Critique of Aconitum by M Howalt

I started reading Aconitum last year.  It was, in fact, one of the first stories I read on Jukepop.  Unfortunately I stalled at the last nine chapters because I have ‘issues’ with stories ending.  I’m glad that at long last, I finally finished reading it.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the magnificent Aconitum by M. Howalt.

Serial Status: Completed.

Grammar/Spelling Rating: 2

AconitumJukepop Synopsis:

As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.
But he needs to hurry up – especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.

Aconitum is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.
A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What Was Done Well:

M. is known by many on Jukepop as ‘The Master of the Flashback’ and for good reason.  Aconitum utilises flash backs not necessarily to move the plot along (although sometimes it does) but instead to give depth to characters and aid in world building.  Although we learn about the protagonist, Hector bit by bit in the present, it is through flash backs that we really get to his core and see what motivates and shapes him.  M. also utilises flashbacks to teach you about the world of Aconitum and explore some of the moral dilemmas that stem from this sort of alternative universe.

Leading on from this, M. has clearly put a great deal of thought into the implications of an alternate reality where werewolves not only exist but everyone knows about them.  For instance, it’s not uncommon for somebody to cover up a murder by making it look like a werewolf attack.  Hunters are trained to tell the difference.  This is very realistic – I guarantee this would happen if werewolves were a ‘normal’ thing in our world.  There’s nothing I like more than an author who puts a lot of thought and careful research into their concept.

I could go on about all the things I love about this story (there’s enough to write a book!), but there is one aspect that is without a doubt a shining example of great writing.  First, let’s take a look at the story as it plays out.  It revolves around Hector journeying to find an unusual werewolf.  When he finds said werewolf, he is tasked with bringing him back to Frankfurt.  Throughout the whole ordeal there isn’t any kind of antagonist.  Nobody is plotting against Hector and Royer.  However, if you look closely, you will see there is an antagonist … just not in the traditional sense.  In this story, loss and the fear of loss is the ‘villain’.  It holds Hector back, throwing spanners in the works throughout his life much like a physical antagonist would.  The majority of flashbacks look at Hector establishing relationships with people only to lose them: Hector became a Hunter because he lost his family to a werewolf.  He had a girl he intended to marry but after witnessing a fellow Hunter lose somebody they loved, he decided he couldn’t put the two of them through that and he ends their relationship.  Eventually he loses his hunting partner and then his mentor.  He does not replace any of these relationships either.  He does not seek a new hunting partner or romantic partner nor does he intend to start a family of his own any time soon.  Instead, he deals with each loss by shunning intimate, meaningful relationships with anyone – not an uncommon coping method.  Each loss shapes him into the stoic, solitary man he is when we first meet him.  True he has Sera, but this is different – he has purposely chosen a relationship that he knows can go no further than a sort of ‘friends with benefits’ scenario.  It fulfils his physical needs and his need for human contact and that’s it.  When he meets Royer, he starts to lighten up a little.  Royer can literally get into his mind (in a good way) to understand how he is feeling.  Therefore, Royer is actually the hero of this story, while loss and the fear of loss is the antagonist Royer helps Hector battle and defeat.  I don’t know if this was done intentionally or not, but whatever the case, it was a magical touch that brings the story way ahead of any other.

What Could Have Been Better:

There was only one thing that didn’t gel as well as the rest of the story and that was the ‘finale’.  It is hinted that there is going to be a big uproar when Royer is brought to Frankfurt.  Hector was concerned about it several times in fact.  With that in mind, I expected a little more than a five minute show down with Andreas.  It felt anti-climactic.  Perhaps the scene could’ve been extended, given more tension and drama.  That said, I do understand that the beauty of this story lies in the power borne from its simplicity.  Perhaps the low key ending was intentional.  It’s hard to give a suitable suggestion as I realise Hector facing Andreas alone and hiding his wounds is the real final battle for him.  All the same I feel the scene should pack little more punch (pun not intended).

Overview:

These days, following the popularity of titles like ‘Twilight’, an abundance of ‘supernatural romance’ stories have popped up everywhere, saturating the ‘supernatural’ genre.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s starting to feel like once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.  Aconitum, however, is a glorious breath of fresh air that utilises the supernatural as more than just a ‘forbidden romance’.

M. has a gift when it comes to deep and meaningful story telling.  The thing that stuck out for me, particularly towards the end, is that it almost reads like a pre-emptive prequel – how the dynamic hunting duo of Hector and Royer met.  It’s exciting because I’d love to hear more stories of Hector and Royer.  *hint, hint* :p

I’d recommend Aconitum to anyone, even if they’re not into werewolves or supernatural fiction.  It’s a compelling story, full of rich, well developed characters.

M. Howalt has a facebook page and a blog if anyone wants to check them out!  Also, if you haven’t already, check out M. Howalt’s other story on Jukepop: Conviction.

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