When Reuben Golding is attacked by a werewolf while visiting an old gothic mansion in Northern California, we know it will only be a matter of time before he sprouts hair, grows fangs and is set loose in his native San Francisco. And it’s no spoiler to say that within the first fifty pages of the novel, he does exactly that.
What takes this novel beyond your standard werewolf fare is Rice’s choice to allow her werewolf to retain all of his conscious thoughts and sense of reasoning. Rather than tear through the night as a madman, Reuben bounds across the city as a hyper-violent superhero, seeking out people in trouble and literally tearing apart evil-doers.
This early section of the book is a lot of fun. We’re there with Reuben as he discovers his new powers and explores their limits. And Rice’s obvious gifts as a storyteller shine brightest when she is taking us on one of these midnight hunting expeditions – whether through the streets of SF or the surrounding forests as Reuben uses down and hunts a vicious bobcat. Add to all of this a gothic mystery involving disappeared relatives, shady soviet scientists and a mansion filled with secret passages and cryptic diaries and you have a book that sounds like a a must- read.
Unfortunately, the story goes a bit off the rails as we’re introduced rather abruptly to a love-interest for newly hirsute Reuben. She’s an incredibly flat character named Laura who seems at once, all-good, all understanding, and incredibly horny for werewolves. Yes, you read the last part right, and Rice doesn’t bat an eye or even raise an eyebrow as the book plunges head-long into some rather strange werewolf/woman lovemaking sessions.
That flatness of this character and really all characters presented is really the main flaw of the book. Reuben’s new wolf abilities give him the ability to sniff out either good or evil on people. And there never seems to be a shade of grey in between. His family and friends are always rich, good-looking and completely morally flawless. While anyone who he kills pr who provides even an inkling of conflict is just the opposite – 100% evil and must die. This binary makes for easy storytelling, but creates an end result that’s too simple to be truly engaging.
Toward the end of the book she spends a long time (maybe too long, as this section gets a bit tedious) diving into the mythology she has created around her werewolves, or morphenkind, as they are called. This mythology is setting us up of course for the rest of the series, the second of which, Wolves of Midwinter, has just been released.
While it’s exciting have Anne Rice return to the supernatural gothic territory that made her name what it is, The Wolf Gift doesn’t quite live up to its promise. But here’s hoping the rest of the series will.