Jordan Abbey is very much the lead of this story, despite sharing the point of view with several people and technically falling under the command of more. She is neither arrogant nor aggressive, and yet, Jordan maintains a surprising amount of agency. She’s bitten by a werewolf, saved by a vampire, and inducted into a world she didn’t know existed, but is rarely cowed. Jordan is a forthright (what some call “smart mouthed”) woman with well-developed protectiveness over her chosen people, whether roommates or vampires. This clashes with two cultures built on centuries-old traditions, creating both tense and funny moments.
Jordan is also young and questing. She doesn’t lose that part of her, even as everything she’s known changes. This newly made werewolf doesn’t become all powerful either, though there are hints of more on that to come in later books if I’m reading it right.
The novel takes advantage of Jordan’s innocence to introduce us to the details of this paranormal world, but not in a heavy-handed way. I enjoyed her discoveries such as when she learns the werewolf lore through stories considered myth or fact depending on the speaker. Her ignorance might offer opportunities to share the cultures, but her questions break up sections with humor before they can become too dense.
Nor is she innocent in all things. Jordan may not be able to take her wolf form from the start, but she has had self-defense training (using keys through her knuckles). She even figures out how to lose a tail on her own before accepting Montgomery’s offer of protection. He has knowledge and abilities she does not, but don’t think her helpless or sheltered.
Montgomery and Thorn, the vampires helping Jordan, are cast as leads but act more like sidekicks much of the time. Thorn’s story remains a mystery, and backstory drives Mac more than anything else. Well, that and his subconscious. He refuses to see the parallels everyone else can. His instincts might be driving him towards something he believed lost forever, but he’s not ready to accept that. The threads involving these two largely resolve by the end, but there’s room for exploration if more books in this world follow.
I enjoyed the portrayal of the chaos wolf Rhys as well. What starts as a horror movie tradition turns out to be much more complex. Rhys is clearly the villain from how he attacks Jordan and others. However, as we learn about the werewolves, his circumstances became more nuanced. The way the chaos wolf fits in their structure, and how he thinks versus how they expect him to when he takes over the narrative, is lovely. It doesn’t make his actions any more acceptable but offers a further example of the world-building surrounding this story.
The writing has rough spots that snagged my attention, but the story kept pulling me back in. Beautiful details, like how the vampire servitors (not a new concept) interact within the vampire and human realms, made up for any stumbles. The mix of cultures (with both traditional and new-to-me lore), multi-layered characters, and a developing relationship between Jordan, Montgomery, and Thorn made me happy to stick around. I was sad to see them go. This world feels cohesive and strong enough to support many more stories, both within this group and greater than it.
Chaos Wolf has elements of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and some horror, though light on the last. These three genres come together into a compelling story with characters you learn to care about. At the same time, the novel doesn’t quite match any of the specific genres’ expectations. There is a detailed intimate scene with all three main characters that is supported by the romance build-up and important to the story. The villain is a window into werewolf psychology rather than there solely to create tension between the main characters. The cultural and political elements are more what I’d expect from an urban fantasy and introduce world-building elements I haven’t seen before.
I guess what I’m saying is walk into this story with an open mind (and I’m not talking about the LGBTQ characters). The story has a lot of meat in it to entertain and fascinate if you only let go of expectations and enjoy the ride.
P.S. I encountered this author at BayCon, the science fiction convention I have been to as a member and panelist many times.