Leaders of the Pack is a Werewolf Anthology released in January 2020 and brought to us by the good folk over at Horrific Tales Publishing.
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.
Read on for a full review of each story within this remarkable body of work from some of the finest writers, horror has to offer.
The Dead Brother Situation by Glenn Rolfe
The Dead Brother Situation is a short story from the Gilson Creek stories written by Glenn Rolfe. We join Alan who is making a dash for his truck, being chased down by his wife, Brenda. Alan ignores her, jumps in his truck and drives off in a blizzard. It turns out Alan has a secret. A secret that he keeps from his expectant wife. Alan is a werewolf and occasionally goes away for the weekend, with his “friends” on a hunting trip. That’s at least partially true. He certainly likes to go hunting.
Alan has a nice little set up too. A desolate cabin once belonging to a poor stranger that happened across his path a year or two ago and now makes for a nice secluded nook for him to hunker down in ready to unleash the beast within. These days humans aren’t so much on the menu. Especially in a secluded area like Alan chills in. That is, until one such trip brings unexpected visitors to the cabin. It turns out our missing stranger had some family and they have come looking for him. Alan has a choice to make. Become the hunted or readjust his taste for the finer meals in life.
What I particularly enjoyed about The Dead Brother Situation was how matter of fact Alan appears to be about his situation. I know nothing about the wider Gilson Creek universe, something I will need to rectify, but it seems like Alan not only accepts his werewolf side but sees it as a blessing. Perhaps more wolf than human he appears to frown on trivial things like his wife and their love and the notion of killing a human is neither frightening or exciting. It’s almost nonchalant. So many werewolf stories are about reluctance, often seeing it as a curse as they wrestle with keeping their humanity. Alan seems completely at ease. Perhaps he has already passed the reluctant stage in another book? That adds a complex and intense twist to the extremely short story and certainly makes you want to delve a lot deeper.
Hunters Moon by David Wellington
Set in Canada’s Northern Territories, Hunters Moon deals in the fantastical bringing vampires, animal spirits and vampire hunters into the mix. Obviously alongside our expected werewolves though in Hunters Moon they aren’t the main characters or main story arc. That task falls to Laura Caxton and her prey, Bava. Laura is a vampire hunter in a universe that appear to be aware of vampires at least though one that also believes them to be near extinction. Bava may well be the last of his kind, or at least one of the last and Laura is hot on his heels.
Bava escapes to a remote wilderness local townsfolk believe to be inhabited by werewolves, Laura is forced to enlist a pilot to take her there. As Laura closes in on the vampire she becomes the target herself for a pack of werewolves that have agreed to protect Bava from the maniacal humans in pursuit. On their turf, tiring and seemingly alone Laura looks to be in for a while world of hurt until an unexpected creature emerges. Her pilot has his own secrets and may just be the ally she needs in the face of encroaching doom.
Hunters Moon is a deliciously fun tale. It’s much longer than The Dead Brother Situation so you get more time to form an opinion on the characters. It also feels complete enough that you feel satisfied you have had a proper story. I really like the idea of this bigger world with all sorts of fantastical creatures appearing. It reminds me a bit of Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten series. Hunters Moon does it’s job well offering you a thirst quenching tale full of perilous fun that also leaves you keen for more.
The Original by David Watkins
Anyone familiar with The Original stories will know that they really kick off when Jack falls down a hole, gets pierced by an old bone and transforms into essentially the overall Alpha of all werewolves. What The Original does is push us back a couple thousand years, to the time of Roman conquest and gives us the story of how those powerful bones ended up at the bottom of a cave. We follow a Roman commander called Marcus Remus Pelasgus. After a defeat for a Roman legion, Marcus is the sole survivor who has become obsessed with tales and rumours of a legendary beast. Half wolf, half man, the mythical creature is all Marcus cares for now as he roams the land hunting them down.
His hope, apparently, is to capture one alive and return to Rome with it. Perhaps to wash away the shame of a defeat in battle or maybe to fight in the arena for him. Either way, Marcus is unsure of the creatures are even real until he makes camp with a group of Celts and they are attacked by a pack. Marcus, a seasoned warrior, defeats the werewolves leaving the Celts in apparent awe. They agree, for a price, to take Marcus to the wolves lair though suspicion starts rising within both camps. Marcus’ story seems a little unbelievable and the Celts are also acting strangely. As they head into the cave that apparently homes the wolves, both groups’ position becomes clear and only one group are leaving this cave tonight.
Well I must admit to being really excited to read this. This is a series I am very familiar with having read, enjoyed and reviewed both The Original’s Return and The Original’s Retribution. Outside of The Original, I’m generally just a big fan of David Watkins work and thoroughly enjoyed The Devils Inn as well. Essentially acting as a direct prequel, albeit thousands of years apart, to The Original’s Return, this story really adds to the overall series. It’s complete enough as a short story that it can be enjoyed by those who haven’t read the remaining books but really, if this doesn’t make you want to run out and read more, you may be broken.
The Kiss of Divna Antonov by Jonathan Janz
The Kiss of Divna Antonov is an interesting story though I found it harder to get in to at first. The tale focuses on a professor named Clark Lombardo. Clark is having a hard time. The loss of his job and ensuing mockery has left him contemplating suicide. He has no wife, no family and now now work to obsess over. His beloved role in Columbia University’s Anthropology department fine as soon as he presented his life’s work. His study on the werewolf. Clark refuses to retract his work, the academic community shunned it and Clark joined the unemployed and probably unemployable.
As Clark curses his efforts, he reminisces on his studies where we learn of his findings regarding the Antonov sisters. Three damaged young girls who appear to have been at least part of the origin story of the werewolf. He thinks about their eldest sister, Divna all while he curses himself for allowing himself to continue down this obviously foolish path. He curses his ex colleagues and all round twats, Bob and Dominic who are the embodiment of chauvinism, arrogance and ignorance. Clark prepares to end it all when there is a knock at the door. A stunning young lady appears there. Ridiculously she claims to be Divna Antonov with one request, listen to her story, make his mind up and then he will have a simple choice to make.
The Kiss of Divna Antonov is interesting and stands out for being a different take on the genre. It focuses much more on the human element for a start treating the werewolves as almost mythical. Even when they are in the story. They feel like they are at the back, in the shadows. The bit I struggled with the most though was how little I disliked almost every character. I feel Jonathon Janz May have done this purposely. Maybe to give the impression of “not our kind” but it didn’t help me get into the story. Divna holds an expected arrogance but one that confused me as she sought out Clark but is so standoffish.
Clark, who I eventually grew to appreciate, came across weak and victim like. He definitely got Bob and Dom right though. They were made to be despised and despise them, I did. There is still plenty to enjoy though and I particularly appreciated how different the characters became after transformation. Instead of appearing like humans in wolf clothing, they almost lost every shred of “humanity” as the monster took over. That, along with the supremely graphic change description gets a big thumbs up from me.
The Great Storm by T. W. Piperbrook
The Great Storm is a really short story that follows the journey of two children, Katherine and her 6 year old brother, Silas. That journey being them running for their lives through a storm as their neighbourhood gets ravaged by werewolves. Where they came from is not explained here but what they are doing is. Graphically. No one is safe and nowhere offers safety as the two children run for their lives with the blood thirsty creature right on their tails. As they run for the woods following paths well trodden during happier playful times, the creature closes in spelling what must surely be the end of the two sweet little kids. With all the tenacity of a determined child, Katherine isn’t quite ready to give up yet.
The Great Storm is a prequel telling a bit of back story on some characters that appear in books 3,4 and 5 of T. W. Piperbrook’s Outage series. It is short, really short but I guess it goes to show that size does t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts and this story manages to pack a huge impact in a few pages. Serious and terrifying threat to children is a sure fire way to grab attention and you feel every fibre of tension in this well written, involving prequel. Somehow Katherine and Silas’ plight becomes your own in a very small passage of time and it instantly makes me want to get stuck in to the Outage series. Great job!
The Hunt by Thomas Emson
The Hunt is really two separate stories. One of a girl called Laura and another, the telling of a story she is reading about werewolves. Her ancestors. Laura works in a petrol station and picks up incoming trouble when a guy comes in to case the joint. Laura isn’t bothered. She knows what’s coming. She can smell it. In fact she seems pretty happy that this guy and his crew are coming back that night to rob the place.
Simultaneously she is reading up on a historical story that appears to hint at her ancestral lineage as she tries to piece together who or what she actually is. The historical story launches us into the preparation of an attack by a Roman Legion on an island inhabited by druids and wolf like monsters. Surely a clue as to where Laura’s bloodline could have started. She intends to find out but first, she has some uninvited guests coming later and she plans to have some fun.
The Hunt is a strange story. It’s good but a bit awkward to follow due to it being split into two thinly related stories. On one hand we have modern day Laura, a werewolf and her defence of the petrol station she works at from two would be burglars. On the other, we are back in 60 AD as a Roman legion attack a remote island believed to be inhabited by savages and werewolves. The only connection really is that both parties contain werewolves. The Roman stuff actually comes up as Laura is reading up on werewolf history to better understand her being. We are reading what she is reading. I genuinely do like both stories.
Laura is interesting though also quite terrifying. She seems overjoyed that burglars are coming. Happy that she has some play things to obliterate with no remorse at all. The Roman bits are actually really exciting and hint at deeper tales like the Roman’s assimilating werewolves who craved order into their society and the hint that one of their leaders may still be able to change at will. There’s a good story in there. Overall though, I like the two elements but didn’t enjoy the jumping back and forth for no real reason. Great content but an odd read due to the jumping story.
Outside of Nowhere by Ray Garton
Outside of Nowhere starts with the meeting of two seemingly similar minds in an orchard. Two strangers, sharing a joint, who happen to be passing through the area with their own groups. They strike up a conversation and the misery flows. Emily really opens up to Leo, releasing years of secrecy to a stranger as she knows she won’t ever have to see him again. Leo keeps quiet mostly but his story comes out by the end as well. Emily was sold by her parents as a child. She was held captive, raped and beaten for years until suitably broken. Once institutionalised, she was then put to work. First as a hooker, then a drug runner and now she looks after groups of children who are also being trafficked.
She essentially became her enemy and cannot leave as she sees herself as a. Under between the really bad guys and the kids. She pours her heart out to Leo, they say goodbye and she returns to her gang of scumbags and the 30 kids currently held in the back of their van. Leo returns to his pack too. They have been looking for food. Now if he can just persuade them to leave Emily and the kids alone, they can take out the bad guys, free Emily and the kids and get fed. What could possibly go wrong?
Outside of Nowhere is a grim and gruesome tail that will leave you feeling reflective and possibly a little depressed. Emily’s story is harrowing, even more so because it is a real thing that happens to thousands of children around the world. As a parent, the idea of your daughter being sold and trafficked, well…..What makes this worse is that Emily is deluded. She now sees herself as some sort of caring mother figure to the kids despite being a major part of their entrapment. She has become all that she despises and that is probably the saddest thing of all.
We get very little story on the werewolves. They are there, Leo is one of them and incorrectly believes he can control the pack when changed to target specific people only. In that he learns a powerful lesson as well as his place in the pecking order. This powerful short story is complete and leaves you feeling a bit introspective despite it being more Emily’s story than a direct werewolf tale.
Blood Relations (A High Moor Story) by Graeme Reynolds
Set in between parts 2 and 3 of the High Moor series, Blood Relations is a harrowing tale chronicling the early teen years of werewolf, Marie Williams. Starting with her abusive father’s attempted advances, her mothers ignorance of what is happening and hints of the deaths of both her brothers. 13 year old Marie tells a shocking and terribly sad tale. Having been infected by one of her brothers, before his death, Marie does have a defence now. She is werewolf. In a fit of well deserved rage, she does what she has to do. She protects herself.
We zoom forward a few years in time to where Marie is now 15 and living on the streets of Prague. She steals and squats to get by, having headed to the Czech Republic in the hopes of finding anyone else like her. The lonely, but capable, girl has adapted well but having been in Prague for a while, is saddened that there has been no contact with other werewolves. Not a rumour, nothing, until one day she heard a group of kids talking about a story of a big hairy beast roaming a wooded area far outside the city. Is this the contact Marie needs? Finally some answers? She heads there and finds more than she bargained for. It seems there are more than one type of werewolf. This one may not be the conversational type.
Well this is an interesting story and one that instantly gives me the desire to read the High Moor series. In that it achieves its goal. I found the first portion of the book to be absolutely phenomenal. The emotion, the rage and fear injected into every word on the page is all encompassing. It envelopes you and despite the horrific content, it holds your gaze firmly on the page. It is for that reason alone that I found all that followed to be a bit weaker. Not weak, just weaker.
Marie’s Prague adventure is much lighter than the books start and I would have enjoyed reading how she got from A to B, without a simple “2 years later”. After what happened those 2 years may well have been the most important part of the story. How did she cope, how did she survive? So many unanswered questions. All in all though, it is truly a great story. You can probably tell by my interest and frustration that the tale had a big impact on me and that is the truest mark of quality imaginable.
Hybrid: Bloodlines by Nick Stead
Hybrid: Bloodlines tells the story of two last surviving werewolf pack members and their quest to find a young boy rumoured to also have the curse in his veins. Their aim is to turn him, get him to join their pack and hopefully extend their depleting numbers into a further generation. Led by Cromus, the werewolves head into danger desperate to save their pack.
The main danger comes from a fierce collection of hunters known as Slayers. A global force, they will stop at nothing in their own quest. Eradicate werewolves entirely. And they are bloody good at it, thus our lonely two wolf pack. For Cromus though, the choice is simple. Hide, and see the pack disappear naturally anyway or take a risk and have a small chance of getting a third, strong member. There is no choice really. Let’s just hope the boy is all he is rumoured to be.
I found this story to be a little harder to get into straight away though it grew on me. I like that the world seems to be populated with all sorts of fantastical races. Vampires make a very brief appearance and talk of witches, seers and more all gave me cause for excitement. Unfortunately, being a short story, they stayed mostly as background talk. The slayers though, now there is a story I want to hear more of. A collective of successful werewolf hunting assassins? Their story must be amazing. Our main character, Cromus, hints at a fuller story with his father and pack too. In that way, Hybrid: Bloodlines really fills you with the desire to expand further into this world while not quite satisfying fully itself.
Evernight Circle by Matt Serafini
Evernight Circle tells the tale of a struggling couple, Chris and Charlotte, and their big move in an attempt to rekindle their love. Aside from a bit of lust, they seem to have lost the friendship element of their relationship. When Charlotte gets a big offer to move, for her work, to a new closed community called Evernight Circle, they take the chance and set off for a new life. Evernight Circle is the creation of a large corporation known as centrAL.
centrAL control everything. All houses, bills, security, even the Evernight Circle police force are all centrAL run and by centrAL employees. Chris is uneasy from the start. The sparsely populated houses, the one boarded up, the growls and howling at night time all mixed with the uneasy feeling of being under constant observation leave him feeling jittery. As Charlotte starts her job, Chris is left to himself where his exploration of the small community leads him to meet a neighbour called Ashlee.
Ashlee shows Chris around the area where he learns that Evernight Circle is not so popular with locals. Something he picks up quickly from the mass armed protest at the gates of the community. Things take a real turn though, when Charlotte returns from work, talking about a pill she took and gets really ill from it. At this point the story escalates at pace. Charlotte gets worse before her illness starts to resemble more of a transformation than sickness.
centrAL, it seems, may well be running experiments on the people within the community. Experiments to turn people into werewolves. With Chris now trapped behind the gates of a community that would like to feast on him, his wife transforming into that same danger and armed protestors hell bent on getting in and killing everyone, Chris appears stuck between a rock and a hard place with only Ashlee to turn to. But in this world where nothing is what it seems, can she be trusted?
What a brilliant story this is! It has a brilliant setting for a start and characters that are instantly interesting. Not all very likeable, but definitely interesting. The intrigue and mystery of the location instantly shrouds you and makes you want to delve further in. I really like the idea of this short story. A werewolf story but based around a corporation playing around in areas they shouldn’t. Kind of like Umbrella Corporation in a way but with werewolves instead of zombies. The experimental wolves created so far being at mixed stages of change through failed experiments is another banging addition. Evernight Circle is unique and exciting. A great short story in it’s own right.
Lifeline by Paul Kane
Lifeline tells the story of Beth. A woman working in a refuge centre, taking calls from victims of domestic abuse and using her quite astonishing intuition and senses to offer them the advice and support they need. Beth is a natural at it. Not only does she have those previously mentioned keen senses, she also has a ton of first hand experience at the end of the fist of her now ex. Beth, at first seeming quite weak, took the punishment and never left her husband. Not until the threats towards her started being levied upon her young son, Robbie. Her love for her son gives her the strength to run. She starts a new life, gets the new names Beth and Robbie, and tries to start a new life helping people in similar situations to what she was once in.
All is going well until a lady called Diana calls the centre one day. She asks for Beth before warning her that she is in danger. Men are coming for her and her son. Diana warns her that time is short and also hints that their may be more to Beth than we, and she, has realised. All the years of defeated confidence has buried a strength deep, deep down within her. One that she is going to need to rediscover now if she wants to save herself, and her son. She needs to find and then unleash the beast.
Lifeline is another dark tale in this excellent anthology. Paul Kane is obviously a masterful author so you would expect nothing more than quality and quality is what you get with just one sticking point. Ill come to that in a second. Beth’s story is dark and interesting and very much rooted in the real world. A young girl, groomed by her teacher, impregnated and then unhappily stuck with the monster who resents her and the child that he sees as the ruination of his life. It’s not his fault. How could it be? Hearing of Beth’s abuse, and then the follow on of that towards the child, is about as horrific as you can get. It is told well and instantly gets you on Beth’s side.
Seeing the threat come at them again is tense but watching Beth find her inner strength. Seeing her take control and refuse the abuse is inspiring as well. There is plenty to encourage you towards more of the story. I would love to know where Beth and Robbie go next.
My only gripe really is how she didn’t know what she was. At the end, it is the trauma of being threatened but more the trauma of watching her son’s life be threatened that opens the hatch to what lies within. Why didn’t that happen with her ex lover? She spent a lot of time threatened and watched her son’s life be threatened regularly but never is it hinted that the wolf came close to the surface. Perhaps she was just that broken? Anyway, either way, the book obviously left enough of a mark that I am still sitting here long after wondering about the characters. That lasting impression is a true mark of quality reading material.
Ivan’s Night Out (A Wolf Hunt Prequel) by Jeff Strand
Unsurprisingly Ivan’s Night Out tells the story of Ivan and his night out. Not a night out like you or I might have. Ivan is going out out. You see Ivan is, for lack of a better term, fucking nuts. Ivan is a killer, a sadist, a psychopath with no code or morals to keep him in check. He kills for pleasure. Men, women and children bleeding out in terror are a few of his favourite things.
To top it all off, Ivan is also a werewolf making him essentially unstoppable. The ultimate killing machine but one who kills for fun, not necessity. So Ivan is going out. He sits in his car waiting for his chance to enter a house. He knows there is a young family within. Parents, a son and a daughter and they are his prey. Knowing he could decimate the weaklings in seconds in wolf form, Ivan wants to make it more fun. To satisfy some sicker urges. He plans to kill them all as a human. What could possibly go wrong?
I love this story. I feel a little guilty that I love it but I do. Ivan is a dangerous mind. The worse form of human but with super strength and senses from the werewolf blood. A person who kills for pleasure. Jeff Strand details each death in morbid detail. You will feel slightly sick as you read n fierce detail while Ivan slowly tortures and kills children within the family, drinking in their fear. I haven’t read A Wolf Hunt yet and like many of the stories in this excellent anthology, this prequel hits the mark. It manages ot be an excellent, and slightly disgusting, short story in it’s own right while really making me want to head straight into the story it acts as prequel to.
Head on over to Amazon, here, or Barnes and Noble, here, to pick yourself up a copy of this excellent anthology. If werewolves are your thing, this was made for you. If good stories with plenty of blood and death are your thing, well, this is also the collection for you.
Find out more about the authors at the links below.
Leaders of the Pack ( A Werewolf Anthology)
The Final Score - 9/10