Title: The Wolf Gift
Author: Anne Rice
Genre: supernatural fiction
Pages: 404 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: February 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
The time is the present.
The place, the rugged coast of northern California. A bluff high above the Pacific. A grand mansion full of beauty and tantalizing history set against a towering redwood forest.
A young reporter on assignment from the San Francisco Observer. . . an older woman, welcoming him into her magnificent, historic family home that he has been sent to write about and that she must sell with some urgency . . . A chance encounter between two unlikely people . . . an idyllic night—shattered by horrific unimaginable violence. . .The young man inexplicably attacked—bitten—by a beast he cannot see in the rural darkness . . . A violent episode that sets in motion a terrifying yet seductive transformation as the young man, caught between ecstasy and horror, between embracing who he is evolving into and fearing who—what—he will become, soon experiences the thrill of the wolf gift.
As he resists the paradoxical pleasure and enthrallment of his wolfen savagery and delights in the power and (surprising) capacity for good, he is caught up in a strange and dangerous rescue and is desperately hunted as “the Man Wolf,” by authorities, the media and scientists (evidence of DNA threaten to reveal his dual existence). . . As a new and profound love enfolds him, questions emerge that propel him deeper into his mysterious new world: questions of why and how he has been given this gift; of its true nature and the curious but satisfying pull towards goodness; of the profound realization that there are others like him who may be watching—guardian creatures who have existed throughout time and may possess ancient secrets and alchemical knowledge and throughout it all, the search for salvation for a soul tormented by a new realm of temptations, and the fraught, exhilarating journey, still to come, of being and becoming, fully, both wolf and man.
Anne Rice has never been a go-to or auto-buy author for me; I think I missed hitting the crest of her wave of popularity by a few years - when I think of vampires and such, hers aren't the texts that shoot to mind. I've obviously read some of her ubiquitous novels, but never on my own impulse; friends had to coax me into bare interest then bring me their copies or, as in one case, order one from the library for me. I was bored by Interview with a Vampire, almost died of ennui during a mostly-skimming read of The Vampire Lestat and just annoyed at the more religious-in-tone The Songs of the Seraphim series. So I took a chance against my better judgement with this "daring departure from the inspired author" and decided to give a much-maligned author another shot. And while The Wolf Gift didn't inspire the depths of dislike that its predecessors did, it wasn't a complete good read either. I definitely wouldn't stretch the truth so far as to claim this is a daring departure - this is firmly in the vein of what she's produced before.
The first problem I had with this was the narrative style of the book itself. Just like Interview, or the Vampire Lestat, this opens with a naive reporter heading to an unknown place to deal with a supernatural creature. However, unlike in Vampire or Lestat, Rueben, the somewhat naive main character, isn't actually aware that he is running headlong into a foray into life's wilder side. Pursuing a story for The San Francisco Observer, Rueben's trek to the mysterious house in question sets an effective and enveloping ominous feeling for the novel. Rueben works as a main character, and that's perhaps the best that can be said of him. He's not one of the intense protagonists that bursts with life - Rueben is more loosely drawn than that, with the focus of the novel on unraveling the mysteries rather than illuminating his personality. Outside of characterization woes, the tone and feeling of the novel really are done quite well, and with a dab hand - I readily admit that Anne Rice is a good storyteller. I just wish I was more easily enthralled in the stories she chooses to write.
Rueben is a mostly rounded-out character, I definitely wouldn't call him a cliche
yet: he's smart but feels unfulfilled in his job and coddled as "Sunshine Boy" by his well-meaning family and the darling of his parents eye. Reuben's situation and attitude toward his parents was the most believable to me. Like Reuben himself of the novel, Reuben the character has a lot of potential that he unfortunately never quite achieves all the way. He does a few things that are personally distasteful to me (I find it hard to like a main character that cheats on their significant other so easily and readily), but at least he is not a stagnant character: he learns, changes, adapts to his new situation. It's very interesting that a character so ingrained to use technology, one who can't go 10 minutes without his iPhone is the one transformed into a much earthier, natural state. He's decent; he gets the job done and doesn't alienate the reader too much, though his attraction to gray-haired Marchent strains credulity. As the multiple mysteries surrounding older-woman Marchent Nideck, the house and her family evolve more and more, so too does Rueben. I have to say I didn't like any of the romantic entanglements present in The Wolf Gift; neither Reuben and Celeste, nor Reuben and Marchent or Celeste and anyone else, feels like an actual, viable relationship. People are just paired of as convenient or just seems 'sexy' at the time. The sex scenes themselves also just read as cold to me - there was no heat, no chemistry to make them fun to read. The man-wolf/woman sex scenes in particular crossed from "awkward" to almost laughable - I probably snickered involuntarily.
The supernatural aspect of this is probably what worked the best and what I liked the most. Marchent's family history was long, complicated and murderous but it only turned truly interesting and compelling when the mysterious Felix was mentioned, or explorations into the "Man Wolf" were written. I wish a bit more thought/time had been given to the exposition of the Man Wolf. Bare bones are present to account for the appearance in Reuben's life, but more forthcoming information would've rounded out the large and important paranormal aspect of The Wolf Gift. The morphenkinder and the history of the "Man Wolf" , besides having an awesome-sounding name, served to balance out the more tedious parts of the novel, especially the beginning. I wish more had been provided.