Colt Jaeger has a good life. He works hard at a job he likes, and has a loving and supportive family and a wonderful boyfriend. It’s not to say life is perfect, though. His boyfriend Jason’s rather rich and well-educated family look down on their son slumming with a construction worker. Oh yes, and Jason’s family doesn’t know their son is gay. Or that their son has a boyfriend. But Colt loves Jason anyway.
On the night of Colt’s twenty-fifth birthday, everything changes. First, he has a giant fight with Jason that has him walking out on their date, and then he’s mugged in the alley by some guy with a gun. Only, things don’t go the way they should. Colt doesn’t peacefully hand over his wallet; instead, he ends up enraged, snarling like some kind of animal, and taking a bite out of the man’s throat. Not just one bite, but several. If it weren’t for the arrival of a pleasant, normal family — father, mother, and son — who came upon him, he might have eaten the whole body!
Rather than running away, screaming, and calling for the police like sane, rational people, Stan and Susan (and their son), calm Colt down, reassuring him it’s all going to be okay. It turns out that Stan and Susan — much like Colt himself — aren’ … quite human. They, like Colt, are ghouls. Flesh eating, blood drinking, inhuman monsters who drive an SUV and live normal human lives.
Colt was adopted when he was twelve by his foster family. He never knew his parents, never knew he was anything other than human. Stan and Susan are as perplexed as Colt, but in order to protect the Kinship — and because they are decent, caring people — they take the fledgling ghoul under their wings. They teach Colt about the Kinship, how to be a ghoul, how to hide his true nature from the humans around him, and even how to make certain he has enough human flesh to keep him fed so he doesn’t have to resort to hunting humans in the alleys at night.
Stan, through his work at the hospital, has access to cadavers. As a ghoulish humanist he’s not fond of the ‘hunts‘ and prefers to eat the flesh of already deceased humans. It’s caused some difficulties in their paranormal circles as more and more ghouls are turning to Stan’s methods, which brings them up against those of the Kinship who love the thrill of the hunt and the taste of fresh, warm blood, such as the Moreau’s who rule this territory.
Even while trying to keep his head down, and trying to keep Jason from finding out what he is, Colt can’t help but get involved in the complex Kinship politics. Neither, it seems, can Jason, who is now working with the District Attorney who has been investigating the unusual number of ‘animal attacks’ in his city. Can Colt protect his boyfriend, his family, and his new friends when war breaks out between the ghouls? Can he keep Jason’s boss from digging too deep into Stan’s work in the hospital? And can he control his own hunger for blood and flesh when he’s with Jason?
It’s not often you find an author who is able to take the same, tired, familiar cliches of paranormal monsters and make them fresh and fun. Bellamy, however, managed to do just that. Ghouls are both vampiric and werewolf-ic in that there is blood drinking — and some ghouls who gain more power through blood rather than flesh — and shape changing. Claws grow, teeth elongate, and some ghouls take a canine or feline form. It’s hinted that there are many more forms, many different types of ghouls out there. There are even some variants of ghoul who feast on human ashes!
Colt, himself, is a well-written and interesting character. He kills a man, eats him, and finds out he’s a monster all in one evening and yet… somehow he manages to internalize these facts and still maintain his humanity. He can’t change what he is, but he can make certain that what he is doesn’t change him. It’s a point of contention between him and Jason that the two of them are from very different economic backgrounds. Jason wants Colt to take a job offer that will have him working for a new company as a foreman rather than just a construction worker and while Colt himself was considering the job, he can’t help but wonder if this is Jason wanting more for him, or Jason wanting him to be more. More respectable for his parents, perhaps?
Add to that Jason’s new job. He took a position with the DA because he wants to do good in the world, and because his brother was killed in an animal attack when he was younger. Jason swore the attacker was a werewolf; he saw the face, saw the shape, and swore it wasn’t a wolf. No one believes him (Colt can’t let Jason find out how close he is to the truth) and with the assistant DA, Andrew, certain there’s more to these animal attacks than meets the eyes, Jason is more determined than ever to dig for the truth. It doesn’t hurt that Andrew is easy on the eyes.
Fortunately, the author doesn’t try to shoehorn in a love triangle when one isn’t needed. Colt and Jason have their fights, but they’ve been in love since they were teenagers. Colt would do anything to protect Jason and Jason loves Colt enough to face down his family and let them know how much Colt means to him. But this story isn’t really about their relationship with one another, but Colt’s relationship with himself and his heritage. In fact, for all that Colt worries about Jason through much of the book, they have very few scenes together.
The world building in this book is fantastic. The relationship between Colt and Jason feels real, and the friendship Colt builds with Stan, Susan, and Ronnie is charming. I have some slight quibbles: Where are Colt’s parents in all this? His adopted parents, not the ones who abandoned him. With a city so infested with ghouls who need to eat fairly regularly, how many people die in this city daily? Also, we never see the antagonists until it’s time for the big confrontation. They’re spoken of, gossiped about, and we’re told how evil they are… but they’re never given a chance to do more than be boogeymen in the dark.
Even so, those quibbles are minor — especially considering that this is the author’s first published work. With a second book already on its way, I’m sure many of my questions about the mysterious Assembly that watches over the numerous ghoulish enclaves of the world, the identity of Colt’s birth parents, and further details into the Kinship will be answered. I hope that a little more time is spent developing Colt and Jason as a couple, and Jason as a person.
If you don’t mind a little bit of flesh eating here and there, though the scenes are handled with surprising delicacy considering that they’re about cannibalism, and are looking for a fun coming of age story with creative world building, I highly suggest picking up a copy of Ghoulish.