Top positive review
“The Mark of the Varcolac”
Reviewed in the United States on December 26, 2017
Feral (Original edition, 2012; revised 2017; 389 pp.) is writer Matt Serafini’s terrifying nod to werewolf lore. It begins with a bang as Amanda Church appears to have reached her mission’s goal in a motel in a rural part of western Massachusetts: the brutal assassination of three individuals: two naked and entangled in sex, the other mutilated and nearing death, but anticipating a sort of rebirth. The bullet-ridden bodies prove not to be enough, however, when Amanda discovers a marked map amidst the blood-splattered motel room, and she decides she has more to do and heads for the denoted destination on the map: Greifsfield, MA.
Greifsfield, MA—a vacation home away from college for friends Jack Markle and Allen Taylor, enjoying a less than blissful time with their girlfriends Lucy Eastman, Elizabeth Luna (their hostess), and an unforgiving and very needy ex-girlfriend, Molly Perkins. It will be a summer break none of them will forget.
Now the author of four novels and a short story collection, Matt Serafini has revised his debut novel, Feral, declaring the new edition is “Tighter, meaner, and ready to eat your face off.” No truer words have been stated. After the dynamic start to Feral, Serafini lulls his readers with nearly sixty pages introducing his quartet of main characters. The dialogue and events are realistic and captivating, but all comes to a crashing halt with some of the most explicit, bloody, visceral horror that will make the most jaded horror reader cringe.
Combining fear and sex is an age-old tradition within the horror genre and one that Serafini not only employs in Feral, but has mastered. The term “blood lust” reaches new and terrifying heights in Feral.
As Serafini propels his story forward, readers firmly grasped by the throat, he employs some very effective storytelling. Passages of sanity and true-to-life interactions with personal trauma and dilemmas for the characters (one character, in particular, faces a despicable and unfortunately very sad predicament that only worsens as the novel progresses) are intruded upon by one nightmare scenario after another until the novel becomes one of relentless terror.
Serafini adheres to some traditional werewolf lore such as a person who is bitten by a werewolf and survives becoming a shape-shifter and Serafini vividly describes the agonizing “turning” from human to wolf-creature. The aberrant beings have abilities far keener in wolf form than when they are human with incredible sense of smell, hearing, and taste (and one might add various varieties of hunger to that list). Serafini’s werewolves, however, also transform at will, generally during severely emotional periods if they lose their self-control and once control is lost, the results are horrific. Like real wolves, Serafini’s werewolves are pack animals (willingly or not) and most memorably, Matt’s werewolves don’t just rip and tear their victims in unmerciful rage—the creatures fill their stomachs with their victim’s flesh, organs, and blood—with ravenous zeal.
As Feral progresses the four ostensibly friends and to a lesser extent Molly, are caught up in a storm including suicide, disappearances, and duplicity as previously assumed loyalty, friendships, and love are tested, and victims become victimizers with no apparent reliable or willing person or persons to turn to for help in town. With the arrival of Amanda Church on the scene as well as the introduction of other characters and the revelation of a fantastic, nefarious subplot, it becomes apparent that a greater and more widespread and organized threat (as well as opposition) is afoot than readers previously imagined, or humankind has ever experienced. Hatred, jealousy, adversarial relations, the desire for revenge, and new love—both natural and unnatural—all play their parts in many of the characters’ motivations—some of it stemming from age old conflicts.
Fearl is a take-no-hostages kind of tale with Serafini serving up adrenalin-filled scene after scene with never a moment’s rest. The only thing greater than the novel’s huge body count is the even greater number of torn and ripped body parts and “chunks of flesh” littering the pages and Greifsfield. Maintaining the level of horror that Serafini does through the many pages of the book is a feat unto itself; such material is usually regulated to a novella-length work. Cliché as it may be, Feral simply is not for the faint of heart, but it is tremendous, visually hair-raising, exciting read.