Anne Rice rises again! I freely admit that I love her. In fact, I spent a significant portion of my senior year of high school reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles rather than several of the books I was supposed to be reading for AP English. If it weren’t for Anne Rice, there would be no Twilight or Vampire Diaries or True Blood. I could continue to list vampires in popular culture, but you probably get my point. So in this book, rather than being a pioneer, Anne Rice finds herself jumping on the werewolf bandwagon. This is an odd spot for her to be, but I’d rather see her riding Stephenie Meyer’s coattails and writing urban fantasy again than continuing to write about Jesus and guardian angels (but I read those books too. I’m nothing if not a loyal reader).
I have a hard time writing about an Anne Rice book without sharing details of my ongoing relationship with her books. I blame her books for not finishing Crime and Punishment over Christmas vacation my senior year of high school. I blame her books for missing most of the first two weeks of the winter quarter of my second year of vet school. I was in class, but I was reading her books instead of taking notes. What’s more rude, do you think? Sleeping through a class or reading a vampire novel instead of paying attention? I blame her books for my obsession with New Orleans which resulted in a trip to Louisiana in July, 2008 for the AVMA conference. Anyone been to New Orleans in July? It’s not pleasant. Of course, I wouldn’t take back these experiences for anything. I would much rather have read Interview with the Vampire for the first time than Crime and Punishment. Besides, I’m going to get the chance to finish that one soon enough, thanks to the AP English challenge.
This book is a homecoming for Anne Rice in more than genre. The Wolf Gift is also set in San Francisco and the neighboring counties. I can’t remember the last Anne Rice book I read that took place in my hometown. In brief summary, Reuben Golding is a twenty-three year old newspaper reporter who lives a charmed life. He has a loving and wealthy family—his mother is a renowned trauma surgeon, his father a well-respected poet, his older brother a Catholic priest, his girlfriend is an up-and-comer at the district attorney’s office. He is well-loved but not always well-respected. He’s got nicknames like “Sunshine Boy,” “Baby Boy,” and “Little Boy.” All endearing, of course, but not especially empowering. He seems to be missing something in his life. When he goes on an assignment from his newspaper to interview Marchent Nideck at her family estate in Mendocino he begins to fall in love with her family’s estate. He and Marchent have a connection. In typical Anne Rice fashion, bedroom antics ensue, and then Marchent is murdered in the house. Reuben is attacked and bitten by some sort of animal who also kills the home invaders.
It’s obvious, of course, what happens next. The “animal” is a werewolf, and Reuben begins to go through mysterious changes until one drizzly night in San Francisco he transforms into something new. This transformation is accompanied by descriptions of ecstasy that are reminiscent of Anne Rice’s old school erotica. This iteration of the werewolf is not a mindless animal; Reuben retains his consciousness, but is attracted to the “smell” of evil. He is aggressive and cruel to evildoers. He brutally kills people who are doing wrong but has no desire to harm the innocent. In his daily life, he becomes more assertive, and his family is worried they have lost their “Sunshine boy” forever. His mom, the surgeon, is convinced that there’s something more to this “animal attack,” and pursues a diagnosis. Reuben continues his vigilantism for several weeks until he takes off for the house from the beginning of the book. Coincidentally, Marchent Nideck wills it to him. Needless to say, this book is filled with a few too many convenient coincidences for me. Turns out that Marchent’s uncle Felix, who disappeared twenty years ago and was recently declared dead may just be a werewolf, and maybe he has a pack of dear friends who are also werewolves, all of whom disappeared into the ether at the same time.
The plot is far too detailed to do a full summary here. Suffice it to say, there aren’t very many surprises, but I was actually okay with that. Anne Rice is back to her old, lush style. The Wolf Gift is full of beautiful descriptions of places and things. In her more recent fiction, the prose has been spare and sparse. It’s been almost like she was trying too hard to adopt a new style. It didn’t really work for me, on many levels, none of which I care to get into now. I always said I would follow Anne Rice on any adventure, even into Christian mythology, and I did. I didn’t say I had to like it.
Character development is usually what I like to talk about next in these essays. I’ve been staring at my computer for a few minutes trying to figure out if there was any of that. Definitely she does a decent job describing Reuben’s journey. It’s almost a coming-of-age kind of story for him—he leaves home, becomes independent from his parents, and finds a vocation. Granted the vocation is brutally murdering evildoers after he smells their sins on them, but it’s still a vocation. The other characters are a bit thin on characterization, now that I think about it. They are definitely there, and stand out from each other, but their motivations and desires are unknown except in relation to Reuben. They were solid enough that I wanted to know more, but still a bit flat.
One secondary story line I could have done without was that of Stuart, a victim that Reuben rescues from a gay bashing and accidentally turns into a werewolf. He seemed not entirely necessary to the plot development, and was almost like the Scrappy Doo of the operation. I would rather have had more time with the “wolf pack” and the history of the “morphenkind” than have a new major character introduced close to three-quarters of the way through the book.
The door is definitely open for sequels to The Wolf Gift if it does well. I thought that she’d write a sequel to The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, too, though, and that never happened.