|Spoilers: Sucker Punch
This article or section contains spoilers for 2020 novel Sucker Punch.
Proceed with caution.
This article or section contains spoilers for 2021 novel Rafael.
Proceed with caution.
Lycanthropes (also known as therianthropes) are human beings afflicted by a supernatural virus. This allows them to take on the power and appearance of a specific species of animal.
All lycanthropes have at least two forms. In most cases those forms are human and animal. The third option is a "hybrid" form that is bipedal with animal characteristics, and which is usually only available for powerful lycanthropes. Female werehyenas are an exception to this rule and usually only have the human and bipedal forms. Very powerful lycanthropes can even transform just a part of their body at will (for example, growing claws from their fingertips).
Most lycanthropes seen in the series are much larger in animal form than their natural counterparts, but the size used to be identical to natural form in ancient strains that are still present in some rare lycanthropes who share the immortality of their vampire masters. It's also possible that different regions have different strains, as at least two wereleopards who got attacked in Africa have been the same size as the natural leopards. At least Europe and the U.S. seem to have the larger strains, and some of them trace their lineage back to Asia.
Changing between forms requires a great deal of energy. Most lycanthropes must feed immediately after changing to animal form. After returning to human form, lycanthropes usually collapse into a comatose state for several hours, the length of their recuperation depending on their power level. Very powerful lycanthropes do not need to feed immediately and won't collapse, but they are exhausted regardless. As the series proceeds and the groups in St. Louis grow in power, we see less and less lycanthropes who are severely inconvenienced by the shift.
An upcoming transformation is preceded by a spike in body temperature. The transformation can be very painful, as bones and flesh reshape, although not fighting the transformation makes it easier. Transformation generates hot, clear fluid that sometimes practically explodes around the transforming lycanthrope, usually leaving themselves clean and dry but covering everything else nearby. The goop is rather hard to wash out if it manages to dry into someone's hair. The lycanthrope will be hungry immediately after transformation, and less powerful individuals may not be entirely in control of themselves until after they feed.
Most lycanthropes learn to control their transformations and learn to retain most of their reasoning ability even in the transformed state with practice. Even weak individuals can generally change shape almost at will, although they all must transform with the full moon. Strong emotions, pain, magic, vampiric powers, and mind-altering substances that work on lycanthropes can however erode that control, or even remove it entirely. Lack of control is usually seen as a sign of weakness, so more dominant lycanthropes usually strive especially hard to master their urges. Lycanthropes that simply follow their instincts may command fear, but rarely respect, and they usually end up getting put down by either human authorities (usually with the help of a vampire executioner or a bounty hunter) or other preternatural beings of the area after they become too destructive and disruptive to tolerate.
Lycanthropes who spend too much time in animal form may lose their ability to shift back completely. As a result, some of the lycanthropes Anita meets and befriends have fangs, voices, or eyes resembling their animal form even when in human shape. Zeke is an extreme example of this phenomenon, being unable to shift back from his wolfman form in any other part than his eyes. However, it's also possible for a lycanthrope to get stuck in their full animal form. Those individuals usually end up losing their mind and have to be put down.
Other, non-lycanthropic shapeshifters may have different forms available, and may experience different effects. For example, Kaspar is able to shift back and forth to his swan form without losing consciousness. It's unclear whether he has an intermediate "swanman" form.
Lycanthropes' bodily fluids are contagious when they are in an animal or hybrid state, and even partially shifted claws can infect a human if they pierce skin. Their blood might also be infectious even in human form. A bad batch of lycanthrope vaccine can also infect a person, like Richard was, although it's not very common. Some types of lycanthropy are easier to catch than others, which is one reason why e.g. werewolves are so much more common than weretigers. However, in Guilty Pleasures Anita is said to have known a man who was attacked and almost killed by a werewolf without catching it, and another who became a weretiger after barely getting scratched. It's unclear whether this is an inconsistency and the infectiousness was changed later in the series, or if this remains canon despite how little actual lycanthrope contact Anita seems to have had before the early novels.
Once a human is already exposed to lycanthropy, there's a last-chance option of being inoculated with another strain of lycanthropy, and in most cases the strains will cancel each other out. However, if the initial exposure didn't cause an infection after all, the inoculation is almost certain to give the person the injected version of lycanthropy. There is also a very remote possibility that the person might catch both strains and become a panwere. Research into a potential cure is still ongoing.
Most lycanthropes introduced in the series were infected with lycanthropy before meeting Anita, or are minor characters infected shortly after their introduction. Olaf is the only established human character to have contracted lycanthropy this far, although Anita herself keeps picking up new strains of it despite not transforming (at least completely for now, recently her eyes can turn into bright yellow leopard eyes), and we haven't heard yet confirmation on what happened with either Peter Parnell or Edward's exposures.
A newly infected lycanthrope will likely experience their senses sharpening as well as a slight rise in their base body temperature. They may also gain some instincts typical for their particular type of lycanthropy even before their first transformation. It will usually take some time for them to master their newly increased speed and strength, and especially sex can be extremely hazardous to their partners. It's usual for a new lycanthrope to have very little control and no memory of their initial transformations, although they usually start to get better at both after a few times. It's the responsibility of their lycanthrope group to keep them in check during this learning period.
New lycanthropes generally start at the bottom of their lycanthrope group's internal hierarchy, and need to work their way up according to the customs of that lycanthrope group and their personal ambitions. Well-functioning lycanthrope groups assist their new members in the adjustment to their new circumstances, but even badly-functioning ones usually at least keep the new lycanthropes from slaughtering anyone until they learn control. One of the goals of the Coalition is to extend this kind of help even to single survivors of lycanthrope attacks and to small lycanthrope groups who might lack resources by themselves.
Powers & Abilities
Lycanthropes have many supernatural powers, which are on par with those of vampires. Like vampires, lycanthropes grow more powerful with age, although this happens in relation to their initial power level. Low-powered lycanthropes are unlikely to ever reach the power level of a born alpha, no matter how experienced they get.
- Superhuman Speed: All lycanthropes are extremely fast and can run faster than the human eye can see. They can equal or even outrun vampires in their speed, depending on their age and power.
- Superhuman Strength: Lycanthropes' strength seems to depend on their actual size and their level of supernatural power. Their strength is on par with vampires and they are fully able to fight off and even overpower them. Their strength is lesser in their human form, though they are still far stronger than humans.
- Accelerated Healing: Powerful lycanthropes can recover from almost any wound other than those caused by silver weapons or fire, and even very weak individuals heal a bit faster than humans. Transformation can allow a lycanthrope to regrow freshly lost limbs and critical body parts, although if the injuries are extensive or repeated they might not heal in entirety with a single transformation. Rashida is able to regenerate an entire arm, and Cherry her lost leg, and Richard Zeeman is able to recover after having his throat torn out, but it takes months for Micah's repeatedly abused nose to return to its original shape. If a lycanthrope is too weak from their injuries to transform, some very powerful individuals can force them to change shape to save their life. Modern lycanthropes cannot be turned into vampires either, but it's possible that the ancient strains didn't cancel out the option, or it's limited to different types of vampires.
- Heightened Senses: Lycanthropes have acute senses, even in human form. Richard could "smell" emotions or lies. Nathaniel could hear a person's heart beat or the blood moving in the body, even in human form.
- Silver: Lycanthropes are effectively allergic to silver and feel physical pain from even skin contact. Some lycanthropes enjoy silver jewelry for this very reason. Wounds caused by silver weapons heal much more slowly than other wounds.
- Fire: Damage caused by fire heals human-slow.
- Silver nitrate: Burns like silver and prevents healing until removed from the wound, and even after heals slowly.
Command Of Animals
Lycanthropes appear to be able to command animals of their species, although this may or may not be an ability limited to more powerful individuals. For example, wererats can command rats, and Richard can quiet a yappy dog with a single look.
Reaction to Vampire's Call
Lycanthropes can be "called" and commanded by a vampire with the power to call their species. Powerful lycanthropes can resist a vampire's call, or even interfere with the call. This allows them to prevent the vampire from calling other lycanthropes or animals. For example, Rafael, as the Rat King, was able to prevent Nikolaos from calling actual rats and from calling wererats against their will.
Similarly, powerful shapeshifters such as Richard, are able to look vampires in the eyes without getting affected by their mental powers.
Some shapeshifters reach "alpha" or "master" status, a power level like that of a master vampire. Alpha shapeshifters may display some or all of the following traits:
- Resist Transforming
- Partially Shapeshifting. The ability of shapeshifting hands into claws, or even "cosmetic" shapeshifting - shifting bones or flesh simply to alter appearance.
- Force Transformation. The ability to force other shapeshifters to change form, or to prevent them from doing so.
- Share Power. Some shapeshifters, such as Richard can share their power with others by allowing them to feed on the shapeshifter's blood.
- Heal Others. The power to heal others, by a variety of means. For example, Raina was able to heal through physical contact, usually ending in sex, but the healing could happen before intercourse. Micah can heal at least other wereleopards by licking at their wounds.
Lycanthrope Social Organization
The social habits of werewolves are probably the most fully described in the series, both because of Anita and Jean-Claude's association with the wolves and because werewolves appear to be the most prevalent type of shapeshifter, particularly in the St. Louis area. However, Raina and Marcus broke the local pack under their leadership and Richard has spent more time rebelling against his own nature than actually leading his pack, and they have lost some of their culture and memories of their history in the process.
St. Louis's wereleopards are substantially less numerous than its werewolf and wererat counterparts. A likely reason for this phenomenon is the low contagion characteristic of cat-based lycanthropy.
The social rituals of the leopard pard is more difficult to discern in comparison to the wolf pack. There could be many reasons for this difficulty. It is possible their smaller numbers or Gabriel's decision to reshape the pard members into submissive prostitutes warped their social structures beyond recognition. Another possibility is their introduction as a group occurred later in the series (Burnt Offerings) as opposed to the wolves and they have not been featured in as much detail as the wolf pack.
The principle social characteristic of the pard members is a need for physical contact as a source of emotional reassurance. Pard members frequently rub against one another and against Anita as if they were cats.
An interesting and notable characteristic in wereleopard terminology is the existence of three different titles for their leaders: Nimir-Raj/Nimir-Ra, leoparde lionne, leopard passant. The titles do not affect the functional, internal authority of the leader, but they do describe the type of leader currently in power.
Wereleopard pards should have leopard wizards, but the local group has been pieced together from broken pards and is only recently learning about their lost culture.
The wererats of St. Louis refer to their community as the Rodere. They are led by Rafael, their Rat King. Rafael's rats include a disproportionately high number of soldiers and mercenaries, and are more likely to use guns than most other lycanthropes. They make up the majority of Jean-Claude's security at the Circus of the Damned.
Rafael has allied his Rodere with Richard and Anita and, through them, to the Thronos Rokke clan and Blooddrinkers clan. The name of Rafael's clan is the Dark Crown Clan, and Rafael has a crown branded into his arm to show he is the king. Later in the series Rafael becomes the king of all the rats within the country.
The rodere can boast of an unbroken line going back thousands of years, and still have their brujas and their traditions. Their seat of power is called fighting pits.
The werehyenas are one of the major power groups in the St. Louis shapeshifter community, together with the werewolves and wererats. Their leader, Narcissus, has recruited only men as werehyenas, because hyenas in nature are matrilineal, and female werehyenas are natural magic users and significantly larger and more powerful than males. Since Narcissus is intersexed and has female beast form, he fears a 'full' female alpha would challenge his leadership. He has to reconsider this decision later in the series when he starts recruiting true soldiers rather than bodybuilders who are into BDSM, and now allows some females into his clan to keep the straight men happy. He claims that this hasn't been a problem after all and he's girl enough to satisfy everybody's beast, but not all members of his clan are happy with how he rolled over for Chimera. This far Narcissus has won all the challenges.
One of the rarer forms of lycanthropy, and the only known group that knows how to carry a lycanthrope pregnancy to a term and expand their numbers without infecting humans, although that is also an option. There are three clans of born tigers within the United States, as the two other clans are almost extinct. They all keep to themselves and generally try to hide their lycanthropy from humans, making them seem even rarer than they actually are, but as one of the clans moves to St. Louis later in the series we see them fairly often. Their culture is divided into purebloods, mixed-clan born tigers, and attack survivors or voluntarily infected ones. Being given tiger lycanthropy is seen as a reward for a job well done, and they think it is a sin to give it to someone not worthy. Tiger lycanthropy is also one of the harder-to-catch strains. Because of all of this, infected, non-clan tigers are very rare. Clan tigers tend to have arranged marriages, and have been known to abduct and force unwilling tigers into marriages when a peacefully arranged marriage hasn't been an option, mostly in the name of clan purity and/or secrecy. They are also a matriarchal (led by a woman/queen) society, unlike most of the other lycanthrope societies which are patriarchal (led by a male/king).
Werelions are one of the cat lycanthropy strains. There are a few prides in the United States, and they tend to kill each other on sight if they aren't part of the same pride, unless they get non-lion help in negotiating peaceful relocations into another pride's territory. The pride of St. Louis is currently led by a coalition, as Nicky as the Rex has the power but not the personality to be a good leader, Travis is good at emotional intelligence but is very weak, and Mephistopheles is more than happy to just help out and let the other two do what they do best.
The queen of this group is called an Ursa, which might imply there are more than a handful of members, but Anita has only meet a few.
There is only one werefox mentioned, Gilbert (also called "Gil"), who is exceptionally timid.
- Also note: That the majority of werefoxes are hidden in China and remain the only wereanimals in the country after the government had local wizards search and drive out the other were groups and witches.
The only werejackals we've met this far are Kaazim and a female werejackal that is seen through Kaazim's memory. Nothing is known about the society or whether the strain is regionally limited.
A pack of werecougar is known to be located somewhere in the West Coast. They had troubles with the local werelion pack, who wanted dominance over the cougar claiming that "mountain lions are still lions". At least this pack is matriarchal, i.e. leader is female.
Non-lycanthrope animal groups
Wereswans are shapeshifters but not lycanthropes. Being a wereswan is most often a result of a curse or of heredity. They are also the only non-predator form of "lycanthropy" yet seen in the Anita-verse, and therefore often risk being victimized as prey by the other species.
Female wereswans are referred to as swanmanes. (See also swan maiden). The wereswans of St. Louis (and of the whole USA) are currently led by Donovan Reece, their Swan King. Reece states that he is the first Swan King in a century, and that he has been destined from birth to that position, since he has a birthmark in the shape of a swan, he has mentioned that he is not entirely happy with being King. Usually a swan queen is born in the same generation, so they rule together. Although in Donovan's case there was no baby born with the birthmark or the power to help him. Kaspar Gunderson, the former leader of the wereswans of St. Louis, was a Swan Prince. The swans have the ability to shift between their forms without becoming tired.
Throughout the series, the only weresnakes Anita has encountered are werecobras and (perhaps more indirectly) wereanacondas.
Of the werecobras, the leaders are called Kadra (female) and Kashyapa (male). They have the ability to have offspring like mammals or like reptiles. It's unclear if they are lycanthropes or not.
The only weredogs mentioned are Janet Talbot and her son. Janet says that her shapeshifting ability is inherited and is not tied to the moon; they are able to resist changing during the full moon if they choose to. This enables them to carry offspring without risk of miscarriage. This likely means they aren't lycanthropes but other kind of shapeshifters.
Non-lycanthrope werewolves who inherit their abilities and cannot infect others. Not every member of the family inherits the powers, and there are fewer and fewer who do every generation. Those who do are born with a tail, and sometimes also wolf ears, but their blood tests as human. In human form their sense of smell is weaker than lycanthrope werewolves', and they have less physical advantages over humans in general. Many of them have the tail amputated when they get older and it becomes difficult to hide, after which they no longer have a tail in wolf form either and consequently their balance suffers. The removal is generally done after they've learned to control their powers, as trying to ignore their other side from birth can lead to severe personality issues and lack of control. Their change isn't tied to the moon at all, and once they gain control of their powers they can go years without changing form at all, and the longer they do that the less their power shows. If they do that long enough they might even lose the ability to shift at all. It's possible that they have fey origins.
Since Sucker Punch there is a new politically correct terminology in use for the various shapeshifter groups. Some of the new words are:
- biform - any shapeshifter
- bipedal - half-man form
- therianthropes - all shapeshifters formerly grouped under lycanthropes
- ailuranthropes - all cat-based therianthropes
- arouraiothropes - wererats, who find the word impossible to spell and can't agree on how it should be pronounced
People have been searching for a cure for lycanthropy for decades, but at the time of Sucker Punch they are much closer than they were. Olaf was offered to take part in some of the research, but decided not to try the cure. He considered some of the side effects worse than the disease, and doesn't really mind being a werelion in the first place. He had to sign a nondisclosure agreement to be considered for the program and isn't allowed to elaborate on what the side effects might be. Anita suggests that comparing the African wereleopard strain with the U.S. strain might be helpful for the research.