Alice Borchardt turns away from her romantic fiction and takes a cue from her sibling Anne Rice in her wickedly delightful werewolf fantasy tale, The Silver Wolf. Carnage, romance, a cast of thousands, and lots of fur what more could you possibly want in a fantasy novel? Author Douglas Clegg takes a look at this wild genre-breaker, which may be the breakout Borchardt has long deserved.
Alice Borchardt has written some lyrical fiction in her novels Beguiled and Devoted, but with this new novel, she has what is often called in the trade a breakout book. This usually means a book that is the best, biggest, most expansive novel from a writer who has yet to break into the bestseller lists. With The Silver Wolf, Borchardt has, I believe, just reached critical mass with her fiction.
The Silver Wolf is a richly textured, lush epic of history, romance, and fantasy, all interwoven like a beautiful tapestry. This is a novel not to be missed, particularly if you're a fan of Borchardt's sister, Anne Rice. Although Borchardt definitely has a voice distinct from and less horrifying than that of her more famous sibling, The Silver Wolf is a novel that, like The Vampire Lestat or Rice's recent Pandora, is ripe and delicious in its panoramic view of history and the fantastic beings who inhabit it. A thread of strong romance flows through The Silver Wolf, despite its supernatural trappings. For lovers of romantic paranormal fiction, werewolf lore, and ancient history toldwith bravado, Borchardthas written a winner.
The Rome of the Dark Ages is gorgeous in its decay and dying glamour. Regeane, a stunning waif, has a blood legacy of both royalty and supernatural darkness. Her parents were cousins to the Emperor Charlemagne, which is as much a curse for her as it is a blessing. There are those who will use her for political means by forcing a marriage that she does not want. But a lycanthropic tendency also runs in her blood: Regeane is a werewolf. Her uncle, Gundabald, who had a hand in murdering Regeane's werewolf father, treats her as a prisoner in order to ensure that she will marry according to the royal decree. Gundabald's brutality toward her is matched by that of the Roman world Regeane finds herself in after her protective mother's death. But even on this journey and struggle that becomes her life, as she learns both the good of her wolf self and the evil of the human world, she can't deny the strong chemistry she feels with the barbarian she is meant to marry.
Lest you think that The Silver Wolf then descends into scenes of carnage, rest assured, it is first and foremost a fantasy tinged with romance in a historical setting. A great many scenes of life in the raw do occur in this story, but the nobility of the human and animal spirits that emerges lifts the reader from the darkness of Regeane's life. Regeane is torn by loyalties, both to family and within her own soul, but what takes over this novel is its baroque atmosphere and the passion and obligation that pull at Regeane. True love among her own kind is her only possibility for happiness and finding her place in the world.
A cast of thousands populates this epic novel, and Borchardt lovingly sketches the dozen or so of the most fascinating of them. The outcasts who befriend Regeane, including Antonius, the leper, and Elfgifa, the young Saxon child Regeane cares for, enrich this tale. But the character that comes most brilliantly to life is Maeniel, the barbarian lord who must accept the marriage with the penniless Regeane for his own political purposes.
This is fantasy at its best, and storytelling that is vivid and engaging. I loved this book, and for those who relish a swashbuckling story of the supernatural, Alice Borchardt delivers. Her history is colorful and lively, and her supernatural love story is enchanting. Highly recommended.
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including Dark Of The Eye and The Children's Hour. His recent critically acclaimed short story "O, Rare and Most Exquisite" can be found in the anthologyThe Year's Best Fantasy And Horror: Volume 10.