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
Regeane 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.