“Whatever I am, I have a soul.” So says the main character of Anne Rice’s newest installment of “The Wolf Gift Chronicles,” Reuben Golding.
Whatever Rice happens to be writing, matters of the soul always play a key part. In many ways, Rice has done for werewolves what she did for vampires decades ago: she’s humanized them. Reuben and the Distinguished Gentlemen (the older, sophisticated wolves) offer the werewolf novel—if there is such a thing—a set of Romantic heroes. Yes, that’s with a capital “R.”
In “The Wolf Gift,” the first in this series, Reuben is given the “Chrism,” the item, or gift, or power, which allows him to change shape. In his lupine form, Reuben maintains every scrap of his humanity. In fact, one could argue that Reuben becomes even more human when he becomes “The Man Wolf.” In his altered shape, Reuben gains the ability to smell evil and hear innocence.
In “The Wolves of Midwinter,” we see Reuben adapting further to his new, posh lifestyle among the aristocratic and ancient wolves. Of particular importance are Felix, the previous owner of the Reuben’s inherited multimillion dollar home, and Margon, the first wolf. The novel opens with the pack preparing for Yule or Christmas or whatever other winter holiday one might have in mind. Felix spends an unmentioned (and probably unfathomable) amount of money to decorate the entire forest surrounding the house of Nideck Point, to transport European choirs to sing during the celebration, and to pay vendors to sell their wares.
Horror rises when the ghost of Marchent, the previous owner of the house and blood relative to Felix, comes to haunt Reuben. Tensions reach a breaking point as the ghost drives Reuben to the edge of his sanity, a female pack challenges the Distinguished Gentlemen, and Felix invites the Forest Gentry to help his ailing descendant. These spirits always come during the winter celebration, but Margon does not trust them and hates that Felix has invited so many so soon. The Forest Gentry claim to have never inhabited human bodies. Some claim to be angels and others simply claim to be spirits of the woods. As the story unfolds, they eventually unleash a terrifying display of their power.
Yet, as much as this novel incorporates elements from horror, it’s the Christmas party scenes that are simply sublime. To call Rice’s prose sensuous is a gross understatement. Her attention to details, her observations, and her sumptuous descriptions mark her as a master of the craft. “The Wolves of Midwinter” is worth a read. And a re-read. And a re-read.[divider] [/divider]
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