In her career, Anne Rice has recreated the mythology of vampires, witches, ghosts, mummies, and whatever the main character was in Servant of the Bones. It was probably only a matter of time before she wrote a werewolf story.
Rice’s books are usually categorized as horror, and there are certainly a lot of horror elements in The Wolf Gift. But what stood out to me was the element of fantasy. I don’t mean fantasy as in dragons and unicorns and warrior elves, I mean fantasy as in daydream. The whole book felt like the result of many long sessions of staring out a window thinking, “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great…”
It’s always surprising to me that one of the author’s main fantasies isn’t just the supernatural, it’s wealth. Anne Rice has had enough money to buy mansions in New Orleans and elsewhere for as long as I’ve been reading her books, and she still loves to indulge in these dreams of what feels like unlimited amounts of cash. And it’s not just about having money or expensive items, though there’s a lot of that too, but all the things you can do with that money. For Rice’s characters that usually amounts to buying an enormous but neglected mansion and spending lavish amounts to restore it and fill it with lovely things, and then throwing lovingly described banquets for beautiful people. If there’s a word for this sort of writing then please let me know, because it reminds me of foodie fiction. There’s that same sense of the author and the reader licking their lips and lingering over their favorite passages.
The werewolf curse, or in this book “gift”, is another fantasy. This definitely isn’t a Vampire Diaries sort of werewolf, with a painful transformation every full moon that leaves them out of control. Every part of the transformation here is pleasurable; it feels amazing to change into the Wolf Man. The main character gets to have all the augmented strength and speed and heightened senses, and still be in complete control and remember everything afterwards.
To add to the fantasy element, innocent people don’t run screaming from the eight-foot fur-covered monster in this book. Usually they’re just in awe. And in one case turned on. (Werewolf-human sex? Surprisingly hawt.) All of this results in a main character who’s an intelligent, kind, occasionally poetry-reciting gentle beast, and yet still vicious enough to tear apart rapists and murders, which he can identify just by smelling their evil intentions.
It was the power given them by the gods long ago to defend themselves against others so evil that they would break the peace of their world for no reason at all.
And that’s probably the most satisfying daydream of this book; the ability to identify evil and then actually do something about it. Not just mad-scientist-genius-mastermind kind of evil (although there’s some of that too), but the small-minded kind of evil that manages to do so much damage for no reason: the serial rapist, the parent killing their children so they won’t “lose” them, the bored teenager beating a homeless man to death. Imagine being able to catch someone in the act, and then stop them with so much force that they’ll never be able to hurt anyone again. Rice spends as much time on the really gruesome ways the Man Wolf kills people as she spends on gorgeous architecture and sex.
Rice throws in some lengthly discussion by the characters about the nature of evil, and if it’s right or even healthy to decide that someone is horrible enough to die. These discussions can get a little bogged down, especially with everyone speaking way more poetically than is really believable, but if you’re not expecting that going into an Anne Rice book then you haven’t been paying attention. For the most part I don’t really think the discussions were all that necessary. In Anne Rice’s world the evildoers are considerate enough to not have any redeeming qualities, so you don’t have to feel sad about them later.
So the book is gorgeous and decadent, a little indulgent, and kind of simplistic. I liked it. After so many stories about guilty, conflicted, tormented (but always darn handsome) souls, it’s refreshing to read something from Rice where the characters actually like the new life they’ve been given. The second book in the series came out in December 2013, and I’m a little worried that she’ll revert to form and turn the werewolf gift back into a curse. Hopefully she’s saved that sort of thing for the Lestat book she has coming out later this year.