A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘The Killing Dance’ chapter seven


Right, so Richard and Anita are on a desperate mission to save Stephen’s life – so they stop and have a long discussion about the precise structure of how werewolf packs work.

“If Raina’s there, she won’t be alone, and she won’t like you taking Stephen.”

“Raina’s the alpha female, the lupa. I’m not allowed to fight her.”

“Why not?”

“An alpha male becomes Ulfric, wolf king, by killing the old leader, but the winner chooses the lupa.”

“So Raina didn’t have to fight for her place?”

“She didn’t have to fight to be lupa, but she did have to fight to be the most dominant female in the pack.”

“You once told me that the pack considers me a dominant. What’s the difference between being a dominant and being an alpha female? I mean, can I be an alpha?”

You’re not a werewolf Anita. That kind of stops it. A dominant is not a pack member, not ‘lukoi’, but who is respected by the pack. JC is a dominant. Richard reiterates that he is an alpha, like Anita already knew, but the information dump doesn’t stop there.

“We have about half a dozen alphas, male and female. I was Marcus’s second in command, his Freki.”

“Freki is the name of one of Odin’s wolves. Why would second wolf be named after something out of mythology?”

“The pack is very old, Anita. Among ourselves, we are the lukoi. There can be two seconds, Freki and Geri. […] To outsiders, we keep it simple. But I want you to know who and what we are.”

“Lukoi is Greek, right?”

“But do you know where it’s from?”

“No.”

“King Lykaon of Arcadia was a werewolf. He didn’t try and hide it. We call ourselves the lukoi in his memory.”

Um, why?

Lycaon was not a nice guy. He was turned into a wolf by Zeus for murdering and dismembering his own son, and serving him up as a meal to the gods. Lycaon murdered and ate his own son, and was turned into a wolf as punishment.

Of course, this is one of the many legends about Lycaon, but this is the most popular. In all of them, Lycaon gets turned into a wolf for being a horrendous dick. Why would you ever name yourself in his honour?

“If you’re not Freki anymore, what are you?”

“Fenrir, challenger.”

“The giant wolf that kills Odin at Ragnarok.”

“Can a woman be Ulfric?”

“Yes, but it’s rare.”

“Why?”

“They’d have to win a knock-down drag-out physical battle. All the power in the world won’t stop someone from pounding your face in the ground.”

“Why don’t the female alphas have to duke it out to win the top spot?”

“Because the Ulfric and his lupa are a mating pair, Anita. He doesn’t want to get stuck with a woman he can’t stand.”

I don’t get this. Why can’t a werewolf alpha just be with his wife or significant other? Why must it be decided by the ‘dominance’ of the other women? Oh no, I get it, to provide cheap tension. Because if Richard succeeds Marcus, he has to sleep with the lupa, Raina, and that will be bad. An alpha has to mate with his partner for life, and of course, Anita isn’t a werewolf.

I included large quotes of text because I find this explanation of the power structure of a werewolf pack to be… well, stupid. Intensely stupid.

For a start, I find the overly-complicated terminology to be confusing and included purely for Hamilton to get back at detractors who felt she didn’t do enough research into folklore and mythology. There is no good reason why there should be so many terms for various roles in the pack; why aren’t the terms ‘alpha male’ and ‘challenger’ and ‘alpha female’ good enough?

The terms are also mainly Scandinavian or Germanic, with one solitary Greek term, and I find this to be unbelievable and limited. Purely on terms of folklore about people changing into wolves, there is a lot of cultural variation. There are tales of people turning into wolves all across Europe and Asia. Am I supposed to believe that all of them subscribe to the terms and conditions of northern Europe? Especially when the rules and legends of werewolves vary from country to country, sometimes from area to area within one locality? Am I supposed to believe that a Japanese Yōkai would use these terms for describing their wolf pack? There would be cultural or idiosyncratic differences in structure and title from all across the territory of werewolves. Richard could say that his pack is descended from one of Germanic origin, but no, apparently all werewolves subscribe to white European cultural viewpoints.

Finally, this is a more general complaint about werewolves in fiction. The trouble with werewolf fiction is that it relies on some really outdated research. They operate on the basis of large groups of people, all struggling to achieve the goal of becoming alpha. There is one alpha couple. and it’s a constant fight over who gets to be on top, acerbated by sex and by how many people there are in the pack. This was based on Victorian opinions on wolves, but further research has proved that wolves operate very differently. Wolf packs are family groups. You have a mating couple raising their children. The mating pair will form a pack with their cubs, juvenile offspring, and those over a year who will leave the pack when they reach sexual maturity. You occasionally get larger groups coming together, but this tends to be an abnormality or because of the animals being kept in captivity. We are constantly told that werewolves are animalistic and can’t separate their instincts from their human behaviour, but they function within the boundaries and societal rules that are determined by their human desire to conform and find identity. The whole tussle and fight for dominance or to be alpha rarely happens with real wolves, mainly because the children of the mating pair will leave before this becomes an issue.

Richard and Anita arrive at the pack headquarters, and it’s a massive porn set. Why are the pack doing this? They make it clear that they’re not okay with doing the porn, but they do it anyway. If they know Richard is a challenger and potential pack master, why don’t they get rid of Marcus themselves? Are they incapable of doing anything against him? If so, why?

There’s some girl called Heidi, and she has a shaved head so Anita insults her. Stephen is with his brother, she says, so he won’t get hurt. She’s being kept in the pack because the evil Marcus, who was a nice guy in The Lunatic Cafe, won’t let her go. That’s a rather human reaction, rather than a wolfish one, isn’t it? Richard is very kind to her, again proving my point that the pack members, if they are so pissed off, could just kill Marcus and Raina themselves.

A great big guy called Sebastian steps forward and starts talking about the nonsense terms that make me want to claw my hair out. He wants to be second in command, but Richard is all, aha, but I’m the challenger now, and Sebastian is all, well good I can kill you then.

Way to shoot yourself in the foot, Richard.

Richard has to answer the challenge, because the werewolf system is fucked up, and Anita isn’t allowed to fight. Raina has forbidden anyone from turning Anita into a werewolf so they’ll just kill her.

“Are all Marcus’s enforcers assholes?”

“Was that an insult?”

“If you have to ask, then indeedy-do, it was.”

Why are all these people SO SO SO SO SO STUPID I DON’T GET IT

Richard calms Heidi using some stupid magic power BS and Richard is all, aha, you can’t challenge me, I am all-powerful!

These are bad werewolves. Like, just silly and pathetic. Angua would kick all of their asses and they wouldn’t know what’d hit them.

And then we get a massive racial stereotype walk up, with his cornrows and his swagger and his bad attitude, saying how Richard needs to kill people to get respect because damnit, we’re werewolves, not human beings!

Well, aside from the fact you behave like humans, live like humans, organise your power structure on human ideals, and just be a wolf for one night out of twenty eight.

Then there’s screaming and all the assembled werewolves start generating power like duracell batteries and Anita has to run off an save Stephen while leaving Richard to face everyone on his own. Heidi whispers that Gabriel the wereleopard is with Raina, that asshole from Book 4. I can’t remember if he was said to be a wereleopard, but the folklore about people turning into cats is very interesting and quite different from wolves. Shapeshifting into a leopard, as I am assuming that Hamilton means the African leopard, and not the jaguar, is normally a sign of a god or prince.

but anyway saving stephen from the evil porn

get right on that.

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3 thoughts on “A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘The Killing Dance’ chapter seven

  1. Oh, gods yes. Werewolves in this series do not behave AT ALL like real wolves. Real wolves don’t abuse other pack members like that. Real wolves wouldn’t STAND for that kind of behavior in the pack. I think some asshole way back in antiquity, maybe that douchenozzle Lycaon, started the dominance bullshit and stated it as FACT which became how the society was run. Then they indoctrinated new members, the system appealed to powerhungry warlord types, and before you know it everyone thinks wolves act this way when instead it’s just humans being jerkass humans.

    I really want a crossover fic with Peter David’s Howling Mad where Josh comes in and kicks everyone’s asses. And then because they insist on calling themselves wolves he brings in his Wolf Mate and declares HER lupa. Hehehehehe….

  2. I know it’s a little late, but I just wanted to say: Thank you! I am so sick of the erroneous pack structure presented in so many urban fantasies. Two minutes on Wikipedia is not that hard to commit to. There are no alphas in real, wild wolf packs and it annoys me to no end that so many authors get it so wrong.

    • Shapeshifter packs really annoy me in pretty much all books – save for Terry Pratchett’s werewolves, which are clearly built on family lines and don’t have bullshit rules. Why would I want to leave my human life to live as an animal?

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