"'The young reinvent the universe,' he said. 'And they give the new universe to us as their gift.'"-The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice
After spending almost a decade writing about the life of Christ and the good works of angels, Anne Rice has returned to her horror roots in The Wolf Gift. This new novel explores the ambiguous folklore of the werewolf while incorporating familiar Rice themes such as religion, morality, spirituality, and even some tasteful bestiality. The result is a novel which, although not quite on par with the winning streak of novels Rice had going in late 80s/early 90s (The Queen of the Damned, The Mummy, The Witching Hour), still proves superior to most current fiction.
Reuben Golding is the hero of The Wolf Gift and it’s evident that Rice adores this character. Reuben is 23, a reporter for the San Francisco Observer, and a man trying to figure what he really wants out of life. When Reuben is asked to report about the selling of a sprawling mansion clinging to the Pacific Coast, which he nicknames Nideck Point, Reuben quickly decides to become the home’s new owner. Like many of Rice’s characters in past novels, Reuben is extremely wealthy thanks to a trust fund which allows him to buy just about whatever he wants. Reuben is entranced by the home and I was reminded of Michael Curry’s infatuation with the Mayfair house in The Witching Hour. Reuben also takes an interest in Nideck Point’s current owner, Marchent, who inherited the estate from her assumed to be dead uncle, Felix Nideck. Felix hasn’t been seen in 20 years and it’s time for Marchent to move on with her life. However, Marchent’s life is cut short by an attack at Nideck Point during Reuben’s visit, and our protagonist is nearly killed by some sort of animal.
After the attacks, Reuben’s life makes takes on a surreal change. Not only did Marchent will the house to Reuben shortly before her death, but he has also discovered his ability to change into a werewolf, or “man wolf” as Rice likes to say. Reuben realizes that some sort of power has been passed to him through the beast which nearly killed him. Throughout the novel, Reuben investigates what this creature was, and what it’s made of him. This is where Rice’s talents as a fiction writer truly shine. She creates a whole new lore for the werewolf and turns the transformation from man to wolf into something almost erotic, rather than the painful experiences we’re used to seeing in films.
Rice portrays the man wolf as inherently good. The man wolf helps others, and kills only those who are evil, much like Lestat from the Vampire Chronicles who only fed on people who more or less deserved it. Speaking of which, I was pleased that Rice did not try to recreate the vampire storyline of feeling damned, outcast, and living in a godless world. Reuben seems to very much enjoy his new powers, and he does not struggle with the same spiritual and theological questions that are so prevalent in the Vampire Chronicles. This was a wise move on Rice’s part, and the story feels fresh. I watched an interview that Rice did a couple years ago where she said she felt blocked in her writing, but now that she’s cut ties with the Catholic Church for the second time in her life, there is a reawakening in her creativity that is ever present in the novel.
The Wolf Gift is full of intriguing characters that I’ll let you find out about for yourself, but I will say the Russian doctors were a little much for me. They didn’t seem “real” like the other characters did, and almost parodies of mad scientists. I wish Rice would have spent some more time developing these two individuals as they are key to the plot. Aside from that small criticism, the novel works well as a single volume, but I could certainly see it being turned into a series. Regardless, it is safe to say, as many already have, that the queen is back.