No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, June 30, 2001

The Wolf King -- Alice Borchardt

The first of Alice Borchardt’s ‘Wolf’ novels, The Silver Wolf, introduced Regeane - a nobly born young lady who becomes a wolf by night, living in the eighth-century ruins of Imperial Rome with an ambitious uncle and a lecherous cousin. Borchardt ably conveyed the sense of a different time and place: the extreme poverty of Dark Ages Europe, the lawlessness of the mean streets of Rome, and the crumbling remnants of a great civilisation.

With her second novel, Night of the Wolf, Borchardt was revealed as sister of the rather better known author Anne Rice. Night of the Wolf focussed on the earlier life of Regeane’s centuries-old fiancĂ©, Maeniel - also a werewolf, with the important difference that he began life as a wolf, rather than a man. At the end of The Silver Wolf, Regeane and Maeniel had recognised one another’s true natures, and were apparently about to embark upon a romantic idyll.

The Wolf King tells the story of Regeane and Maeniel’s new life together. It’s a thrilling tale of black magic and pagan spirits, chicanery and blackmail. The cruelty and uncertainty of everyday life in Charlemagne’s fledgling empire is demonstrated anew as Regeane’s patron, Lucilla, is captured and tortured: as Maeniel and his fellow wolves join forces with the Frankish army: and as the two werewolves (not to mention Maeniel’s merry band of followers, and Regeane’s mysterious Saxon admirer) become inextricably wound into the political affairs of ambitious petty rulers.

It’s not, quite, the romance that was implied at the end of The Silver Wolf. Maeniel and Regeane spend more time apart than they do together, and both are headstrong individuals who attract loyalty and love from many of the mere mortals who cross their paths. If anything, they are less affectionate towards one another than their reputations, and their repeated avowals of love, suggest.

That lack of romantic closure, as much as any of the other loose threads left hanging at the end of the novel, suggest that this is the third volume in an ongoing saga, rather than the culmination of a trilogy. There’s certainly plenty of scope for more character development - and Borchardt could reasonably follow her sister’s example and explore the lives of the ‘supporting cast’ of werewolves.

Unfortunately, the author’s tendency to lecture is more evident in this third volume than in her first. Her knowledge of her setting is broad and detailed, but she doesn’t wear that learning lightly. There are page-long expositions of aspects of everyday life (the scarcity of decent cloth, for example) that add nothing to the plot, and detract from the narrative flow. ‘Show, don’t tell’ may be hackneyed advice, but Borchardt could do with heeding it a little more.