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Anne Rice
The Wolves of Midwinter
Alfred A. Knopf / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-34996-3
Publication Date: 10-15-2013
388 Pages; $25.95
Date Reviewed: 11-19-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction  Fantasy  Horror  Mystery  Science Fiction

The feeling of a family Christmas story flows from the first pages of Anne Rice's 'The Wolves of Midwinter.' It's getting darker and colder outside but warmer and cozier inside. Reuben Golding, no longer a freshly-minted werewolf, is settling in to his unsettling new surroundings. "It would be a Christmas like no other for Reuben," the author tells us. By now we know Anne Rice is no stranger to the undersell.

'The Wolves of Midwinter' picks up shortly after the end of 'The Wolf Gift,' handily summarized in an opening scroll page, but most assuredly must-reading for anyone who is inclined to read this novel, which is every bit as thrilling as the first in a very different manner. 'The Wolf Gift' was almost non-stop action with romantic supernatural interludes; 'The Wolves of Midwinter' offers lots of romantic supernatural atmosphere and action, punctuated by some seriously exciting superhero set-pieces. With this novel, Rice proves she's in for the long haul, and up for the challenge. This is supernatural world-building by a master of the art at the top of her form.

Prose, characters and a sense of place dominate the wolf's share of the novel. Rice takes her time, with luscious, sensuous sentences that draw us in and painterly prose that rework the world of the Mendocino coast into Nideck Point, a magic forest filled with eerie, haunting presences. Rice cranks up the charm and the joy of family, of community, as her werewolf clan prepares a Yuletide celebration that will replenish the town economically and spiritually. But she never lets us forget that these are the most perfect and truest natural born killers, lovers of the hunt and the blood. Think Norman Rockwell meets Grand Guignol and you'll know just where Rice is coming from.

Within this carefully crafted setting Rice explores her returning gallery of characters, and a few new besides. We get to know Laura, Reuben's beloved in much greater detail, as she becomes a part of his world. Reuben's brother Jim plays a much larger part here. He's a very intricately and well-drawn priest, with a past that comes back to haunt him. Reuben's father and his ex also figure largely into the story in refreshing and satisfying ways.

On the other side of the divide, we get to know not just the individual werewolves better, in particular the avuncular Felix, who is really quite a hoot. But 'The Wolves of Midwinter' expands this series' supernatural pantheon in some very interesting ways. Suffice it to say that readers can rest assured that the novels are just about werewolves, that there is no crossover, thus far, wit her other novels and that the author is clearly having fun. The upshot is that her readers will as well.

Rice's plot in 'The Wolves of Midwinter' is admirably intricate and interwoven, as the prose unfolds to reveal a very wide tapestry. There are series advances and forays into new territory and there are in-book plots with a snappy, tense feel to them. Rice is equally adept in her rural township and in the wilds of San Francisco. The careful characterization and world crafting that she does add veracity and texture to the superhero action riffs.

'The Wolves of Midwinter' bucks the trend of "this series entry can be read as a standalone novel." It really can't and it should not. The scroll at the beginning is a nice reminder for those who spent last fall with Reuben Golding, but won't replace reading the first book. It's well worth it, and 'The Wolves of Midwinter,' while rather different than the first novel is every bit its equal. This is a family of choice, not blood, well, not the blood that runs in their own veins. The wolves of midwinter here share blood — it just runs through the veins of their prey, until it is spilled in the joy of the hunt. Yuletide with The Distinguished Gentleman is definitely, defiantly, a bloody good holiday.

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