Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu Chronicles is really a set of three works but since I read them all in one go (the book was a bit difficult to put down) I’m only going to write one review.

First, the plot. Wraeththu is a new race, a mutation from a human base. (Somewhat confusingly an individual of the Wraeththu race is called har, plural hara.) They are stronger than humans, have paranormal powers / magic and are generally rather hard to kill, so they gradually take over most of the world. Men (and only men) can be infected and transformed into hara. There are no female hara; the new race is hermaphroditic. Think vampires but without the bloodsucking and sun-fearing part.

The first book (The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit) takes place in Wraeththu’s early years when the race is young, somewhat goal-less and life is confusing. Appropriately, the protagonist is a teenager who has just been infected. The book is mostly about the love between him and the har who brings him among Wraeththu, but at the same time it’s about the race finding its feet and trying to figure out what it’s about. What parts of humanity do they keep? How can they make the new race something more and better than human?

The second book (The Bewitchments of Love and Hate) is about a pureborn har, one born from hara parents. This is a drama of passion within a household, with couples emerging and breaking, but it’s also the story of the wars of conquest waged by some Wraeththu tribes against humans and other tribes. In a way it’s about Wraeththu sinking back to human level, or lower. Despite the lack of innate gender, gender roles reappear, and despite Wraeththu’s great powers, many do not use them.

The third book (The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire) takes place some years (or decades?) later, and the external world has sort of settled. This is about one har, burdened by guilt and anxieties about things he has done and gone through, and his journey to find answers.

It’s quite hard to summarise the books and hard to pinpoint what genre they are, because they kept changing all the time, and kept telling many different kinds of stories. But to be honest, plot wasn’t really the book’s strong side. Some characters do strange things for no particular reason and generally just act weird. The third book is the weakest of the three – the plot is really quite predictable and repetitive. It’s almost as if a good writer was given the challenge to write a book based on a bad plot. She mostly succeeds, but the ending quite dissatisfying.

One of the more flawed plot elements is Wraeththu magic. It’s frequently referred to, but rarely used in practice. You’d think something so life-changing would affect their daily doings more. It’s also unclear how their magical practices and rituals would have arisen. Likewise the rest of Wraeththu culture, in particular their tribes. It seems a bit unrealistic that such strong culture and so distinctive tribes would emerge out of nothing so quickly.

Character portrayal on the other hand is far stronger than the plot. There are many charismatic characters, and they all get a lot of space to develop. Many characters recur throughout the three books, which is why I think the books really work better as a whole than they would if read separately.

The hara all have a certain wildness, they are filled with passion and they’re not afraid to show it, which generally makes for a gripping and intense reading experience. Much of it feels quite raw and honest, somehow, even though it’s a fictional book about a fictional race. There is also a sensuous, ever-present eroticism, sometimes stronger, sometimes fainter. A lot is about sex and sexuality seen from many angles – how it relates to love, to power, to beauty; sex as a weapon, sex as healing, sex as magic, etc.

Despite the violence and wildness this somehow felt like a female book. Sexless vampires and gay men tend to be female topics, for starters, but the whole thing felt like it was observed by a woman. For some reason I thought Storm Constantine was a man and I tried to reconcile this with the female feeling of the book and sort of failed, and now I found out she actually is a woman. That explains things.

Wraeththu isn’t exactly what I expected – from my hasty browsing in the bookshop I saw that this was about a new, magical race, but I got the impression that it would be more cerebral and far less sensual. But I’m pleased with what I found instead. Despite the book’s weaknesses (not just the weak plot but also spelling errors and – horror of horrors – a glossary at the end) the whole thing is written with such skill and passion that the characters simply come alive (cliched, I know) and I couldn’t help caring for them and feeling strongly for them. As soon as I’d finished it, I considered re-reading it, and I know I will, sooner or later.

Green Man Review has a good review that does more than rehash the plot.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.