My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Set in post-WW2 Sicily, Lupa Bella features a sexy lady werewolf whose only objective in life is to protect her foster brother from the outside world; but after two thousand years without change, the world is about to come crashing in.
Celeste, a young werewolf, has grown up in a village on the slopes of Santo Stefano, under the protection of the powerful Don de Lupa. She has been raised by a widow alongside her son, Dario, who has a gift for working with machinery and works as the Don’s personal mechanic, looking after his collection of performance cars. Celeste spends her mornings hunting in the forest as a wolf, her days with her brother and her nights with her lover Matteo. She is content, loved and happy with her lot in life. Then one day, the world intrudes with the arrival of a group of strangers; a government official, a federal police officer, and Miro, the Don’s prodigal son. Things become even more complicated when Celeste finds traces of a wolf pack that reside higher up on the mountain. Can Celeste afford to pass up the chance to discover where she is truly from, or will she be prepared to sacrifice everything for the love of her foster brother?
The story is mostly set amongst the peach orchards and Don’s villa on Santo Stefano, Sicily, before it became a holiday resort. The period and setting is a refreshing break from the gothic heaviness of modern day horror and the new weird of urban fantasy. There is a strong sense of golden sunlight and open space, which makes the darker sections of the story even more disquieting. When things start going wrong, Petterson really does put his characters in difficult situations that will make the reader squirm and uncomfortable with what Celeste may have to do to protect Dario and herself from the machinations of Miro.
Whilst this is a common strategy for every kind of fiction, it only really works if the writer has successfully managed to win the sympathy of the reader for the characters. Celeste is every bit the iconic Latin beauty, but her wolfiness strangely gives her an extra likability factor, giving her a unique perspective on the world around her. Dario, is less well defined, coming across simply as a loving brother who is a little naïve about the ways of the world. Miro on the other hand is well captured and defined as an oily, unpredictable and menacing individual. Petterson manages to do this beautifully by linking him to his vehicle, a powerful black Maserati that doesn’t burn fuel cleanly and has a noisy gear change.
Petterson’s writing style doesn’t immediately leap out as being exceptional, but what he does manage to achieve is perhaps better for popular fiction, which is that the writing doesn’t jar or draw attention to itself, but instead tells a story beautifully, and as a writer myself I really appreciated that quality of invisibility of the writing, as it let me enjoy the story without being thrown off by overly flowery language, strange metaphors and similes and over-worked sentences. Petterson’s writing has a clean flow to it and Lupa Bella has a wonderful balance of light and dark that makes it stand out from the crowd.