Alice Borchardt writes at least as well as her sister does--and her sister is Anne Rice. The Wolf King
is the third in her series of alternate history novels with shape-shifting protagonists, following The Silver Wolf
and Night of the Wolf
. Reading the first two adds to the reader's understanding of the characters, though it's not required.
Borchardt mixes fantasy, horror, romance, suspense, action-adventure, political intrigue, and realistic evocation of Italy in the late eighth century. She uses lyrical descriptive passages to set scenes and immerse the reader in her characters' experiences. When a runaway Saxon slave rescues Regeane, the silver wolf, from a deadly blizzard, "the wind was howling around him and the world was sinking into a cold, gray blueness as the sun set somewhere beyond the clouds." He wraps her in his flea-harboring bearskin, reflecting that "this girl didn't have nearly the healthy temperature he did; maybe the little bastards would die. At any rate, the extermination of his vermin companions was the only benefit he was likely to derive from this particular adventure." He's wrong about that.
Regeane is Maeniel's mate (he's the long-lived werewolf leader of the pack, whose earlier life was featured in Night of the Wolf). Once thawed, Regeane confronts a demented abbot and a gang of (literal) cutthroats to save him. The werewolves and the Saxon head for Geneva to pledge allegiance to Charlemagne, who's about to cross the Alps to challenge King Desederius of the Lombards for control of northern and central Italy.
Soon Maeniel is in Desederius's territory and in danger. Regeane follows, despite his prohibition. They're fated to reencounter Regeane's sniveling cousin Hugo, who seeks revenge. He has become host to a powerful bear spirit who wants the wolves for his own purposes. The new Hugo has a lot in common with the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin character in All of Me; he provides comic leavening to the sometimes grim action. Other returning characters include Pope Hadrian's tough, practical, but vulnerable mistress Lucilla; her protégé, the singer Dulcinia; and the ageless werewolf earth-mother Matrona.
The Wolf King's almost-too-rich plot lines, characters, and mixed Teutonic, Roman, and Christian mythic elements may overwhelm those new to Borchardt's alternate Dark Ages. The story also ends abruptly--leaving plenty of room for sequels. --Nona Vero
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Borchardt's two previous novels in this series (The Silver Wolf and Night of the Wolf) will welcome this latest action- and intrigue-filled installment that continues the saga of lady werewolf Regeane and her sworn shapeshifter mate, wolf-turned-man Maeniel, in Dark Ages Italy. In a cliffhanger opening, a runaway Saxon slave saves Regeane from death in an Alpine avalanche. When the two attempt to take refuge in a nearby monastery, they discover a mad abbot under the control of an invading demon spirit, the Bear, who leads a ragtag troop of bandits and monks turned zombies. Although they escape with Maeniel's help, the Bear follows, determined to possess a werewolf body and increase its power. Maeniel undertakes a mission from Charles (Charlemagne) to scout the geographical and political landscape ahead of the king's troops as Charles lays siege to Lombardy and its self-indulgent ruler, Desederius. In the meantime, Regeane's greedy cousin Hugo bargains with the Bear spirit and finds himself caught up in Desederius's plot to capture Maeniel. Fortunately, Regeane and the Saxon arrive in time to rescue him. Borchardt's strength, as usual, is her deeply researched setting, which brings alive the barbaric era after the fall of the Roman Empire. Newcomers to the series may have some difficulty keeping up with the present while wading through the extensive backstory, where characters' motivations sometimes seem more convenient to the plot than sensible. (Feb. 27)Forecast: Borchardt continues to carve out a viable writing career akin to that of her celebrated sister, Anne Rice--to whom the publisher still feels compelled to compare her, in its promo for The Wolf King--appealing as vigorously to the romance as to the horror market. (Borchardt received the 1997 Best Historical Romance Award from Romantic Times). With her continued crossover appeal, this novel (with foreign rights sold in Germany, Holland and the U.K.) should do well, full moon or not, despite its flaws.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the