The Wolf Gift

The Wolf GiftThe Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There are many problems with The Wolf Gift – the dreary exposition, the sophomoric philosophising, the lack of any real bite in terms of horror or eroticism, the purple prose – but perhaps the biggest problem, which gives rise to all the others, is that Anne Rice attempts to transfer the template of Interview with the Vampire onto a new mythology.

Werewolves are not the same as vampires, and simply to treat them as interchangeable supernatural creatures, both with great insight and wisdom, refined taste and impeccable Old Word credentials, immortality and insatiable carnal and venal appetites, inflicts as grave an injustice on these tropes as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight sequence has done.

In fact, I would say the damage is greater, because Rice at least should know what she is doing. This, of course, is the writer who modernised vampires for a new generation, paving the way for everything from Meyer (the Gods help us all) to True Blood.

However, the big mistake here is that, instead of reinventing the werewolf story, she cranks out all the beats of Interview with the Vampire (we even have an older werewolf accidentally creating a young protégé, who in this version is a gay boy wolf – this is so laughable as to be completely unbelievable).

It has been years since I have read Rice – I gave up round about the Egyptian phase, and was quite oblivious to the Roman Catholic phase – but I do remember being quite enamoured with Interview with the Vampire. I think the great secret of that book was that we all wanted to be that young reporter interviewing Lestat in that room, gaining access to a world of unimaginable terror and beauty.

There is no comparable narrative hook in The Wolf Gift. At 23 years’ old, Reuben is an even bigger stuffed shirt than Little Lord Fauntleroy. His acceptance of the said ‘gift’ of werewolfhood – in the initial attack at Nideck House – is preceded by such a bungled attempt at writing about an older woman seducing a much younger man that the subsequent violence makes no impression whatsoever.

Just when the reader thinks he is dreaming, that no modern writer can possibly write with the prudishness or squeamishness of a Victorian school teacher, that Man Wolf Reuben stumbles upon the conveniently separated, and accepting, Laura in the big bad forest, and promptly deflowers her.

You would think that Rice has never seen an erect cock in her life before, the way she writes:

Something had happened to his entire body that was very much like what happens to the erectile tissue of his organ when a man is sexually aroused. It increases marvellously in size, no matter what the man wants to happen. It goes from something flaccid and secret to becoming a kind of weapon.

Rice’s take on the werewolf mythos is that it represents an evolutionary offshoot of prehistoric man in response to predation by more powerful species. Thus the ‘wolf gift’ evolved as a kind of defense mechanism. Not content to leave it there in the realm of pseudo-speculation, she then posits that her werewolves can ‘smell’ evil, and are driven to destroy it wherever it appears.

Rice hints heavily that this compulsion reveals the hand of God in nature. Reuben even visits his priest brother to receive absolution; Rice queasily conflates theology and morality by signposting the ‘superhero’ aspects of her werewolves.

Surprisingly little happens in this quite long novel. Much of it seems to take place in the drawing rooms of Nideck House and its surrounding forest. Indeed, the novel even ends with the kind of mega info dump that made The Witching Hour such torture to read.

As a horror novel, this scores absolute zero. The plotting and pacing are non-existent; Rice commits such obvious technical blunders as having Man Wolf Reuben being able to take selfies with his iPhone during his transformation.

Said transformation scenes are punctuated with endless exclamation marks (!), with Rice struggling to convey anything other than Man Wolf Reuben being covered by a giant mullet. There are lots of descriptions of hairstyles in the book, and lots of mirror gazing and hair flicking, which makes you wonder if Rice is interested solely in lycanthropy for its man-grooming possibilities.

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By Blood We Live

By Blood We LiveBy Blood We Live by Glen Duncan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Transcendent, gore-soaked third volume in Glen Duncan’s werewolf/vampire series is a magnificent conclusion, but also takes the series to a whole new level. Duncan takes a bit of a risk here in that he slows his breakneck plot down with the introduction of the 20 000-year on-again, off-again love affair between Remshi and Vali, and the couple’s mysterious link to Talulla.

However, it is a risk that pays off handsomely, with Duncan pouring some of his most incandescent writing into the tale of these star-crossed lovers. Twilight, True Blood, Anne Rice, all take note: this is how you do inter-species romance properly, with sufficient gravitas and eroticism, but also a healthy meta-appreciation of the absurdity of the genre’s constraints, so you are able to transcend them.

We also have the successor to the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), the Catholic Church’s Militi Christi vigilante hit squad thrown into the heady brew of the plot, plus the mysterious Olek secreted away in a converted ashram in India, convinced he has found the ultimate cure for what ails a fallen world.

If you have not read Duncan before, this is definitely not the place to start – best begin with The Last Werewolf. For the up-to-date reader, Duncan does subtly reiterate some plot arcs of the preceding two novels at crucial points. Given the gonzo, Grand Guignol way the plot erupted in Talulla Rising, I left scratching my head as to how Duncan would resolve the mess in the third volume. Suffice it to say, he is in total control of his material here.

Technically, Duncan is a master of both splatter and psychological horror. There are jaw-dropping set pieces here of quite stunning depravity, and then long lyrical stretches of painful beauty. I especially loved the way he works Robert Browning into the plot, which of course will be familiar to fans of Stephen King, but Duncan’s take on the Childe Roland story is much deeper that what King attempted with his Dark Tower series.

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