The Wolf King, by Alice Borchardt

the-wolf-king-by-alice-borchardt coverGenre: Alternate History
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Valerie Frankel

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The Wolf King carries readers back to the fall of the Roman empire, a time of ghosts and werewolves, in this breathtaking historic fantasy adventure. Alice Borchard sprinkles her novel with romance, danger, and intrigue, as her heroes war against the growing evil presence in the land, as well as some enemies who are all too human. Borchard’s world is rich with incredible details of Italian history, as well as the powerful fantasy that she weaves.

King Charles the Great, known to history as Charlemagne, needs help to conquer the far-off province of Italy. He enlists the aid of his distant cousin, Regeane, and her husband, Maeniel. The couple are shape shifters, equally comfortable in the forms of human and wolf. Their arranged marriage in the earlier book, The Silver Wolf, has quickly expanded to welcome romance between them. Along with the wily courtesan, Lucilla, her son, Antonio, and a host of characters from the two earlier books, the pair set out to scout out passages through the Alps. On the way, they encounter danger and magic as Regeane struggles to prove that her powers equal that of her husband.

This novel perfectly concludes The Silver Wolf, as each character of the first book continues their life. However, the second book in the trilogy is a prequel from centuries earlier, and seems out of place between books one and three. In Night of the Wolf, Maeniel learns to become human as he and his friends plot the downfall of Julius Caesar. The focuses of the other books are dramatically different, as the first focuses on Regeane, a persecuted young girl hoping to find love. The third book struggles to win an immense war, looking through many different points of view.

This story presents a classic battle between good and evil, as Charlemagne and his followers attack the corrupt and cowardly King Desederius of the Lombards. Christianity and paganism also fight for supremacy in this tumultuous world. Even as the thugs and murderers stalk the land in search of innocent victims, a primal evil desiring no less than the destruction of all mankind stalks Regeane and Maeniel, trapping him as bait for his courageous wife to rescue. Regeane must use all her bravery to face this creature, and not lose her own humanity to the growing wolfishness within her. Her struggle to preserve innocent lives seems doomed in this ancient world of violence and terror. Living in a country trapped between the two warring clans, it is Regeane’s duty to protect her subjects from evil and corrupted power.

This book is a superb specimen of feminist fantasy, hosting an enormous cast of strong characters, but also allowing for romance as well as the historical facts. The author’s extensive research shines from each page, embellished with incredible sensory details, from food and street smells to the images of a crumbling Roman past. With superb characterization, Regeane faces her duality as woman and wolf, just as her husband faced his in Night of the Wolf. Along with many familiar characters, the author introduces a few new faces and agendas. Those enemies that have survived the first book return, with more vengeance planned against Regeane and her powerful husband.

This romantic, dazzling book pulls readers into its embrace for the satisfying conclusion, as Charlemagne and his allies fulfill their destinies.

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