Indie Book Feature: Valley of Monsters by, Keith Robinson
Author Keith Robinson brought his book to my attention because it is similar to Werewolf Max, a middle-grade werewolf book for kids.
I haven't had as much free time to read lately as I would like, but I am glad I picked this one up. The prose is easy to read, the characters are entertaining, and the world they live in is fascinating.
I love the cover for this book. The close-up image of a deranged werewolf in front of the full moon instantly captured my attention. The wolf looks kind of crazy and scared, but not murderous. So I was curious if there was going to be a twist in the story about the werewolf coming in to save the day in the end.
This book is the seventh in a large series. So I was understandably lost at first. Mr. Robinson did provide an exposition dump at the beginning of the book, intended to get readers up to speed. But, let's be honest, nobody ever reads those.
So I dove right in at chapter one and plowed forward, trying to get my bearings.
I soon figured out that the characters are all shape-shifters, transforming into fantastic magical creatures at will. The main character, Hal, had been bitten by a werewolf some time in a previous book. So he and his friends go on a quest to find a cure.
They find out that some shapeshifter twins might hold the answer to the cure for the werewolf bite. but these twins disappeared decades ago and nobody was ever able to find them.
When they do discover the twins, they are living in a cave guarded by a sea serpent. The woman has the magical ability to answer any question, but every answer she gives costs her a portion of her health. And she has already deteriorated nearly to the point of death.
For the first half of the book, I was kind of confused and bored. Probably because the characters were meeting people and visiting places that were familiar to them, but I barely had time to understand what was going on before they ran off to a new place and met even more new people. Some things were brought up and given attention that had nothing to do with the plot, but might have been interesting to readers who were familiar with the earlier books.
Several times important questions came up, characters literally asked questions of one another, and the answer simply wasn't given. I suppose this was to heighten suspense and add interest, but really it was just frustrating. In the end, for example, the woman who had the answer for the werewolf cure said she wouldn't explain it. She claimed that they wouldn't understand it if she did. But in truth, the answer was quite simple, so it didn't seem to justify her ambiguity.
The thing that bothered me the most about this book was the disconnect between the solution at the end and all the conflict leading up to it. Early on in the book, Hal is told that he must embrace being a werewolf, only then will he transform without pain and maintain control. But Hal fights the transformation every night. He tries morphing into his dragon form (he's a shapeshifter, remember?) and locking himself up. But none of that works. Not once does he take the advice to embrace the wolf transformation.
I was waiting for that connection to be made, but it never came. In the end, all he needed was a blood transfusion treated with wolfsbane to get rid of the werewolf curse, and I think that was rather a lost opportunity for the story. It would have been better to have him embrace it to save the day somehow. Then, if the werewolf needed to go away for the plot of the next book in the series, maybe his dragon shapeshifter nature could have interfered with it somehow.
At about the halfway point I had figured out enough of what was going on to not be so confused anymore. And I really started to enjoy the book by the time they met the hydra in the river. I'm sure if I'd started with book one, I would have been one hundred percent involved with the story from the beginning. If the exposition was woven into the storyline, if the characters were introduced more gradually, then I think anyone could pick up this book and enjoy it.