Disclaimer: This is is one of those werewolf stories for people who actually like werewolves, not pretty shirtless boys who happen to turn into wolves.
That said, Cherie Priest's "Dreadful Skin" is a three-part novel that slowly unfolds a truly horrifying, sometimes shocking story. She packs the entire story with historical details, well-rounded characters, buckets of gore and truly monstrous monsters -- and it has a gunslinging Irish nun hunting werewolves. What could be better?
In the years after the Civil War, several people are on a steamboat called the Mary Byrd -- a gambler, a freed slave-turned-waitress, a hardworking captain, a deranged Englishman named Jack Gabert, and an Irish nun named Eileen Callaghan. During a thunderstorm, a monstrous creature begins killing the passengers and crew, and only one person might be able to kill it.
A few years later, Eileen investigates a wandering minister in the Texas town of Holiness. Some say he is possessed by the Holy Spirit, but she suspects that he's secretly a werewolf. And a few years after that, she is called back by a young man she met in Holiness, revealing that the religious movement has been corrupted by an evil man who turns into a beast -- a man named Jack.
Gun-toting nuns, insane werewolves, Weird West settings and buckets of blood. Just the description of "Dreadful Skin" confirms that this is an awesome horror story -- and the fact that it's written by Cherie Priest makes it even better. Her werewolves aren't sexy people-like-everyone-else, but a monstrous curse that only death can cure.
And her writing is absolutely gorgeous, full of bleak poetry ("The river washed us all clean. It washed us down to nothing but bones, and all our bones were the same"), religious undertones, and graphic violence. She also has the knack for writing from the perspectives of many different characters, giving each of them a voice and history before the plot really gets moving. It makes them feel more real.
The most "real" of all is Sister Eileen, a butt-kicking, pure-hearted nun who wanders the world in search of werewolves to exterminate, because she believes it is God's will. But all of Priest's characters feel like real people, except maybe Jack -- the strong ex-slave, the gambler with a heart of gold, the wide-eyed Leonard, and the abused but not broken Melissa.
"Dreadful Skin" is a delicious slice of Weird West horror -- guns, nuns, religion, fire, werewolves and plenty of gore. A must-read!