Tah the Trickster — May. 8th 2015
There are few books I’ve read that managed to keep me reading even after the characters I was rooting for got torn to bloody ribbons. Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor is one of them.
It’s difficult to explain why this book is so fantastic without giving away everything (it’s one of those books in which small details come back to bite you later) (no pun intended) but given how many feelings this novel gave me, I feel as though I should at least make an effort.
But forewarning: many of the feelings I got can all be given the umbrella term “outraged delight.”
I got this book on my phone’s Kindle application a few years ago. I can’t remember why or how I heard about it. As I’d never heard of Graeme Reynolds, I can only assume that it was either free or on sale while I was browsing werewolf books, or someone mentioned it in one of the Goodreads groups I’m in. In any case, it took less than a day after starting to get hooked onto it (according to my Goodreads “progress updates” on it, I jumped from 3% completion to 36% in that time).
The prologue starts out with a snarl of blood and hair as our first character, known only as John, struggles to grab raw meat from his refrigerator on his way down to a solid concrete basement, jolting and growling in pain as he goes. The full moon is here, and John’s overslept. Miraculously, amidst the chaos of alarm clocks going off and fireworks exploding just outside, he makes it down and gets the reinforced door slammed shut. As soon as the deadbolt locks, the scene cuts away briefly to the titular location High Moor; more specifically, to a man walking his dog late at night. At the sound of deep growling nearby, he freezes—and after some deliberating, sics the dog on what he can only assume is a gang of teenage pranksters. When the dog begins screaming in the darkness, he bolts. We visit John again, the morning after both events, and with barely-contained disgust, he plucks the basement key from a pile of bloody vomit and goes upstairs to turn on the news. The news is, of course, from High Moor: the sight of forensics men cleaning up the shredded remains of the dog, the attack attributed to “the legendary High Moor Beast.” John balks, quickly calling off all of his plans to start for his hometown.
As the prologue ends, the reader is kicked back in time 20 years, back to High Moor. This place and time is where much of the book takes place, building up a large cast of characters before bringing it violently back down with teeth. A thick wall of backstory is expertly crafted in this section, forcing you to brace yourself for the inevitable leap back forward in time to follow John back to High Moor to see just what the hell is going on in his hometown again—especially when he vividly recalls the death of the original High Moor Beast.
I say all this to say: the prologue sets the pace and tone for the rest of the book. Blood, guts, fur, murder, breakneck pacing, stomach-turning visceral descriptions, and the violent death and maiming of innocents. Nobody gets out unscathed, reader included.
The book speeds along throughout the narrative, stacking the deck so steeply against the characters that you begin wondering if it’s even worth it to root for their survival anymore. And yet you read on, because you need to know if ANY character in this novel survives. As for the werewolves? Probably one of my favorite depictions of werewolves in any media ever. Neither wholly the ravaging, slavering beasts of modern cinema nor the human-in-wolf breed prevalent in YA literature, but some unholy crossbreed between the two. Rational and ravening. If that doesn’t send a chill down your spine, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.
And, for those wondering about the looks, Reynolds takes a Werewolf’s Guide to Life approach to the design: some are more man-like, some are more wolf-like, with a full range in between. So no arguing about what style of werewolf is most appropriate when illustrating High Moor: they’re probably all correct.
In short, if you like blood, guts, ravenous slobbery werewolves, and small children being brutally eviscerated by said slobbery werewolves, buy a copy of High Moor. Buy two copies. Share the emotional trauma with your friends.
I give it 4.5/5 pentagrams. It’d be 5/5 except I docked half a pentagram out of sheer spite because I’m still recovering from parts of it two years after my first read.