The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

Reading in 2014

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[I took this picture on a clear, cold day in Travemünde, just a few days ago.]

It’s done and over with – 2014, that is. And I’m glad of it ’cause it really wasn’t a good year, overall. The reading was okay, even though I didn’t read nearly enough. I only started in March, 26 novels and anthologies in all. They were mostly good, also mostly lesbian romances and some rereads. I want to spread out more this year but for 2014, it was okay.

My favorites among the new ones I read were Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt, Wicked Things, edited by Jay and Astrid Ohletz (which contains my short story ‘A Lesson i Magic’), and Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker.

But apart from the books I’ve read there were some I haven’t finished in 2014. There are always some of those each year. I often lose interest in books, but that’s not the only reason for not finishing a book. Let me just run down those unfinished books of 2014.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth – While I liked the first volume of the series, the second part has too many elements of that other series that treats its female protagonist like a second-class character. There were also some plot bunnies that didn’t make much sense, apart from the basis of the whole series being a little far-fetched.

The Age of Innocent by Edith Wharton – I love Wharton’s work and I would really like to read more from her. The problem is that I want to study her, but I’m not quite at a point where I can solely concentrate on a body of work by one author, especially one who has been studied by far more intelligent heads than mine. I haven’t gotten beyond the first chapter – though I rewatched the movie this year.

When the Clock Strikes Thirteen by Ylva Publishing – I contributed a story to this year’s Halloween anthology and wanted to read last year’s. I have read the first few stories but I haven’t gotten beyond them yet. I will pick this anthology up again to continue reading, I just got side-tracked.

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart – This is one of my all-time favorite Xena-Uber fanfictions and now I have the paperback. But I haven’t gotten around to reading the whole book yet. I want to, but it’s been a while since I read it and I would hate to discover that it’s not as good as I remember it. That’s stupid, of course, Hart is a good story-teller. I’m just being silly, is all.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton – This is part of my research about supernatural creatures. I’m looking forward to writing my first supernatural story this year (probably come June) so I may finish this one yet. It’s good, so far.

Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran – I’m trying to get involved in some gay (male) reading, but so far haven’t been very successful (as I’ve started and not finished At Swim, Two Boys last year). I like the narration so far but it’s a little more heavy-duty than I want to engage in at the moment.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan – This is a sweet story about a coming out of a lesbian teen. I’m going to continue reading this at some point but not right now.

Heart’s Surrender by Emma Weimann – I really like the beginning of this one and if you ask me why I haven’t finished it yet, I can’t even tell you. My focus got diverted and I haven’t redirected it at this novel yet. I will, probably sometime this year. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier – The third part of the series, a good, solid series. But I got a little tired of the narrator’s voice by the third book. Sometimes listening to teen first narrators gets a little tiresome. I like the premise of the story and the story, too. I will finish it, though I’m not sure when.

Blind Bet by Tracey Richardson – The Candidate by the same author was brilliant, I loved it. The Wedding Party was all right but I had some beef with it. And now this one… I don’t know. There were just some things in this I had a hard time working through. The writing is good but some of the plot bunnies are positively rabid. Not sure I’ll pick it up again.

2014 is over. Let’s see what 2015 brings. I’m looking forward to reading in 2015.

 

Wicked Things: Lesbian Halloween Short Stories, edited by Astrid Ohletz & Jae (The Reader’s Edition)

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Here it is, Ylva Publishing’s Halloween anthology 2014 – which might include a short story by yours truly. But since this is the ‘reader’s edition,’ I’m not gonna talk about that. I have a different post for the ‘writer’s edition’ here.

Let’s talk about the anthology.

14 authors have come together to create 14 amazing stories for our Halloween pleasure. And a true pleasure it is. What I found really wonderful with this anthology is the wide range of (scary) topics these stories cover.

Andi Marquette writes about ghost hunters in a haunted house, May Dawney about a local urban legend seemingly come to life, and Eve Francis about a vampire cop falling off the blood wagon.

And where there are vampires, there are werewolves and hunters. There are also witches and ghosts. But there’s also a lot of attraction between women and some sexy times.

As a person who truly loves Halloween, I couldn’t help but love this anthology. It’s a great read to enjoy with your chocolate-y Halloween treasures or some hot chocolate on a cold October night before a toasty fire. Some of it is scary, some tragic, some erotic, and then there’s somethng for the romantic among you.

All stories are well-written, all are entertaining and some are even better than all that. My favorites? S.M. Harding’s A Winter Story, R.G. Emanuelle’s Strega, and after that all the other stories.

This is an anthology for all those of you who like a good scare, love Halloween, or maybe just enjoy supernatural stories. But even if you only want to read some really great stories about lesbians and their loves – read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Wild by Meghan O’Brien

wildThis year sees me doing strange things – readingwise. One is that I’m giving into a passion for the supernatural that I never before acknowledged I had. Shape-shifters, vampires and witches, oh my. Yes, it’s also research for my own future endeavor to write a supernatural story but it’s also natural inclination.

Of course, there’s always the romance to go with it and Meghan O’Brien’s Wild has plenty of that. Here’s what it’s about:

When pathologist Eve Thomas is attacked by a man in Golden Gate Park, a wolf comes to her rescue and runs the attacker off. But both the masked guy and the wolf are more than they seem on first sight. The man who attacked Eve is a serial killer in the making, obsessed with Eve who helped the police catch a serial killer before. The wolf is shape-shifter Selene Rhodes with whom Eve falls in love over the course of the novel.

Life and relationships get complicated when one has to hide a part of one’s person and while love hits both women fast and passionately, complete honesty is a hard concept to learn for gun shy Selene. And dealing with a psychopathic killer isn’t easy either.

O’Brien weaves an interesting story. She’s a good story teller, her style is easy and fluid. Eve and Selene are great characters with deep emotions and some insecurities. I also like the idea of the empathetic link between them. For all those reasons, Wild is a great read and I’m confident readers will also enjoy the steamy sex and there’s plenty of it.

At times I thought it was a little bit much but as it fits very well into the story about these two, well, creatures really it at least made sense.

Something I found more difficult to take are the moments of female domination, I want to call it. In a way, it makes sense, again. A shape-shifter is at least part animal and to feel terretorial and overprotective makes sense for Selene. But why Jac, Eve’s ex-girlfriend has to exhibit these traits even more aggressively to a point where she grabs and pulls and pushes Eve around, I just don’t get. And reading scenes like that are rather off-putting. Maybe I’m too sensitive but if a woman behaves that way toward me, I’m telling her off. The whole character of Jac felt too pushy somehow and I didn’t get why Eve would want to stay friends with her. I didn’t like Jac, at all, something I regret because female homicide cops are one of my favorite lesbian stereotypes.

And with stereotypes come clichés and I felt that O’Brien uses a lot of those. I cherish a good cliché, something to be showy about and also make a little fun of. The use of chlichés in Wild seemed overdone and not at all conscious but just in a way as if to say, this has to be so because it’s always been done this way. And using chlichés in that capacity is lame, because it’s exactly how they shouldn’t be used, why they have such a bad reputation, in fact. They make the plot predictable, the characterization suffers and they become annoying when overused.

I must say that it took me a good long while to read this. That was not due to the story but because I’m still not in my regular reading-mode. I’m incredibly slow these days, but it doesn’t reflect on the story. Wild is a good romance with believable thriller elements, and steamy, animalistic sex. O’Brien wrote a great story about a shape-shifter and her characters were well thought-through. I like it, but I don’t love it.

Second Nature by Jae

secondnature1My reading habits are all over the map right now and there’s no sense or order in what I read or don’t read these days. Luckily, this fit into my research about the supernatural. So let’s talk shape-shifters:

Jorie Price is writing a novel. Unfortunately for her, the dreams that gave her the idea for her newest story are not just Freudian seductions like Stephanie Meyer’s – they’re prophecies about a species that lives in secret: shape-shifters. When Jorie’s beta-reader who is also a shifter becomes concerned about the accuracy of the descriptions of her species, she informs the Saru, a secret police force of shape-shifters who start to investigate the writer and a possible informant.

Griffen Westmore is the investigator who is send to Michigan to find out where Jorie gets her information. She’s just as private and closed off as Jorie and the two find it easier to connect with each other than with their respective families. But when Griffen’s commanding officer Cedric Jennings pushes the shape-shifters’ council to issue a killing order on Jorie Griffen has to decide where her loyalties lie or be caught in the cross fire between humans and shifters.

Second Nature is a compelling read. It has a great story and Jae conveys it expertly. She weaves a tapestry of family relations, friendship and devided emotions and doesn’t waver in her pursuit of a fascinating and exciting story. The beginning is a little slow but that is to be expected when the supernatural elements are introduced and it is never boring. Jae combines facts and fiction so elegantly that it is a pleasure to read about her creatures, their living situation and culture.

I have stated before that I’m not a great fan of writers who make their main characters writers. Too often it ends in tedious descriptions of what we writers find endlessly fascinating – the process of writing and living as writer – but what everybody else must recognize as masturbatory self-congratulation. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Jae doesn’t dwell on whatever might be her own philosophy about writing, instead she introduces us to a main character who is not defined by her profession only. Jorie is interesting and three-dimensional and thus a believable target for the affections of a liger shape-shifter such as Griffen Westmore.

The love story between these two characters progresses slowly and believable. Private people like Jorie and Griffen don’t fall in love at first sight and their developing friendship is actually a greater focus of the book than the sexual attraction which happens simultaneously but more subtle than in most romances. Jae leaves her characters with enough room to figure out their feelings in their own time and I appreciate that very much.

While I really enjoyed this story and could hardly put it down after the chase for life had begun, there’s something about Jae’s style that’s a little tiring. While her descriptions are all very good, there are simply too many of them. This is especially true during conversations where the constant interpretation of emotions hems the flow of the dialogue. Jae does not seem to trust the reader to interpret scenes by themself and sometimes her explanations are repetitive. Strangely enough, this does not ruin the fun of the book as it is part of Jae’s writing style and perfectly incorporated into the story. Still, I think I could have done with less of it as interpretation is a part of reading I really enjoy – but maybe that’s just me.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salemslotIt’s been awhile. It’s been awhile because I have read very little. It’s March and I’ve only finished reading my second novel for this year (both I had begun in 2013, by the way). Slow reading, indeed. Faster writing because that is what I spent most of my time on – which is good but I find that without reading writing is… less valuable, certainly less stylish. My ramblings become stunted and prosaic without the ‘food’ of words written by others.

But that wasn’t my reason to return to King (returning always in the sense that he was the first adult author I ever read and also inspired my own writing). I’m currently investigating the supernatural (in case I have mentioned this already, I apologize for the repetition) and a vampire novel by Stephen Kind was hardly something I could ignore.

Here’s what happens:

Ben Mears is a writer who returns to ‘Salem’s Lot – scene of his most vivid childhood nightmare – to write a novel about the Marsten House as it is called in town. It seems to be one of those sinister places that exude evil. But it’s not the house, it’s its new resident who stirs the dead in their graves: Barlow is a vampire and he begins his evil trail through town around the same time that Ben starts writing his novel.

The desease of undeadness spreads quickly and Ben, together with young Marc Petrie, has a hard time keeping up and score of living, dead, and undead. And it seems that more than just one house is infected by an inherent evil in Jerusalem’s Lot.

‘Salem’s Lot is King’s second novel and he already picks up the theme of evil places that is probably most elaborately told in It – my all-time favorite King novel. Indeed, some paragraphs about evil that inhabits a place is reminiscent of those in It. I’m not criticizing this, I actually enjoy the thoughts as well as the concept. The mingling or merging of a supernatural evil and the way it changes a place is fascinating. King also has a good grip on the vampire lore. I like that instead of giving vampires a new spin, making them his own, changing everything about them, he goes back to the basics – making them more elusive and yet more vulnerable than it has been done lately.

The book comes equipped with an introduction by King, two short stories to enhance on the story of Jerusalem’s Lot as an evil place, and even deleted scenes. I haven’t yet read those last ones, I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I will. The ‘extras’ have been added to the original text after almost 25 years. King seems to return to his earlier stories quite frequently, probably the tales never quite let go of him. I’m not sure about the value of returning to stories or places those stories have taken place. But maybe that’s just me liking an ending better than an ongoing mystery.

‘Salem’s Lot is a good read. It’s not above criticism but it’s the same kind of criticism that one can apply to all of King’s books – too few good female characters, not a single female hero, a writer as hero, a little boy as hero. It all comes down to characters for me. But the issues I have with his texts are almost as vintage King for me as what he writes, how he writes. Reading a King novel can be as frustrating as it is exiting and enchanting.

Well, if you’re tired of all the new takes on vampire lore, if you want to go to bed avoiding to look into shadows because you’re afraid of what might be lurking there, if you like the thrill of a good horror story combined with extensive quirky details of the lives in a small town – read ‘Salem’s Lot (and remember that it’s been written and told in 1975).

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

kissingthewitchFairy tales fascinate – for whatever reason we are so engrossed in these stories (be it those of the Brothers Grimm or maybe Hans Christian Anderson) that we are prone to pick them up again when we’re adults, either to read them to our own children or maybe even reminisce on our own. Everybody and Hollywood does, and especially the latest interpretations of the old texts tend to be different, many try their luck at feminism. Emma Donoghue takes it a little father still, not by empowering women in fairy tales per se but by making it all about them.

Bonding between women is what her tales are all about, and they’re recognizable tales by the Grimms and Anderson that she changes into modern art. But she doesn’t simply change them, she weaves a tapestry where they are interconnected and puts them in beautiful prose of the female narrators.

While these are already wonderful accomplishments, her stories wouldn’t be half as fascinating if Donoghue stopped here. What I find truly captivating are her observations on how female stereotypes are being created. The witch is certainly a most central figure of female deviance – but can mere circumstances turn an innocent girl into a witch? Society’s glance (or maybe it is the ‘male gaze’) can turn a woman into pretty much anything. Prejudice can turn you against a step-mother whether she may be cruel or not just by the mere mention of the moniker – and fairy tales certainly add to the mystical evilness of a father’s second wife (while it is always she who is in the wrong not the father/king who often only marries for the sake of a male heir or his sexual pleasure, as these stories go). Donoghue looks behind the blinding curtains of prejudice and stereotypes and shows us what goes on behind them, how female roles are being created and contorted.

If you’re looking for a heterosexual love story among these texts you will be disappointed. Donoghue’s heroines may not all be of a lesbian occupation but her texts do not cater to heteronormative tastes either. The males that do appear here are mostly stupid, weak, or cruel and do not play significant roles at all. The woman stands at the center of these tales, not as she was wont to be represented by medieval times but how she most likely was.

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

fledglingThis is the third time I’ve read Fledgling. The first time, I read it for a class, the second time for the paper for same class and now I’ve read it for a kind of research I’m doing about different vampire-myths. And Fledgling has a lot to offer on that account because Butler invites the reader to share in a new myth that is not necessarily based on mythology but science.

Shori Matthews loses her memory. As she re-learns and understands the world around her, it becomes painfully obvious that she is not human. She is what humans would call a vampire, what her own people call ‘Ina.’ But as her story unfolds, the distinction between these two species of humanoids mght not be as clear-cut as it seems and there are certain people who would do anything to ensure that humans and Ina don’t mix.

Fledgling was Butler’s last novel, and she ventures more into the realm of fantasy than she has before. But even this novel is based more on science than on fantasy as she demystifies the vampire and pulls them into her scientific field of expertise. Vampirism is not a demonic possession in her novel, it is a medical condition, a blood-mutation that may have originated in outer space. It is a gripping tale with a lot of exposition about this very different vampire lore, their beliefs, their symbiosis with human beings.

It is also a tale about racism, as Butler’s novels usually are. Butler weaves Shori’s story around her difference, which is a genetic alteration that makes her able to walk in sunlight and that gives her dark skin. This is also the part of her that is human and this is a genetic experimentation some of her fellow-Ina cannot accept. Racism is very much a double-edged sword among this culture that is dependent on human blood but sees the human race as inferior – and racism as a foolishness of this inferior race. Butler uncovers some of the hypocricy behind racism in our culture through a culture that sees itself above such nonsense, as long as it doesn’t effect them directly.

Fledgling is a fascinating story, in part because we discover the Ina much like Shori does (and through her narrating voice), in part because the Ina are very different from the usual vampire myths but still related to them, but also because it’s simply a good story. It combines the mystical with the explainable and then adds a trial to the mix. It’s a fascinating read, certainly one of my favorite vampire novels.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

hpandthedeathlyhallowsFor a moment after reading this, I felt elated that it was over. No more crying. And I think that this is one of the most enticing things about the whole series: it challenges us emotionally. Following Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts is rewarding in many ways but the best thing about it – at least as far as I’m concerned – is that it makes you feel. A lot. There are not many books I cry over but I feel that the last two books of this series will always accomplish that. And that’s good to know.

Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, don’t return to Hogwarts for the new school year. They set out on the mission of finding and destroying horcruxes into which Lord Voldemort has infused parts of his soul. But the mission is a dreary one at first since Dumbledore has given them few clues to work with. The strain on the friendship gets overwhelming and Ron leaves the other two after a fight – only to return and save Harry’s life. The friends gain insight into the myth of the Deathly Hallows, are being taken captive by the Malfoy family and barely escape – losing a friend in the process. The return to Hogwarts, finally, brings on a showdown that will cost even more lives but results in the Dark Lord’s death.

I hope that last one wasn’t too much of a spoiler. It’s how all stories must end – evil dies, good endures. Endures because there is no real victory in war, and Rowling knows that. Too many lives had been lost but, for once, the wizarding community actually comes through for Harry Potter as he and his classmates are joined by family and friends. It is not the great assemblage one might want to fight with against a powerful wizard but considering how Harry had been left fighting for everyone for most of the series it is a pleasant surprise.

If there is a weakness in this last book, it is the long passages where things are being explained. I am not saying that it wasn’t necessary, it was – and Rowling makes sure to cover all unanswered questions – but these passages can be a little tiring because they are bulky. Especially the scene with Harry and Dumbledore in King’s Cross and Harry walking through Snape’s memories. As I said, they were necessary but they still make for slow reading.

One thing that I only just realized – or maybe I had only forgotten – is that with all the fear the wizarding world has of Voldemort, he really isn’t that great a wizard. He is cruel, certainly, but he is not as clever as he thought himself, as others thought him either. Seeing his whole story revealed, he is more cunning than clever. And seeing how Grindelwald struck up a friendship with Dumbledore because of a kinship in character, he might have been the stronger opponent.

There are always those small doubting voices in the back of one’s head, asking questions like: why didn’t Dumbledore kill Voldemort? He was the most powerful wizard ever, why give the job to a teenage boy? These questions are certainly valid and I’d say that people should seek for their own answers. I, personally, wouldn’t have wanted to read a story about a very old wizard defeating a younger one who probably never had a chance against him in the first place. The story wouldn’t have had the same appeal. It might make us think less of Dumbledore that with all his power he did not stop Voldemort’s first rise to power, that he didn’t prevent the Potter’s from being killed, but a vengeance story makes for better reading.

About the epilogue Nineteen Years Later. As many have agreed, I could have done without it, too. Especially from the point of view of a fanfiction writer, it would have been nicer if the story hadn’t been closed off this way. It’s a very sentimental piece of writing, assuring the reader that twenty years later all is well still, that even Draco Malfoy can be part of a community that lives just as before. Because what the epilogue does not do is: show progress. Muggles are still looking strangely at progressions of wizarding families, the Hogwarts Express still leaves from platform 9 3/4. And this is where I would have liked to see change, if only a little. It would have been nice to see that after the crises, wizards/witches could have come out to muggles. But Rowling decided that the wizarding community just went back to normal – opening the field for another story just like Potter’s tale where a teenager has to solve the problems of a community that never changes.

There are a lot of things one can praise and criticize within the Harry Potter-series but that makes for even better reading. Harry Potter is a great story, it changed our world.

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

thewolfgift(Above shows the book cover I have and it’s one of those that really feels nice to touch… that fetish thing again but you should really get that edition to know what I mean.)

I haven’t read in a while – that’s the reason I haven’t written on here, not because I was too lazy to write about what I’ve read. I’ve been writing a lot and sometimes these two occupations that should work together perfectly, don’t work for me at all and then I neglect one or the other. The last few days I did more of the reading again and here’s what I read:

I have read a couple of Anne Rice-novels before, from her vampire-series, but I can’t remember much of it. I know I’ve read Interview With a Vampire and I liked it but that’s pretty much all I remember: that Rice is a really good story-teller of the supernatural, the occult, the mystic. The Wolf Gift certainly proves that once again.

Rice builds a story around 23-year-old Reuben Golding who is bitten by a beast he couldn’t see in a fight for his life. He survives, other than the people who were with him at the time, and he inherits not only a big house but a ‘gift,’ the gift of difference, of wolf-dom, if you will. He’s changing, growing, his hair gets thicker and finally the wolf man breaks out of him and he feels that he has to punish evil, help the innocent. Yes, it reads like a superhero story but, of course, this is only part of it as the ‘superhero’ is part animal, a beast. This beast kills in it’s frenzy, feeding on the evil-doers, hunts them, tears them to pieces. As Reuben comes from a Catholic family (his brother, Jim, is actually a priest) there are musings about morality and religion. Other man wolves appear, the werewolf-myth is turned around, then skillfully resurrected. The great big evil is disposed of and we get to hear the whole myth in the end.

Well, the book has its lenghts, that’s for sure but it’s actually really fascinating how Rice loses herself in Reuben’s transformation, how she describes his struggles, not only with his new identity but with his family, with the outside world. The masterful descriptions of surroundings, smells, food, noises, rain… yes, here is somebody who knows her craft – and in the light of somebody (who will not be named) who tried to resurrect another mystical creature and did a crappy job of it, it almost feels like Rice is showing off. As well she should because she really is that good.

But with all the amazing talent this writer has, she also falls into some tropes I could have done without. The inevitable girlfriend, for example. He finds her in her cabin in the woods as his wolf-self and she’s not afraid. And they have sex, fall in love instantly – while he is still his wolf-self. I don’t know. I simply don’t feel it. He’s huge, he’s hairy, he has just killed some people, and this woman finds all that appealling? I find that a little disconcerting, to be honest. On the whole, the character of Laura takes a long while to become a character at all. She’s there for two-thirds of the book but there are only rare glimpses we get into her character, she seems more like an elongation of Reuben, she’s there to depict him as a loving man, she’s there as a plot-device – and she very rarely becomes anything else. It’s like Rice felt that with all the males around, there should be a female… but then her other female characters, minor characters fail to materialize as vivid as Rice’s males. They either seem caricatures, like Dr. Klopov, or they seem to be mere tropes, stereotypes: mother, girlfriend, true love, the doctor.

Given, most of the male characters are larger than life-myths, vibrant characters that have lived for centuries. They’re supposed to be the ones sticking out but it wouldn’t have hurt the story if there had been at least one female werewolf, surely?

I’m never sure where I stand with female novelists who make males their cherished protagonists and fail to let their female characters have substantial input into the plot, as well. The man/beast myth – yes, I know it’s traditionally just that MAN (not woman)/beast but Rice left the door open for the possibility of a femals werewolf. By the end of the novel that door still stands wide open but is never filled with a woman wolf. You can argue that Rice sticks to what she does best: describing the struggles of man – sometimes I’m just tired of patriarchal story-telling and wish that female authors would write more and better about their own gender (and I’m aware that I’m laying too much emphasis on gender here).

What Rice certainly does – and does well – is include gay-ness into her novels. The whole theme of werewolf-being can easily be read as homosexuality but Rice divides the two as she writes gay characters. That’s certainly commendable. If we see the man wolf as superhero, and that trope is certainly strong with Reuben, we have to attach the same trope to Stuart, an out 16-year-old, who gets accidentally bitten by Reuben. The same goes for Felix Nideck whom I read as gay even though it is never actually said out loud. Sexuality isn’t the big gay elephant in the room unless you want to make a point that Reuben’s heterosexuality is advocated a little bit too vehemently (but maybe that’s just me being sensitive because there’s never a good enough reason to use the word ‘impale’ in that context).

The Wolf Gift is a solid novel, it does what it promises to do: resurrect a myth – and there’s certainly no one in this genre who does that better than Anne Rice. It’s a little showy at times, yes, it lies heavily on moral contemplations, on the question of god/s and religion but it is still an enjoyable read. It captivates the reader, it overwhelms them in it’s lusciousness, and there’s certainly room for deep interpretation – and maybe a sequel.