Anne Rice is unarguably one of the masters of modern horror. She rose to prominence with Interview with the Vampire in 1976, and is still best known for her Vampire Chronicles series. Her books have sold well internationally and been made into major Hollywood movies. When I heard that she was publishing a werewolf novel, I was both skeptical and intrigued. What more could she add to the werewolf literature that hasn’t already been done everywhere? In what direction would she go?
The story follows Reuben, a young reporter doing a feature on a large estate that’s about to hit the real estate market just outside of San Francisco. That night, he and the owner are attacked, leaving the owner dead and Reuben infected with “the wolf gift.” The rest of the book is his struggle to come to terms with and control his new reality while searching for answers. What has he become? What does all of this mean?
An old school story
In the back of my mind, I was half expecting Rice to write an urban or paranormal fantasy like the other werewolf tales that are populating our horror sections these days. While The Wolf Gift is certainly contemporary fantasy, it’s following the structure and tropes of earlier Rice works. There’s some ass-kicking of bad guys and a romantic line, but that’s not the main thrust of the book. Instead, Rice focuses much more on Reuben’s relationship with himself. In fact, villains only make brief appearances, and they are really little more than a plot device for Reuben to finally get some answers. The conflict is almost entirely internal rather than external. Don’t read this book expecting something like Laurell K. Hamilton or Patricia Briggs; you’ll be disappointed. Read this book looking for something a bit more literary, a bit more like the horror section used to be before Anita Blake.
A pleasant surprise
I picked up this book with curiosity, but rather low expectations. I haven’t picked up a Rice book in a good ten years because I just wasn’t interested in where she went with The Vampire Chronicles in the last books. And Jesus? Really? But I thought, “Ah, what the heck, I’ll give this a try.” I ended up rather liking the book. Rice is a very good descriptive writer with a great respect for language. On the other hand, she’s a much more subtle writer than most authors being published at the moment. You have to pick up on the subtexts she gives you, or you’ve lost at least half of her characterizations. This means that the first third of the book feels a little slow, because you’re getting tiny pieces of the puzzle and Reuben hasn’t committed to the changes in his life yet. Once he commits, starts making personality changes, and becomes someone who makes things happen rather than someone who has things happen to them, the book takes off. That slow start is not something most authors can pull off well, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded.
Why you should read this book
First, don’t read this book if you love everything Anne Rice and have her up on a pedestal. This isn’t her best book, but I’d say it’s better than most. If you’re expecting an earth shattering tale that does for werewolves what Rice did for vampires back in 1976, you’ll leave disappointed. If you like the very blunt style of modern urban and paranormal fantasy, this is not likely one for you. Rice is too subtle here, emphasizing philosophy more than action. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more literary, something with fantastic descriptions, and overall something different, this is a good pick.