Book vs. TV: Hemlock Grove

He had not actually known what to expect in coming here tonight, much less that it would reveal to him two essential truths of life: that men do become wolves and that if you have the privilege to be witness to such a transformation
it is the most natural and right thing you have ever seen.

Original cover of Hemlock GroveWhen I first read Brian McGreevy’s book, Hemlock Grove,  a couple years ago, I fell in love with it. It was one of those nice surprises that I sometimes find on the library shelves — completely unheard of up to that point, a complete unknown. Recently I re-read the book for a book club, and I have also watched the two seasons of the TV series on Netflix. This particular work is interesting to me in that the TV series (the first season, anyway) actually seems to be a very nice complement to the book. Reading the book again I often found myself thinking, oh, I guess that was in the series and not in the book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the book.

At it’s heart, the book is a murder mystery — a serial killer murder mystery. Someone is killing young girls in Hemlock Grove and tearing them up, limb from limb, much as a wild animal might. Teenagers Peter (a gypsy werewolf) and Roman (an upir, a kind of vampire) team up to find and stop the killer, as well as prove Peter’s innocence of the crimes. Other characters in the book are Roman’s sister, Shelley, who is a Frankenstenien creation; Roman’s mother, Olivia, a seemingly ancient and ageless upir; Roman’s cousin, Letha, who is experiencing a “virgin” pregnancy; Peter’s cousin, Desi, who is a cross between a seer and a voodooist; and a variety of other interesting characters that round out the quirkiness of the town. What makes the book special is not only the fun that McGreevy has had playing with various horror tropes, but also the relationship between Roman and Peter, whose dialogue is often just very clever, realistic, and cool at the same time.

McGreevy’s prose is hard to describe. A few paragraphs will go by and you will think that you have it — matter-of-fact descriptions befitting the teenage protagonists of the work.

“The only reason we started burying the dead in the first place was to keep predators from getting a taste for human flesh,” said Roman.
“Is there like a summer camp for serial killers?” said Peter.
Roman shut up. They dug.

But then, bam! He will throw out some gorgeous lines that stick in your head like poetry

“Today I have seen the Dragon …” said the man.
She held out her hand.
“Don’t –” said Roman.
But the man took her hand and held it, a flower known to be extinct.


The fact was he could provide no rational explanation for why he was here. Last night his crying wife had left the room and he had remained seated and his child had taken his hand across the table with the grace of the sunrise, and in that moment when there wasn’t another comprehensible thing left to him he had a feeling.

or he’ll throw in some heartbreaking realism from the point of view of an older character

Their first time had been on this floor many years ago. If it had seemed like he couldn’t have felt worse about it then it was because he had been too young a man to know yet that time is cyclical, that there is no upward limit to the number of times you can make the same mistake.

The book is crafted well, and it kept me guessing almost to the end. The reveal and capture of the killer is handled in an interesting fashion, and because of the character development throughout there is still room afterwards for a few more reveals.

Roman and Peter in Hemlock Grove

So, it is clear that I loved the book. And, I was actually pretty excited to see what Netflix would do with it. The series was well cast with Landon Liboiron as Peter, Bill Skarsgård as Roman, and Famke Janssen as Olivia. The first season follows the book to the end, and does a pretty good job of sticking with the story. I liked several things especially well:

  • the werewolf transformation — good special effects along with an interesting take on all of the intricacies of disposing of human skin, etc.

Peter's transformation into a werewolf

  • the changes made to Shelley’s character — these had the effect of making her more believable, sympathetic, and creepy all at the same time.
  • the changes made to the plot surrounding the Godfrey Institute and Ouroboros
  • the way that Roman and Peter’s friendship was handled — lots of comedy along with the scary, which I think is actually pretty hard to pull off

As mentioned before, I have found that the book and the first season work well when you have experienced both. The TV series works to flesh out some of the ideas in McGreevy’s book that were only hinted at, or which were given a more minimalist treatment. But, without McGreevy’s book, you miss out on much of the character development, back stories, and that beautiful prose. I recommend both iterations of the story for the best experience.

The second season of the series became available on Netflix in July. It picks up from where the first left off with some new characters and a continuation of one of the plot lines from the previous season. While I felt the first season was better, there were some good things about the second season, as well, and it definitely ends in an interesting enough manner to make me curious what they will do next.

Wolfsangel: Dark Viking Fantasy by M.D. Lachlan

Cover of bookA good werewolf story is hard for me to resist, and M.D. Lachlan’s Wolfsangel manages to combine two things that I enjoy: werewolves and Norse mythology. Twin boys, Vali and Felig, are the center of the tale, one of whom carries the dark legacy of changing into a wolf, while the other is destined to be his brother’s captor and killer. At the center of it all, is a young girl, Adelisa, who loves both of them in her own way. Authun, the king of the Nordic settlement, is searching for a child said to be stolen from the gods and who will bring glory to his people and restore their kingdom. He finds more than he is looking for with these two boys, and unknowingly stumbles into something much bigger – a cyclical story that has been playing out for centuries and which will continue to play out until some future bloody end.

I love the Norse influence in this book and Lachlan uses runes throughout his work. The Witch Queen in his story learns these runes, but while the first rune she gained was not too difficult and showed her to be “chosen”, in order to gain use of more runes she must go through horrific physical trials to prove herself worthy. Once this has been accomplished, she is able to visualize them and call upon their powers. There is, however, a special rune – wolfsangel – that becomes important in the story.

The brothers, Vali and Felig, both fall in love with Adelisa, which is complicated to begin with, but the situation becomes worse as Felig gradually becomes more and more wolf-like. When Adelisa is captured, Vali and Felig team up to rescue her. These characters and their increasingly complex relationship are well-written, and their story is both bloody and tragic. Added to the mix, is a mysterious trickster figure appearing off an on throughout the story who may or may not be the boys’ father.

This book is incredibly dark, and I absolutely love Lachlan’s writing. There are scenes – Cover of Fenrirmostly with the trickster character – that I find unbelievably magical. He does a great job of entwining story with myth, and he has a nice variety of characters and creatures: witches, a werewolf, and Viking berserkers. I enjoyed the book enough to also read the second in the series, Fenrirwhich is actually even darker and bloodier than the first. The most clever part of Lachlan’s writing, though, is in his shifting of the roles the characters play in the ongoing tale of Odin, Loki, and Fenrir and the constant attempt to bring about Ragnarok. In order to fully enjoy this part of Lachlan’s writing, you need to read at least the second book, as well.

Cover of Lord of SlaughterFinding the third book, Lord of Slaughter, was a bit more difficult, but it looks like it is available now and I have it on my list. I think this was probably due to some of the poor reviews that the first two books received. Quite honestly, I would say that the poor reviews are undeserved. The main problem with these books is that they are not easy reads. Lachlan writes in an interesting prose and he doesn’t babysit the reader. If you are not familiar with Norse mythology, you may not get as much out of what is going on, and he doesn’t stop to fill you in. Actually, to me, that was part of the fun of reading these books – figuring out on my own what he was doing, making those connections on my own to the myths, and then seeing how he had the story play out. So, if you are up for a slightly more challenging read, these books are worth the time!