

Jeff Strand: Ivan’s Night Out Ray Garton: Outside of Nowhere David Wellington: Hunters Moon Jonathan Janz: The Kiss of Divna Antonov Glenn Rolfe: The Dead Brother Situation Graeme Reynolds: Blood Relations Paul Kane: Lifeline Thomas Emson: The Hunt David Watkins: The Original T.W. Piperbrook: The Great Storm Nick Stead: Bloodlines Matt Serafini: Evernight Circle

Themed horror anthologies are a bag of fun. Anthologies filled with random short stories are a delight too, but to have a joining theme, those are my favorite.


Fans of the furry will be pleased with the well-named Leaders of the Pack. Sporting a colorful cover (the book names the illustrator as Patrick Cornett), each story has an impressive and creative illustration drawn by Michelle Merlini to introduce it. These illustrations are highlights. Great job from both artists.

And to find out this was released on a full moon? Come on, how could I resist?

I’m not as into long anthologies, so the page count at 267 is ideal. Not too long, not too short. Twelve stories by twelve authors, some I recognized. As with any anthology, it’s a mixed offering.

Several stories are prequels, sequels, in-betweens, and tie-ins to existing series. The book opens with a story set after Blood and Rain and before the monstrous Nick returns to his hometown. The Dead Brother’s Situation is slasher fare that opens the anthology on a violent, gory note. This is a short story I consider more of a “scene” than a full story on its own, which is fine, as these have their place. If you’re a big fan of Blood and Rain, you’ll enjoy this one as bonus content.

Another tie-in is Graeme Reynold’s Blood Relations: A Gilson Creek Story. At the end of the short story, it states it takes place between books 2 and 3 of the High Moor series. The heroine is a 13 year old girl who seems older than she is due to a depressingly bleak life; we open with child abuse and end with possible family reunion. It was different and a break from some of the more violent stories in the anthology. Not to say this one doesn’t have some truly dark stuff, but not all the werewolves are mindless monsters with the world-building, and of course many humans show themselves to be just as monstrous.

Most familiar with Jeff Strand’s humorous Wolf Hunt series will recognize the character by the title, Ivan’s Night Out. Ivan was always a mean character with over-the-top humor which flourished in Wolf Hunt, and he doesn’t hold back the viciousness here either. I won’t say the story was enjoyable exactly, it was more of a brief lead-in to the character before the Wolf Hunt series. With the full length novel you got the funny dialogue from the demented killer, but it was told through the POV of other main characters, which made it that much more tense and humorous. Being in Ivan’s mind while he was telling these jokes and doing these monstrosities gave me a shudder or two. This was the last story in the anthology.

The Great Storm by TW Piperbrook is a prequel to a story I haven’t read (his Outage series) – it was well-done and vicious. I may check out the other books sometime. These werewolves sure aren’t cuddly, as is shown as two children have to run for their lives from their own neighborhood. Tension kept this one intense.

A few of the furry fiction was set in the modern day and through a loner werewolf view, like The Hunt by Thomas Emson. I wasn’t into the past sequences so much, but the story was enjoyable and the ending just had fun with itself.

A few felt incomplete with their endings. One example is Outside of Nowhere by Ray Garton. This dark story had an odd ending and tragic resolution. The author writes well, though, and the story stands out, but the ending felt so abrupt.

Matt Serafini’s Evernight Circle was a favorite and one of the best, buried in the middle. It’s definitely unique – a struggling husband accompanies his wife into a new town for a new chance at a new life. The corporation is too good to be true, of course, and its clear from the start something hokey is going on. The game becomes figuring out exactly what. I had various theories at different stages of the novel, and to my delight most of my guesses proved to be wrong. It keeps you on your toes - it’s different, dark, and I’d read more stories set in this world building and with this character.

Lifeline by Paul Kane is interesting, not sure if it ties in with something else; Beth is a likeable character and his writing style is smooth. It continues for awhile focused on spousal abuse and survival, with a small backstory. After awhile you start wondering how this will fit in with a werewolf theme, but I appreciate the realism of the story and not having a rushed lead despite it being a short story. It gets you to know the characters more and actually feel something. There’s a twist or two and the werewolf is gradually revealed.

Hunter’s Moon by David Wellington is a stand-out. It’s unique in that a huntress is stalking a vampire into a remote wilderness area. Her guide, the town, and the wilderness hold their own secrets. One of the better stories, the right length and an ending that actually feels finished. I don’t have a “top favorite”, but this would be in the top three.

Certain stories had a lot of history established in lore or legend – one is “The Original” by David Watkins. Written well, but a little confusing since I haven’t read his ‘Originals’ series, it tells the story of a survivor of Germanic Celts on his travels. He runs into a small village and … well, there are several twists here, revealed for the main character, about the main character, and concluding with a whopper of an ending.

Jonathan Janz has written some good works, so I was curious on how he’d handle a werewolf short tale. “The Kiss of Divna Antonov” was beautifully written and stood out as uniquely blending a long-time history with a present situation. The lead is a University professor interested in the origin of werewolves, and the book is a series of scenes with a meet, a few turns of events, and an open-ended conclusion. It’s chilling in a quiet way.

The offerings of these are varied – which is good. Seeing monstrous werewolves munching through small-towns would get old after awhile, so keep it various by also offering origin stories, historical settings, contemporary humor, women weres, entire packs, and you keep it more interesting. Not perfect anthology, but it’s highly recommended – not only for the stories, but again for the artwork. You also can’t beat the price.


No comments: