In The Silver Wolf, Alice Borchardt brought the brutality and decadent splendor of Dark Ages Rome brilliantly to life in the remarkable tale of Regeane, a beautiful young shapeshifter fighting to live and love as both woman and wolf. Night of the Wolf looked back even further in time, to the days of Julius Caesar, when a woman's beauty bewitched a wolf—and awakened the man who had been slumbering for millennia in the beast's savage heart . . . a man named Maeniel, who would become Regeane's soul mate. Now Borchardt takes the saga of these two extraordinary lovers to dazzling new heights of the imagination. The result is a novel of which the pages ring with magic, romance, and adventure—an irresistible call to everything wild within us.
The armies of Charlemagne are poised in Geneva, ready to add Italy to their lord's growing list of conquests. On the other side of the Alps, the mercenary forces of the corrupt King Desiderus watch the mountain passes like cats crouched impatiently before the holes of mice. Lying between the two camps is a wild and forbidding land where shapeshifters live unmolested, protected by their leader, Maeniel, and his bride, Regeane. But now the wars of men threaten to undo the careful work of centuries. The human part of Maeniel owes fealty to Charlemagne. But the wolf acknowledges no master.
Still, it is as both wolf and man that Maeniel embarks on a hazardous mission for Charlemagne. Captured, Maeniel is condemned to death twice over, as a spy and as a demon changeling. Now, with the help of a Saxon warrior whose love poses dangers of its own, Regeane will brave the icy crags and crevices of the Alps to rescue her husband, only to find that he is the bait in a trap set for her by a villainous man from her darkest past—a man who will stop at nothing to gain the vengeance of which he dreams.
But there is another enemy at work. Behind the tangle of ambitions and animosities driving kings and commoners alike, an ancient evil thirsts for a revenge of its own: a revenge that demands the blood of Maeniel and
Regeane . . . and of all humanity.
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Alice Borchardt writes at least as well as her sister does--and her sister is Anne Rice. The Wolf King is the third in her series of alternate history novels with shape-shifting protagonists, following The Silver Wolf and Night of the Wolf. Reading the first two adds to the reader's understanding of the characters, though it's not required.
Borchardt mixes fantasy, horror, romance, suspense, action-adventure, political intrigue, and realistic evocation of Italy in the late eighth century. She uses lyrical descriptive passages to set scenes and immerse the reader in her characters' experiences. When a runaway Saxon slave rescues Regeane, the silver wolf, from a deadly blizzard, "the wind was howling around him and the world was sinking into a cold, gray blueness as the sun set somewhere beyond the clouds." He wraps her in his flea-harboring bearskin, reflecting that "this girl didn't have nearly the healthy temperature he did; maybe the little bastards would die. At any rate, the extermination of his vermin companions was the only benefit he was likely to derive from this particular adventure." He's wrong about that.
Regeane is Maeniel's mate (he's the long-lived werewolf leader of the pack, whose earlier life was featured in Night of the Wolf). Once thawed, Regeane confronts a demented abbot and a gang of (literal) cutthroats to save him. The werewolves and the Saxon head for Geneva to pledge allegiance to Charlemagne, who's about to cross the Alps to challenge King Desederius of the Lombards for control of northern and central Italy.
Soon Maeniel is in Desederius's territory and in danger. Regeane follows, despite his prohibition. They're fated to reencounter Regeane's sniveling cousin Hugo, who seeks revenge. He has become host to a powerful bear spirit who wants the wolves for his own purposes. The new Hugo has a lot in common with the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin character in All of Me; he provides comic leavening to the sometimes grim action. Other returning characters include Pope Hadrian's tough, practical, but vulnerable mistress Lucilla; her protégé, the singer Dulcinia; and the ageless werewolf earth-mother Matrona.
The Wolf King's almost-too-rich plot lines, characters, and mixed Teutonic, Roman, and Christian mythic elements may overwhelm those new to Borchardt's alternate Dark Ages. The story also ends abruptly--leaving plenty of room for sequels. --Nona VeroFrom the Back Cover:
The armies of Charlemagne are poised to conquer Italy. The human side of shapeshifter Maeniel owes allegiance to Charlemagne. But the wolf acknowledges no master. Still, it is as both wolf and man that he embarks on a hazardous mission for the emperor. Captured, Maeniel is condemned to death.
Now, with the help of a Saxon warrior whose love poses dangers of its own, Maeniel's soul mate, Regeane, will brave the icy crags and crevices of the Alps to rescue her husband, only to find that he is the bait in a trap set for her by a villainous man from her darkest past. But there is another enemy at work. Behind the tangle of ambitions and animosities driving kings and commoners alike, an ancient evil thirsts for a revenge of its own: a revenge that demands the blood of Maeniel and Regeane...and of all humanity.
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