Book review: Growl by Ashley Fontainne

Growl started off stumbling for me, then recovered and ran fast and intense right up until the end before it once again stumbles and drops the ball entirely. The events leading up to the conclusion are so good that I was staying up later singing the “one more chapter” song, and I still consider it a good book for the most part. But the parts it mishandles are to my mind the most important for any book, and they take down the whole story by a couple notches.

Growl is about a battle between two ancient entities who have each used two small town families as their avatars for many generations. Sheryl Ilene Newcomb is the next inheritor of this ability, and her story begins by telling you how the book ends, who will die, and who will survive. This kills any sense of dread or fear for the characters. Worse, these first few chapters are chock full of infodumps that could have been handled better if they were part of the story as it happens instead of being shoehorned in at the front.

After the first three chapters, the story shakes off some of these slow infodumps, but not all of them. The story works in spite of them, and as I said, I was reading until I had dry eyes for two nights in a row. Sheryl’s family and life are interesting enough to make those constant digressions forgivable. She’s got a boyfriend already, so there’s no need to clutter the story up “finding the one,” and after a very brief flashback to a tragedy striking the family when Sheryl was nine, the story jumps ahead nine years to get to the real conflict. Sheryl’s discovery of her lineage and duties are fascinating, and I like the monsters even though they stay hidden for most of the book.

And then there’s the ending, which drops the ball in every conceivable way. First of all, the bad guy is one of those “muah hahahe, I’ve got the perfect plan” types of evil villains who are in fact just complete dumb asses who couldn’t plot their way out of a paper bag armed with a box cutter and a lighter. I need to make clear, had the villain actually stuck to their plan, they might, MIGHT have had an advantage for maybe a minute or two. Even then, their plan sucked and they would have lost, but they would have at least looked somewhat intelligent. But not this guy. He’s just a moron. This actually runs contradictory to what we’re told in the story about how calculating and methodical this ancient evil is.

This leads to a wimpy final fight that lasts all of thirty seconds. All that build up and tension is wasted, and the villain isn’t ever believable as a threat. Through most of the book, and even while reading the intro about Sheryl’s many injuries, I’m thinking, “Man, this fight is going to be EPIC.” But the way her injuries are actually sustained left me feeling even more disappointed. This is a limp, whimpering finish when Sheryl deserved a defiant heroic roar.

Problem three is that in order to fill in some of this “brilliant” villain’s back story, Sheryl does so via “skin telepathy.” It’s another infodump, and most of the information doesn’t even matter at this point. It might have if the villain was half as cunning as the middle had made them out to be. But for a lightweight moron, it’s too much information given too late in the story.

The first chapters could have been pared down and moved to be an epilogue and it would have helped the book a lot by not giving away every important event before it happened. But the book really needed an epic fight to cap off all the invested tension from the middle, and this ending tiff was more like a balloon having all the air let out in a weak raspberry sound.

I’m giving Growl 3 stars. It’s worth reading for the things it does differently with the shapeshifter mythos, but it unfortunately doesn’t use all the potential it promised.