Monday, November 26, 2012

REVIEW: City Under the Moon by Hugh Sterbakov

Book's Web Site

I will admit I have grown somewhat weary of vampires, werewolves and zombies. They are just too many novels, movies and TV shows about these creatures, same as I am a bit tired of doctors, cops and lawyers when it comes to TV.


This said, I believe The Walking Dead is the best show on TV right now, and I love Dracula and the first three Anne Rice vampire books and the original version of The Wolfman. So, while I still think there’s a glut on these creatures I am open-minded.


When Hugh Sterbakov offered me a review copy of City under the Moon, once the initial sigh of “it’s a werewolf novel” was over, I read his synopsis and could tell right away it was something different and likely special as well.

City under the Moon is more of a science and military thriller than outright horror, while at the same time incorporating plenty of horror elements and werewolf lore. The other aspect of Sterbakov’s email offering the review copy was his statement that:

 During two years of meticulous research, I worked with a USC virologist, several physicists, an FBI agent, a USMC sniper, and an Army helicopter pilot and retired colonel to realistically dramatize the horror unfolding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House war rooms, FBI strategy centers and on the streets of Manhattan.”

This got my attention and was the final element that broke down my resistance to give this particular “werewolf novel” a try—and I am glad I did.

Here is Sterbakov’s own plot summary:

A werewolf epidemic tears through Manhattan, unleashed as a form of bioterrorism. It spreads exponentially with each rise of the moon, testing the might of our armed forces and pushing the government to prepare a dire solution. The madman behind it has only one demand: Find a cure.

 A horror, science, political and military thriller all in one, City Under the Moon puts the reader in the military landing zones in New York, the White House Situation Room, and the laboratories of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The FBI’s most ruthless counterterrorism agent, Brianna Tildascow, must collaborate Lon Toller, with a misanthropic blogger and self-proclaimed werewolf expert. Together, they’ll undertake an international hunt for the man behind the werewolves, and meet a mysterious stranger who uncovers a shocking historical revelation.

 Brianna and Lon, like all the novel's main characters and some of the minor ones, are provided full back stories and Sterbakov does a tremendous job getting readers into their POVs. The President of the United States is even a full-blown character for a change—I find in a lot of thrillers he or she is a shadowy figure rarely fleshed out.

While all the characters are interesting, I find the use of Lon particularly useful to add a unique twist to the story. Getting the impressions of an actual “werewolf event” from the POV of a kind of geeky fanboy is a smart move on Sternakov’s part.

This is a page turner with great characters, lots of action and a satisfying conclusion. Also, the research shows—it is all the more frightening because you believe the events are possible. It’s kind of like a Michael Crichton thriller crossed with the great characterizations of Stephen King, but that is just a comparison. It is not derivative—Sterbakov has his own unique voice.

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