Review: The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

The Wolf Gift by Anne RiceThe 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 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 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 threatens 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 may be others like him who are watching—guardian creatures who have existed throughout time who 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.

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Review

I hadn’t read anything by Anne Rice in a very long time before picking up The Wolf Gift. She’s my writing role model and a favourite author from when I was younger so she gets an automatic pass; when I see a new book she’s published I will put serious consideration into reading it. When I heard about The Wolf Gift, and of how much it was similar to her older stories, I was so very excited.

While I was excited, I was also feeling some trepidation. Why? Well apart from the time it had been since reading a title by Anne Rice and worrying about whether I would still love her work, I’m not exactly a big fan of religious fiction. The fact of Anne Rice re-finding her faith and it influencing her work disappointed me only insofar as a change in genre disappoints a specific genre reader. I admit I was wary of her faith affecting how her writing would be. I’m not going to believe she can revisit her Gothic writing, a’la early Vampire Chronicles, as much as I would want to.

When I finally began to read The Wolf Gift, after putting it off for as long as I could tolerate, I made sure to put away any high expectations I may have had. I decided from the outset that this novel was a read based on its own merits and shouldn’t be held up to comparisons to earlier work; everyone changes. I feel I succeeded with limiting high expectations, but it was difficult to completely ignore what I’d read previously. I’m not sure if it was me reaching for it, or if it was truly there, but I noticed several similarities between The Wolf Gift and The Vampire Chronicles. For instance, ones that were glaringly obvious were the terms used, The Wolf Gift instead of The Dark Gift, and The Garden of Pain instead of The Savage Garden. Then there’s the desire to meet up and be guided by a mentor or creator, flourishing and relishing in the change, and a history born in almost the same area of the world.

The main focus of The Wolf Gift, in my opinion, was character. Unfortunately I couldn’t relate to any of them. Whether they had an appeal and whether I found them intriguing didn’t matter. Even when I come across characters I would not have anything to do with in real life, I can usually find some way to relate to them. Not this time. I put this down to the characters being rich and not wanting for anything. The main character, Reuben, for example, is not an individual whom has really had to struggle much in his life. He comes across as a very pretty boy with plenty of money at his disposal and the ability to have his wishes granted without much fuss (like when he purchased the mansion where the story mostly takes place).

Of course there was a questioning and struggling to comprehend, but this was more existential and theological, rather than true hardships or mental coping born from his change. I don’t think he really struggled with his transformation otherwise; it was all very intellectual and accepted very quickly. Reuben had drive, but not to the point of passion. For what interactions he had with other characters, even when it could be considered conflict, it was all very easy. I didn’t feel as though there was much conflict in the whole story and for the two instances where that could count; they were too short-lived for my liking.

As for the writing itself and descriptions; I think there was more of a tendency to tell rather than show. I’m not necessarily a fan of long-winded dialogue that can make a story clunky and lacking setting description, but I’m not inclined to enjoy dialogue cut down to the point of summarisation. I want to learn about these characters, what they feel and what they see around them, not just be told as though I couldn’t discover it for myself. When it happens I always feel as though those occurrences came about because what the character had to say wasn’t important, but if that’s the case, why include it at all?

While my desire to finish The Wolf Gift was brought about more for a desire to read rather than to discover the story, I didn’t feel this one was as robust and in-depth as previous work. I still do appreciate Anne Rice’s ability to breath life into a scene and surroundings, as well as her ability for creating new twists to well-known myths. It’s wonderful to know she hasn’t lost the skill of recreating a myth and changing the way we can perceive such monsters and supernatural beings.

But guess what I actually loved about the story? BATMAN! The story has nothing to do with Batman, I know, but imagine what it would be like if Batman became a werewolf? Take your time to think about it and you pretty much have a large chunk of what The Wolf Gift is like; a vigilante werewolf that gets hunted down after he has helped innocents. Definitely Batman-esque.

From the perspective of someone who has read the majority of Rice’s work I would say The Wolf Gift is not a story I would recommend to readers who want to discover Anne Rice for the first time. I’m not sure how much The Wolf Gift could be a stepping stone into more of her work, but if it was I guess it would lead to what I consider to be far richer, deeper, prose.

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