The Silver Wolf
Alice Borchardt
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Get Alice Borchardt's *The Silver Wolf* delivered to your door! The Silver Wolf

Alice Borchardt
Del Rey
July 1998
464 pages
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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The Silver Wolf is Alice Borchardt's third published novel, after Devoted and Beguiled. To judge the first two books by their covers, most booksellers would probably shelve them in romance, maybe along with more mainstream "women's fiction." Nonetheless, following somewhat unsteadily in the footsteps of her famous sister Anne Rice, Borchardt is determined to tell tales of legendary, supernatural beings. No vampires here, but -- you guessed it! -- werewolves. Dressed in a sheer cloak of tenuous historical fiction, The Silver Wolf defies the slippery notion of genre categorization.

Curled Up With a Good BookRegeane comes from a poor family in whose veins run traces of royal blood. Her dead mother was distantly related to the emperor Charlemagne. But more than regal sanguinity resides in Regeane: on moonlit nights, she becomes a silver wolf, a fate passed to her from her long-dead father. At such times, the beautiful woman transformed finds her purest moments of freedom and desire. None but her greedy uncle Gundabald and remarkably stupid cousin Hugo know of Regeane's curse, for they keep her locked up in a room before she changes while they go out carousing and whoring. Gundabald, ever on the lookout for a quick and easy way to support his grotesquely prurient lifestyle, arranges for Regeane to be married to a barbarian lord. Charlemagne needs to cement an alliance with the man who controls a crucial mountain pass, a route Charlemagne needs access through to continue his holy empire-building. Regeane is a marriagable, several times-removed cousin to the emperor and, having no proud kin to object to the match, fits the bill quite nicely.

Regeane, despite this unforeseen opportunity to escape the squalor of her uncle's guardianship, balks. For to be a werewolf is to be a witch, and a barbaric man such as her future husband, Maeniel, must surely be would be as quick to see her executed as any civilized person. She resolves to never share the bed of her betrothed, and to kill him before he can kill her. But a sudden attack by Lombard soldiers changes Regeane's entire situation. The Lombard king, refusing to bow to Charlemagne, would secure the Alpine pass for himself. His soldiers make an attempt on Regeane's life in a market, and as she flees she lets the wolf out and kills one of those who would kill her. As the dust settles, Regeane finds herself pampered and protected by Pope Hadrian's wry courtesan Lucilla; she has suddenly acquired guardianship of a blunt-spoken, stubborn little Saxon girl, Elfgifa; and she becomes unlikely friends with a gentle leper whose condition and identity could help the Lombards bring down an empire.

Regeane learns how to conduct herself and how to begin to trust those who would love her in Lucilla's household. But her most closely guarded secret remains a threat to all, including herself. As she steels herself for the impending marriage to an infamous barbarian, she will be caught up in a complex web of intrigue and plots that will ultimately decide if she can survive as more than the sum of woman and wolf.

The historical aspect of The Silver Wolf is not its strongest. Garish sex and violence in the book's first quarter may put some readers off, but the storyline improves vastly if you can prevail through the first seventy-five or hundred pages. Alice Borchardt is unlikely to achieve Anne Rice's dubious mastery or fame, but their are worse things in life than reaping a little coattail success, especially if the coat's wearer appears to be rooting for you all the way. What The Silver Wolf does, to less effect than Rice does with Lestat and his cronies, is to suggest a timeless and nearly invisible subculture peopled by immortals who are more, and thus less, than humans. Worth reading for that glimpse, especially for Anne Rice addicts dissatisfied with her latest efforts.

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