Written by Anne Rice
Published by Knopf
When it was first announced that Anne Rice would be revisiting the world of the supernatural – by writing a werewolf book no less – her fans (this reviewer included) had no idea what to expect. Would it be a true return to the horror genre she embraced in her Vampire Chronicles and Lives of the Mayfair Witches series or something more watered down following her latest forays into the worlds of angels and Jesus himself? I’m very happy to report we needn’t have worried one bit! But we’ll get to that aspect of The Wolf Gift after a quick plot crunch.
Reuben Golding is a 23-year-old San Francisco-based journalist on an assignment to interview the somewhat older Marchent Nideck, who is in the process of preparing to sell her family’s incredibly large and beautiful estate several hours north of the city on the Mendocino coast. Reuben becomes quite taken with both Marchent and the house and its surroundings, and the two share an intimate evening together. Things don’t end well, however, because during the night Marchent’s home is broken into by thieves who mean to do her harm. Without giving away too much of what transpires, a struggle ensues between the criminals and something that’s not quite human, and as collateral damage Reuben gets bitten by the beast. He winds up not quite human himself once he recovers from his injuries miraculously and rather too quickly for his physician mother, Grace, to accept on the surface. His fiancée, Celeste, and his brother, Jim, who happens to be a priest (you knew Anne couldn’t leave religion out of the story completely, right?) also notice changes in Reuben following the attack.
Things move along briskly from there as Reuben adjusts to the “Wolf Gift” he’s been given, which includes the ability to detect – through a heightened sense of smell and intuitiveness – those who are evil and mean harm to the people whose fears and screams he can feel and hear. As is typical in today’s world, it isn’t long before the “Man Wolf”, as Reuben dubs himself in the stories he writes for his newspaper about what’s going on, becomes the talk of the town on cable news and a folk hero of sorts, which ends up luring out a few others of his kind as well as some individuals who don’t exactly have Reuben’s best interests at heart.
Before he meets up with his fellow Morphenkinder, as werewolves are called in this tale, we travel along with Reuben on his journey of self-discovery, not only hunting the bad guys but also exploring his newfound power and abilities. It’s in these passages where Anne returns to her horror roots as she describes in graphic detail Reuben’s brutal evisceration and decapitation of and gluttonous feasting upon his prey – both human and animal. And it is gloriously gory! Anyone who is afraid she has lost her edge can rest easy. Blood and guts spill with reckless abandon across the pages.
But there’s a lot more than just the thrill of the chase in The Wolf Gift. As you’d expect from Ms. Rice, we also get a good deal of sensuality and old fashioned bodice-ripping sex with even a bit of bestiality thrown in for good measure – only with the willing, though, in case that sort of thing disturbs you. And of course there’s much discussion about right and wrong, morality and immorality. It is, after all, one of the things she does best. Think Lestat’s talks with Louis or David Talbot, and you’d be on the right track.
“Oh, yes, you can go home again!” is what I thought toward the end of the novel as the first werewolf’s lineage was disclosed while Reuben and his new “family” discussed their situation. Not since Queen of the Damned have I been so enthralled with a character’s back story and mythos. In addition, the transformation process Anne came up with is pure genius. It’s pretty much the opposite of what we typically see, and full moons do not apply here either.
Once again Anne Rice has offered up a hero and a tale that are enticing, erotic, and thoroughly entertaining. Most of the loose ends are tied up although there are just enough left open to warrant a sequel should she decide to continue Reuben’s story. Nevertheless, as it stands, The Wolf Gift is just what its name implies: a present to her fans that was well worth the wait.
4 out of 5