I kind of want to give this book zero stars. But even for a book I hated as much as this one, that seems mean. And I did finish it after all. So let's say .5 stars.
Anyway, this book is the definition of throwing a bunch of things against the wall and hoping they stick. But none of it sticks. Just look at the book blurb. It mentions a murder mystery, biological experimentation, a werewolf, and a snobby rich kid thrown into the mix for good measure. That's all there and only some of it works. Most of it is just white noise, empty words thrown onto the page. I don't understand why the biotech company was thrown in there at all, or the snobby rich kid (his name is Roman) or even the murder mystery. Because it all amounts to a whole lot of nothing. Nothing is explained really well either. The gypsy characters throw out terms that are never translated or explained. The characters who work at the biotech firm use terms that are also never explained, leaving entire chapters incomprehensible. Plot threads are dropped and picked up again seemingly at random. On top of all that, the story is buried under bloated prose that reads like someone put the original manuscript through the thesaurus in Microsoft Word a bunch of times. At first glance, the words seem poetic, maybe even meaningful; but once you look closer everything's empty. By the end I started picking sentences apart, removing all the unnecessary words to get to the root of what the author was trying to say at any particular moment. It was much more fun than trying to follow the story that was being told.
Another thing that bugged me were a lot of throw away lines about women that were more than a little offensive. There were also uses of slurs that rubbed me the wrong way that felt thrown in just because. Sometimes I thought maybe these lines and words were supposed to say something about the immaturity of the characters who say them, but as the book wore on I became less and less sure of this original assumption. The female characters in this book are thinly sketched at best. And they fall into two categories for the most part, victim or bitch. When male characters talk derisively about women all the time and then the female characters live up to the dumb things they say, that's troubling to say the least.
The only thing that works is Peter's story. Peter's the new kid in town, the Gypsy, the suspected werewolf. Peter feels fully fleshed out, almost like a real teenager. The scenes of him at school, with his mother, hanging out with Roman; they work. When a romance is thrown in, it works too. It makes me wonder if this book started out as a YA novel about Peter and then somewhere down the line the author decided to turn it into something else by throwing in all the other nonsense. Or maybe even a YA novel about all the teens in the strange town of Hemlock Grove, because all of them worked for me as characters on some level. And there was this entire thread about discovery of sexuality that was interesting.
But then again, Roman was a teenage character, and he was the worst. He wasn't so much a character as much as a jumble of characteristics into an unlikable whole. I never understood Roman's motivation for doing anything. I think his selfish and bratty attitude was supposed to explain his irrational behavior, but that can only explain so much. My breaking point was when he did something I found reprehensible about 2/3 through the book that he shows no remorse for and is never mentioned again. I had to put the book down and walk away from it for a few hours, that's how angry the act and the response to it made me.
In the end, Hemlock Grove is bogged down by too many plots, too many trying to be profound but failing miserably moments, and hacky prose. But I read the whole damn thing anyway. It is compulsively readable nonsense. I don't recommend it.