Anne Rice cut her teeth, if you will, by creating some of the most Gothic, horrifying stories and by revitalizing historic mythology surrounding blood-sucking lore. You’ll find those literary influences continuing to reverberate in her latest offerings, The Wolf Gift, and its follow-up, The Wolves of Midwinter, injecting new vitality into the werewolf myth as only Rice can do.
We meet main character Rueben Golding in the first pages of The Wolf Gift as a journalist doing a passionate piece on one of the more mysterious and gorgeous properties in northern California. Fictional Nideck Point is set atop craggy cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean; a three-story mansion often referred to as “the Castle,” that has intrigued young Rueben his whole life. He feels that the opportunity to interview Marchent Nideck, the current owner of the land and buildings, a boon to his growing career.
What might seem as a very contrived plot point, in that Rueben and Marchent become lovers soon after meeting, is in very capable hands with Rice’s rich and delicious prose, delectably detailing every moment of their relationship as well as every inch of the enormous house. She leaves no detail unmentioned, which creates an outstanding and immersive reading experience. Bordering on literary fiction, Rice returns to the storytelling prowess that made her the bestselling author she is today.
Reuben is the golden boy of his family and of the newspaper he writes for. His mother is a surgeon, his father a poet, and his brother a priest. These seem merely incidental occupations at first, but each family member plays a crucial role throughout the first book. When Marchent is brutally attacked and murdered by her own ne’er-do-well brothers, hoping to inherit Nideck Point, their horrific plot is avenged when an indescribable beast intervenes then and there, very nearly killing Rueben in the process. Rueben barely survives the attack and is been bitten by the beast. As in the vampire myths, where blood is the agent through which bitten humans are converted forever, it’s saliva in the case of the beast. Recovering in the hospital, cared for by his own mother, Rueben becomes a media darling. However, strange things soon begin happening to him.
Rice weaves a wonderfully dense mystery throughout The Wolf Gift, and never lets us forget what she’s best known for: storytelling. Rueben makes numerous discoveries on his journey to embracing what he’s become. Religious overtones abound in both installments, echoes, perhaps, of Rice’s previous works on the mythical Jesus Christ and her reunion with her Catholic faith, which she eventually abandoned. However, also appearing are scenes in which Rice’s alter ego, A. N. Roquelaure, might’ve written, embracing sensuality and sexuality in lurid yet delectable prose.
There is gore aplenty here, as well as a deep exploration of human mythology, and what separates us from the very beasts we seem to fear becoming. There are many points introduced in this story, which one hopes will continue on into the follow-up, The Wolves of Midwinter.
In the second novel, Rice reminds us of the events that took place in the first. However, it’s nearing the Yule season, and Rueben has connected with the distinguished gentlemen who originally made Nideck Point what it is, and set out to educate him on their individual histories, as well as the history of the Morphenkind. Unlike The Wolf Gift though, this story unravels at a sedate and leisurely pace. We become immersed in the day-to-day lives of the Morphenkind, their extravagant philanthropy, and a rather deep inspection of the nature of Christmas, or Yule, as the characters call it, as many of them were alive when the celebration first took place. The story evolves and then evolves some more, but there is very little in the way of action until late in the story.
The wolf family is explored at length, which brings about some rich and interesting character development. At times it felt a bit melodramatic, but Rice’s prose is always worth the time invested.
There is setup for a third novel, which can often be the downfall of many good or great series. Rice’s adept use of language and description is the glue that holds us to the page, and incredible character development is a joy to behold. It takes determination to make it through the second installment, but one can be certain there will be more to follow, if the popularity of is to be counted. And, as there are many unanswered questions still left to our imagination, we’ll be sure to follow Rice along on her storytelling journey.