*SOME MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
In general, sequels do not get much loving, be they movies, TV shows or books.
It makes sense – the novelty has gone and been there, done that and gone the whole T-shirt factory, the very idea of the world has lost its initial surprise and the plot invariably riffs on permutations of what came before.
There are exceptions of course and one of them is Maria Lewis’s Who’s Afraid Too? which takes a rather trope-heavy titling device and wears it proudly, all while running rings around the idea, claws extended naturally, that sequels are mere reiterations of a previously well-told tale.
In the follow-up to Who’s Afraid?, which introduced us to kickass heroine Tommi Grayson, a take-no-prisoners Dundee, Scotland art curator who finds much to her shock and surprise (more of the former to be honest) that she is a werewolf, the stakes are, as you might expect, raised considerably, her skills improve exponentially and she learns that the supernatural world around her, one she never knew existed, is far more diverse, riven with dissension and frightening/thrilling that first meets the eye.
Admittedly her ride into the supernatural of which she is indisputably a part thanks to her familial membership of the Ihi clan, a Maori wolf pack to whom she had a rather bruising, near-deadly introduction – let’s just say Christmas cards will not be forthcoming – was sudden and brutal, both out of necessity and simply because once the werewolf change hits you, there’s no going back.
Being a modern, self-possessed woman who can invariably take care of herself, and to whom misogyny and testosterone-fuelled condescension are mortal enemies to be challenged at every turn, Tommi adapts to a survival-of-the-fittest world with élan.
But as human being with friends, many of whom are placed in mortal peril, career aspirations and a need to belong and matter to people, she finds the wrench from normal life to a lupine one as traumatic and disorienting as you might expect.
Who’s Afraid Too? finds her growing more accustomed to her new surroundings, both existential and geographical – she has relocated to Berlin where she becomes part of a no-pack clan of strays who have dissented from the autocratic nature of most werewolf packs – but haunted by past events, and confronted by current horrors as an ancient evil long since though dispatched rises again and poses a real risk to the human and the more supernaturally-inclined residents of the German capital.
The joy of the growing Who’s Afraid? universe (and book series; five titles are written and slated for release) is the exemplary way in which Lewis manages full-on action, both sexual and violent and balance them with authentic human existential crises.
After all, who among us wouldn’t be simultaneously excited but frightened if we out we had this awesome untapped side to ourselves that though thrilling, utterly challenged everything we thought we knew about ourselves.
This dichotomy is explored with sensitivity and restraint by Lewis who renders Tommi as a fully-formed human being who accepts who she now is (and really always was, just not with her knowledge) but struggles with what it is costing her and those she loves.
And who wonders if it possible to have it all – love and relationships, a home and a routine all while battling titanic forces of evil and adjusting to a supernatural realm in which politicking and pettiness are just as prevalent as in the human universe.
It makes for a gloriously grounded, fast-paced read in which Tommi goes forth, pop culture witticisms in hand – the book is welcomingly packed with them with numerous references to books, movies and music that will gladded any pop culture-loving nerds heart – to slay and fight for truth and justice, all while being transparently, heart-achingly vulnerable and real.
Who’s Afraid Too?, in common with its predecessor, gives us that most rare of beasts (in this case, literally), a hero who is both tough, strong and capable, but also all too aware of her humanity and emotional limitations, taking what could have otherwise been a cardboard cutout hero and granting her pleasing three-dimensional humanity.
This means that much of the action, which is artfully counterbalanced with thoughtful introspection and fully-formed character interactions, doesn’t feel empty and hollow but rich with meaning, purpose and emotionally resonance.
That is the hallmark of this enthralling, fascinating new series of books – its willingness to be both blisteringly out-there supernatural and groundedly human, and to tell an utterly energising, compelling tale into the bargain (it’s the very definition of a page-turner; I dare you to read it slowly or multiple sittings).
Who’s Afraid Too? is written in a punchy, fun but expansive and engaging style, one that recognises that becoming something greater than yourself is both thrilling and grievously disconcerting, a ride that once begun cannot be stopped, and which if this book is any indication and I suspect it is, is only going to get more exciting and rewarding as it goes on.