The latest novel for young adults by Edmonton author Nicole Luiken, Feral, features a modern pack of werewolves in Pine Hollow. The Pack is being challenged not only by its proximity to humans, but also by other foreign creatures that are infiltrating the community.
The novel follows Chloe, a headstrong ‘Dud,’ or werewolf who has been unable to change into her wolf form, and Marcus, a young Pack member who has gone through unspeakable tragedies.
Feral is an expanded version of a short story Luiken wrote for Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, a YA anthology in the long-running speculative fiction series. Expanding on Marcus and Chloe’s story seemed like a natural decision as she had had to cut many scenes to keep it to the length of a short story.
Feral begins with Chloe having a hard time at school and being relegated to the bottom of the pack hierarchy due to her ‘Dud’ status. The Pack lives on the Preserve and co-exists with the human members of the town – great care is taken to keep the townspeople unaware of the differences between the town and the residents of the Preserve. Chloe is constantly challenging the orders of the Alpha, or leader of the Pack, and her dad fully believes that one day she will make a great Alpha.
While creating Chloe, Luiken realized that she was a natural leader, and incorporated that into her character. She says, “I think we need more books with girls who are leaders, not followers.”
While Chloe is trying to force herself to change, she comes across a wolf that she assumes is feral, a wild werewolf that does not belong to a pack. Chloe soon realizes that he is Marcus Jennings, a Pack member who was assumed dead after he and the rest of his family were in a horrific plane crash the year before.
Luiken’s interest in developing the character of Marcus came at least in part from her fondness for Beauty and the Beast retellings. She says, “I’ve always wondered if the Beast struggled to return to the human world. Would he ever really become truly tame again or would he always be a bit wild? Those are the kinds of questions that drew me to Marcus.”
Most of Luiken’s 17 novels were written for and about teens, allowing her to explore “the intensity of the emotions, the see-saw between being a carefree child and embracing/resenting the responsibilities of adulthood, the newness of falling in love for the first time,” she says.
And Luiken finds she can address issues that young people face today through fantasy fiction – it seems the average teenager is not that different from werewolves and other fantastical creatures.
“What Chloe experiences, being snubbed and bullied by people she thought were her friends, is something I think many teens can sympathize with,” Luiken says. “The reasons behind it – her inability to change – are different, but the experience is essentially the same.
“Having werewolf characters, or using any fantasy element really, just intensifies the plot and heightens the consequences of failure to make a gripping story.”