Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Borchardt spices her usual recipe for breathy historical romance (Devoted, etc.) with a generous pinch of the supernatural. Regeane is a secretive shapeshifter living in Rome at the end of the Empire's decline. Distantly related to Charlemagne, she becomes a pawn between the French and Italy's scrappy Lombards when she is betrothed to Maeniel, guardian of a passage through the Alps who is sympathetic to the French king. Intrigues and counterplots abound as Maeniel speeds his way to retrieve his reluctant bride and Regeane lends her supernatural powers to curing the leprous Antonius, whom the Lombards hope to use to discredit his father, Pope Hadrian, and turn the Roman citizens against Charlemagne's advancing Catholic army. In Regeane, whose woman and wolf selves often spar contentiously with one another, Borchardt finds the perfect metaphor for the once opulent Roman civilization, now hostage to its bestial appetites. She elaborates the decadent excesses of the time with gleefully vivid descriptions of gluttonous banquets, grotesque leper colonies and violent lusts sated both on the battlefield and in the bridal bed. Readers who like their fantasy dusted with gritty realism and who can forgive anachronistic modern dialogue in a period melodrama will find themselves indulged with more than a few twists to this werewolf tale. (July) FYI: The galley to Silver Wolf carries a note to "Dear Reader" from Borchardt's sister, Anne Rice, stating that "it is with immense joy that I introduce to you a daring and vibrant new voice on the female literary frontier"--although the novel is Borchardt's third.
VOYA - Mary Arnold
The Dark Ages were truly dark for women, whose lives were inextricably bound by custom and law to the control of a male-whether it be a husband, father, or master. In an epic blend of history and fantasy, Borchardt explores the decadence and splendor of ancient Rome through the eyes of teenage female werewolf Regeane. Betrothed by command of the high king Charlemagne to a barbarian lord she has never seen; betrayed and held captive by a brutal and ruthlessly ambitious uncle; and living in fear that that most high authority, Holy Mother Church, will burn her at the stake if her secret is revealed, Regeane must wend her way through the dangers of plots and counterplots. And always, the siren song of the wolfish blood boils just below the surface of everyday actions, animal instincts that make her vulnerable to the lure of a mysterious dark wolf that haunts the borders of Regeane's "civilized" world. Similar in feel to Klause's Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997/VOYA August 1997), with its theme of the many hidden faces and sudden changes common to adolescence and its exploration of female self-knowledge and power, this book gets off to a much slower start that may have teen readers restless to see a werewolf or two before the first hundred pages. The story has an intellectual rather than emotional tone, and the intricate weaving of historical detail is reminiscent of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's historical vampire stories or Borchardt's sister Anne Rice's recent Pandora: New Tales of the Vampires (Knopf, 1998). The cover art, with its glowing golden eyes, may draw in die-hard werewolf fans but reluctant teen readers may find this book hard going, and the supernatural impact subdued. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
This wolf is a werewolf, running loose in Rome at the time of the Dark Ages. What's more, this wolf is a woman, possessed of royal blood and in need of her wits as she evades diabolical plans to marry her off or turn her over to the Church for burning. Expect lots of publicity on this one.
The third and best yet by Anne Rice's older sister, following the two-volume, ninth-century saga of Devoted (1995) and Beguiled (1997). This time, however, Borchardt enters bona fide Rice territory, centering her tale on the rise of a werewolf clan during the last gasp of the Roman empire and the rise of Charlemagne. (Recall that sister Anne's current bestseller, Pandora, is a vampire historical also set in Rome.) Borchardt's version of the immortal city includes sewage systems, glass factories, thieves' markets, and much more. Adding an extra fillip to her tale, Borchardt's teenage female werewolf, Regeane, has an animal nature perpetually simmering at the surface of her character (like many an adolescent) while she goes about her daily life in human form. Young Regeane is the daughter of a warrior werewolf who was killed by a crossbolt when he was a man. Adopted by her uncle Gundabald, the girl is kept in a tower under strict lock and key, since each and every night she is transformed into a silver wolf. Gundabald wants to marry her off to royalty, for Regeane can claim royal blood on her mother Gisela's side. But, actually, Gundabald and his sister Gisela had themselves murdered Regeane's father. Regeane does, at the command of Charlemagne, become engaged to wealthy barbarian lord Maeniel, but before she marries she escapes from the clutches of her uncle. A series of adventures leads her through episodes involving lepers, a young slave girl, the Pope Hadrian, and the courtesan Lucilla. Lucilla, who has eyes for the virgin, also has some secrets of her own: She, too, is a werewolfand the mother of Maeniel. Borchardt reaches descriptive and dramaticpeaks with Regeane's vulpine supersenses as she noses about Rome by night, reading the dead city's skin and air. Top-flight fantasy.
From the Publisher
"A daring and vibrant new voice on the female literary frontier . . . The Silver Wolf is a stunning initiation into a dark and dazzling realm."
"A fascinating talebrutal, ribald, engrossing, poignantly beautiful."
Johanna Lindsay, New York Times bestselling author
"Mesmerizing . . . Astounding . . . A lush, richly crafted tale . . .With intricate detailing and hypnotic prose, Alice Borchardt unleashes a new world to readers."
Read an Excerpt
Now a faint silver shadow appeared against the blackness of the floor.
There is nothing left but moonlight, Regeane thought. Drink it, drown in it. She will never reproach me. I will never see her tears again or suffer because of them. Whatever may become of me, I am alone.
She stood, stripped off her dress and shift, and turned toward the silver haze.
The gust from the window was icy, but pleasure wouldn't exist without the sharp bite of pain. Even the brief flash of orgasm is too intense to be absolutely pleasurable. The cold caress was seduction, the quick cruel touch that precedes pleasure.
Regeane went forward boldly, knowing that in a moment she would be warm. Naked, she stepped into the silver haze.
The wolf stood there.
Regeane was, as wolves go, a large wolf. She had the same weight as the girl, over a hundred pounds. She was much stronger than in her human state--lean, quick, and powerful. Her coat was smooth and thick. The pelt glowed silver as it caught the moonlight on its long guard hairs.
The wolf's heart overflowed with joy and gratitude. Regeane would never have admitted it in her human state, but she loved the wolf and, papal blessing or not, she would never let her go.
From the bottom of her heart, she reveled in the change. Sometimes, while in her human state, she wondered who was wiser, she or the wolf. The wolf knew. Growing more beautiful and stronger year after year, the wolf waited for Regeane to be ready to receive her teaching and understand it.
The silver wolf lifted herself on her hind legs and, placing her forepaws on the window sill, peered out. Shesaw not just with eyes as these maimed humans did, but with sensitive ears and nose.
The world humans saw was like a fresco--dimensionless as a picture painted on a wall. To be believed in by the wolf, a thing had to have not only image, but smell, texture, and taste.
Ah God...how beautiful. The world was filled with wonder.
The rain must have come in the evening. The wolf could smell the damp, black earth under the green verdure as well as mud churned up by horses' hooves in a nearby lane.
The woman hadn't noticed it. She'd spent the day wallowing in her grief, mourning her mother. For this she earned a brief flash of contempt from the wolf. But the wolf was too much a creature of the present to dwell on what was past. She was grateful for each moment. And this was a fine one.
Usually in Rome, the scent of man overpowered everything else. The effluvia of stale perspiration, the fetid raw sewage floating in the Tiber, the stench of human excrement which--even by comparison to that of other animals--is utterly vile. All these filled the air and pressed in around her. Overlaying them all were the musty omnipresent evidence of human dwellings--stale wood smoke, damp timber, and stone.
But not so tonight. The sharp wind blew from the open fields beyond the city, redolent of dry grass and the sweetness of wild herbs growing on the hillsides near the sea.
Sometimes the fragrant winds from the Campagna carried the clean barnyard smells of pig and cattle, and faintly, the enticing musk of deer.
The night below was alive with movement. The cats that made their homes among the ruins sang their ancient songs of anger and passion among forgotten monuments. Here and there the slinking shape of a stray dog met her eye; occasionally, even furtive human movement. Thieves and footpads haunted the district, ready to prey on the unwary.
Her ears pricked forward and netted what her eyes could not see--the barely perceptible thump of a barn owl's wings in flight, the high, thin cries of bats swooping, darting, foraging for insects in the chill night air.
The rush and whisper of the hunters and the hunted, silent until the end. The agonized death cry of a bird, taken in sleep on the nest by a marauding cat, rent the air. The chopped-off shriek of a rabbit dying in the talons of an owl followed.
Those sounds and smells, and many others, were woven together by her wolf senses into a rich fabric of unending variety and everlasting delight.
The silver wolf dropped her forepaws to the floor with a soft, nearly inaudible cry of longing. Then her lips drew back from her teeth in a snarl at the sound of voices in the other room.
Hugo and Gundabald ate. The wolf's belly rumbled with hunger at the smell of roast meat. She was hungry and thirsty, longing for clean water and food.
The woman warned her night side to rein in her desires. She would get nothing.
The wolf replied. For a moment they were both gone--the woman from her prison, the wolf from her cage. The wolf stood beside a clear mountain lake. The full moon glowed silver in the water. All around the lake, black trees were silhouetted against mountains glittering white with unending snow.
The memory faded. The wolf and woman stared at the locked door.
The wolf and woman both understood imprisonment. Regeane had spent most of her life behind locked doors. Long ago, she'd learned the punishing futility of assaults on oak and iron. She ignored what she couldn't change and bided her time.
They were speaking of her.
"Did you hear that?" Hugo asked fearfully. Hugo's hearing was better than Gundabald's. He must have heard her soft cry of protest.
"No," Gundabald mumbled through a mouthful of food. "I didn't and you didn't either. You only imagined you did. She seldom makes any noise. That's one thing for which we can be grateful. At least she doesn't spend her nights howling as a real wolf would."
"We shouldn't have brought her here," Hugo moaned.
"Must you start that again?" Gundabald sighed wearily.
"It's true," Hugo replied with drunken insistence. "The founders of this city were suckled at the tits of a mother wolf. Once they called themselves sons of the wolf. Ever since I found out about her I've often thought of that story. A real wolf couldn't raise human children, but a creature like her..."
Gundabald laughed raucously. "A fairly tale made up by some strumpet to explain a clutch of bastard brats. She wasn't the first and won't be the last to spin a yarn to protect herself."
"You won't listen to anything." Hugo said petulantly. "She's gotten worse since we came here. Even while her own mother was dying she..."
The silver wolf's lips drew back. Her teeth gleamed in the moonlight like ivory knives. Even in the wolf's heart, Hugo's words rankled.
The smoldering anger and the brief, sad rebellion were pointless. The locked door stood between her and her tormentors. The barred window remained between the magnificent creature and freedom.
She began to pace as any caged beast will, obeying the wordless command: Stay strong. Stay healthy. Stay alert. Fear not, your time will come.