Over the past few years, Anne Rice and I have been having a little tiff. I mean, she’s mostly unaware of it, but it’s been going on for years. I didn’t touch any of her Jesus books, and her Songs of the Seraphim series didn’t exactly soar in my opinion.
That was why when I heard that she was doing a werewolf novel, I wasn’t exactly gagging for it. Werewolves have been done to death over the past couple of years — just look at your neighborhood bookstore’s young adult (YA) shelves. And after reading her most recent work? I wasn’t exactly confident she was going to bring anything new to the table.
Nevertheless, I still got myself a copy of “The Wolf Gift”, because I’ve been reading her since I was in high school and you just can’t throw all of that away, as much as you want to. I just hoped against hope that I would not be bitterly disappointed yet again.
“The Wolf Gift” introduces us to 23-year-old Reuben Golding, a “gentleman journalist” whose considerable trust fund and privileged upbringing has made it hard for him to connect with himself and the world around him.
That all changes the night he meets Marchent Nideck. On assignment to write about the sprawling estate Marchent intends to sell, Reuben instead finds himself the object of an attack that ends with him being bitten by a werewolf.
In a couple of weeks, Reuben undergoes body undergoes a lot of changes. He’s grown taller and bigger, and his hair has taken on a beautiful sheen. His sense of hearing has increased exponentially, and he’s developed the ability to literally smell the evil and malice emanating from a person.
Once he finally undergoes the transformation, he’s compelled by his condition to seek out and kill evildoers all across San Francisco. But as his exploits gain notoriety, he begins to draw to the city not just creatures like him, but those who would seek to lock him up in a laboratory and study him. As these people edge closer and closer around him, will Reuben be able to get out of it alive?
Perhaps because of the decidedly bland taste that “Angel Time” and “Of Love and Evil” left in my mouth, I had a hard time connecting with Reuben Golding in the first few pages of “The Wolf Gift”. Just like Toby O’ Dare from the “Songs of the Seraphim” series, very little seems to be troubling in Reuben’s world. I mean, really? A journalist with a trust fund, zooming around San Francisco on a Porsche he got for his birthday? Boo-hoo, your life is so hard.
Roadblocks are still non-existent for Reuben even after he acquires the Wolf Gift. He adapts almost immediately to his new form and doesn’t have any trouble distinguishing good from evil even during the first few days of his transformation, so there isn’t really any opportunity for such chilling scenes like the one in “The Vampire Lestat”, where Lestat feeds on a mother and child on the steps of Notre Dame. Through the course of the novel, Reuben even becomes a local hero because of the lives he’s saved.
What really saves “The Wolf Gift” and eventually makes Reuben an acceptable protagonist is the fact that Rice seems to be slowly regaining her writing mojo. There is a departure from the stinginess with words that afflicted “Of Love and Evil” and a return to the rich and lush prose that made her earlier vampire novels a hit.
Indeed, “The Wolf Gift” marks a return to sensuality for Rice. Transforming into a werewolf is described as something akin to an orgasm, and the way Rice describes Reuben’s murders evokes the blood drinking of her vampires. There is even a sex scene between Reuben and a woman — while Reuben is in werewolf form — that may raise a few eyebrows even if only for its novelty.
The new mythology that she invents for the werwolves, stretching far back into the beginning of civilized life, is also a refreshing reminder of her unique take on the supernatural. It is a creation myth that is surprisingly rooted in science, and is reminiscent of the vampire creation myth that made 1988’s “The Queen of the Damned” such a great read.
While Rice doesn’t exactly break new ground — “The Wolf Gift” is basically her taking her vampires and giving them much hairier bodies — she does display a remarkable return to form. And for longtime Anne Rice fans such as myself, that is certainly a welcome development.