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Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

An ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A., and its numbers are growing as the pack converts the city’s downtrodden into their fold. Stuck in the middle are a local dog-catcher and the woman he loves, whose secret past haunts her as she fights a bloody one woman battle to save their relationship.

If you had told me earlier this year that I would read an entire novel that was written in free verse I would have laughed in your face. If you told me I was going to enjoy it, there is a good chance I would have fallen from my chair. I should try to explain. I don’t have much of a relationship with poetry; in fact, I don’t read any at all. In the past I have tried, I’ve been sent poetry collections to review and epically failed to form any sort of attachment with the text. With this thought in mind, you can imagine my surprise when I started reading Sharp Teeth and I not only liked it, but was utterly engrossed.

Toby Barlow really seems to have captured the primal nature of the pack with his writing. It also seems such a logical fit to compare the gangs of Los Angeles and their culture with the pack mentality of wolves; both groups seem to behave in such a similar manner. The different werewolf packs prey upon lonely individuals who live on the periphery of the city’s society.

There are two characters that made Sharp Teeth for me. Firstly there is Anthony, the dog catcher. His story is the emotional heart of the novel. He is utterly destroyed by the events that take place in his narrative and his journey was totally compelling. Anthony is just a simple man who thinks he has found the missing piece of his life only for it to be ripped away from him. I was unprepared for how affecting the highs and lows he lives through would be.

The other character that stood out was Lark, the leader of the first pack the reader meets. He is an alpha male in every respect, the very antithesis of Anthony. Lark continually attempts to think three steps ahead of all his enemies. He has plans within plans and it was always interesting to follow him as he spends vast chunks of the novel trying to keep these various plates spinning. He goes undercover at one point and it was great to see how Barlow easily adapted Lark’s character and how Lark functioned differently in wolf form. Lark celebrates being a werewolf; he revels in his dual life. To him being a werewolf is almost a religious experience. He is entirely at peace with his place in the universe. It was nice to see a character that bucked the trend of the traumatized, haunted loner.

Sharp Teeth proved to be a bit of a bit of a revelation. The text had an almost hypnotic quality and a naturally flowing cadence that made it difficult to pull myself away. There is a wealth of vivid imagery and language that will stay with me for quite some time.

That’s what love does.

It chases the dragons away

before their claws can sink in.

This is a modern, insightful story that breathes new life into the werewolf mythos and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Based on this experience, I’ll certainly be less dismissive of poetry in future. Seek this novel out and read it, you can thank me later. For me, this is the unexpected highlight of Werewolf Appreciation Month so far.

Sharp Teeth

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