Released: October 2014
The Wolves of Midwinter, book two of The Wolf Gift Chronicles, is wonderfully romantic, even whimsically so. A supernatural tale of werewolves, forest folk, restless spirits and epic tales of immortality, Rice’s novel seems to blend seamlessly with the rest of her oeuvre. For these werewolves are not savage beasts, the Morphenkinder – as Rice calls them – are ‘distinguished gentlemen’ of class, elegance, money and refinement, whose purpose as wolves is to track and destroy the evil that festers within humanity. Sure, these wolves use their brute strength and fangs to tear evildoers to shreds while feasting on their intestines . . . but our wolves are, nevertheless, cultured.
There’s certainly something magical about the storytelling, not least because of the Christmas spirit lingering throughout the story, with the characters rallying together to organise a great festive celebration in the town of Nideck Point. A major gripe to be had about the novel though is, unfortunately, the characterisation. Reuben – our hero and newly-turned Morphenkinder – is relentlessly nice, handsome, intelligent, wealthy, beloved by those around him and therefore, for all intents and purposes, boring. As the Man Wolf in book one, he helped the helpless in Nideck Point by targeting bad men and rescuing their victims. A tender-hearted, estimable fellow, there’s a sense that no great tragedy will befall him and he will wake up, right as rain, for the rest of his immortal life. Absurdly, tragedy has already hit him, as his love, Marchent, was murdered and is now haunting him from the grave. Yet, despite this sadness, Reuben moves on with his new life, his suffering minimised by new loves, new friends and new adventures. Really, there seems no great depth to him at all.
But perhaps that’s too severe an assessment. For it is nice for a change to have a protagonist who is . . . well, nice. Which ties in to the way Rice portrays her werewolves. These are beings who use their powers to help the weak and frightened and destroy the abusive, evil villains of the world. Despite their gory dismembering of the bad guys, their hunts feel limp, bloodless. There is a sense throughout the novel that Rice doesn’t want to revel in the typical plots one would find in supernatural fiction, instead she wants readers to find comfort in the idea of Ageless Ones: to be mesmerised by the fairy-tale-like atmosphere of the story.
And that’s all there is to the story, since besides the urgent need to organise the best Christmas festival possible or the longing to ease Marchent’s spirit gently to the Other Side, this book doesn’t have a solid, tangible plot to it. These heroic creatures don’t fight the good fight like champions (my one Buffy-verse reference, promise!), they don’t even seek out evil – they catch a scent and stumble upon it randomly, and end up saving someone. These wolves live in luxury, forever, and occasionally do good deeds. They aren’t evil or selfish themselves of course, just content to be who they are. Which means this isn’t a bad book, it just seems like a lazy one.
For lovers of the supernatural genre, this is a good series to spend your time with. Though not as immediately engaging or as definitive of the genre as Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were for the other creatures of the night, this book creates a compelling world of mysterious origins, fanciful lives and immortal loves. It might not be memorable, or an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, but The Wolf Gift series is an enjoyable, surprisingly warming, read for the winter months ahead.