As a long-standing fan of the ‘Otherworld’ series of urban fantasy books written by Kelley Armstrong, I was naturally interested when Netflix UK flagged up this Canadian series to me. There are three series in total, of thirteen, ten and ten episodes respectively, broadcast from 2014 to 2016. I’ve been watching them from start to finish over the past month.
Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. Only men naturally inherit the condition and for some reason, at least until now, women seem unable to survive the trauma of ‘the change’ after being bitten. The Pack lives among mankind in a covert, parallel society with rigid, merciless rules. Elena is trying to find her own way to live free of such claustrophobic restrictions without condemning herself. Unfortunately, there are those within that hidden world ready to use the secrets which she cannot betray as a weapon against her. The desire for power, advantage and control turns out to be common to humanity and to werewolves.
Inevitably as a writer myself, and a fan, I’ve been watching with half an eye on the adaptation, and that’s been done very well. The cast of characters and the number of locations has been intelligently pared down with an understanding of the different, more linear nature of TV story-telling, when compared to a book. And yes, doubtless with a view to budgetary considerations but that’s only commonsense. New characters have been added to facilitate the exploration of aspects of werewolf pack life that could be conveyed directly in a written first-person narrative. Aspects of real life that have changed since the first book came out in 2001 are also deftly incorporated, such as the Net and the ubiquity of mobile phones
Overall, the atmosphere of the books is well maintained, and the adaptation does not shy away from the sensuality and the violence that are both integral elements of the written series. Crucially these two things are not confused or conflated, and the sex is both tasteful and even-handed in terms of point of view. For the viewer, the female gaze is assuredly catered for, with the quality and the quantity of well-muscled male physiques on show.
When it comes to the violence, the body count is substantial and there’s a good deal of gore. These deaths matter. The writers clearly understand that if a loss doesn’t have an impact for a story’s characters, then that doesn’t count for the viewer. Consequently, overall, I found the tone darker than the books, and still more so in the second and third series, where the stories diverge significantly from the written series. That’s by no means a criticism. It’s a distinct plus that I was kept guessing as to where the narrative might go. As a fan of the books, I was more than content to see this as an alternate timeline for already familiar characters. For those who don’t know the books, this also means that the narrative is more than sufficiently coherent and self-contained for viewing without that background reading.
So I’ve certainly enjoyed watching this series. I also now find myself contemplating a start-to-finish reread of the original books over the Christmas and New Year break…