Science fiction and fantasy
The Wolf Gift
by Anne Rice
Suddenly the handsome young reporter becomes the story. He's trying to make sense of what's happened while he's recovering in hospital, but his body is changing and he's overcome with powerful urges and enhanced senses. As these develop he becomes far more aware of the crimes going on around him, and as his awareness grows he realises he's in a position to do something about them. Enter the "Man Wolf", a more sophisticated creature than your typical slavering, ravening howler, one with existential angst as well as excess body hair. The Man Wolf begins to attract a frenzy of media attention, as well as interest from more dangerous sources. Reuben has to choose between laying low or giving in to his instincts and having to deal with the guilt it brings him. He is afraid of exposure, but how can he go on if he has no-one to confide in?
The plot thickens as hostile werewolves, persistent forensic experts and creepy scientists threaten Reuben's freedom. He discovers he can't always trust himself, and other people are drawn into his secret and need to be protected. It's an enjoyably complex tale for the most part. However I found a lot of the minor characters were far too black and white. The story is full of the sort of criminals who would beat up homeless people and sell their grandmothers. Unmitigated evil like that means there's too much moral certainty. I found this strange considering how much time Reuben spends musing about religion and philosophy in the light of what's happened to him. His brother Jim is a Catholic priest, and for a while Jim comes across as the voice of Reuben's conscience. The book touches on the nature of evil and the soul, and right and wrong, the kind of themes that echo the questions posed by Louis in Interview With A Vampire.
I found Reuben likeable because of his thoughtfulness and self-examination, but he's not an extraordinary character. The "Sunshine Boy" has it all: good looks, money, love, friends and family, a good education and an interesting career. So he comes across as a bit insipid because he doesn't have to struggle for any of these things. The same is true for his girlfriend Celeste, who is quite easy-going considering everything that happens, and to a lesser extent for the rest of Reuben's family.
Reuben tends to have women fall at his feet, and although he's not predatory in his love life it does lead to some unusual situations. Whichever way you look at it though, werewolf sex is bestial and therefore gross. Anne Rice tries to handle this somewhat delicately, but it would have been more tasteful to skip this bit entirely.
The author has set up a substantial mystery, and she doesn't stint on leaving readers with a sense of closure at the end of the book. It's a long ending which is drawn out too long after the climax, when there's no tension left to fuel our interest. I thought slightly too much was explained away in the last chapters. It wasn't always necessary, and it slowed the pace. However this may make it sound like I found lots to complain about with The Wolf Gift, but the truth is I enjoyed the book as a whole. It starts and ends slowly, but there's a big chunk in the middle where I didn't want to put it down for a second.
31st January 2012
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A young woman has to choose between family loyalty and love in this werewolf story set in Bucharest.
Review © Ros Jackson
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