Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Review: The Wolf Hunt

(Forge; 384 pages; 2001) The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw
Reviewed by Lisa Jensen

A scrupulous and compelling work of historical fiction spiced with a dash of fairy tale, this wonderful Gillian Bradshaw novel is in a category of its own—medieval magic realism. Based on a 12th Century "lay" (or troubadour romance) by French poetess Marie de France, the story presents a fantastical premise—a werewolf story— within the gripping realistic context of the era of the French medieval troubadours in which Marie herself lived and wrote. Bradshaw's novelized version also ponders the very human notions of honor, betrayal, identity and longing that resonate in any era.

The hero of the tale is a Breton huntsman-knight called Tiarnan. A fair-minded lord to his serfs, and a pre-Greenpeace crusader for the environment, he has just one minor flaw to his sterling charactr: he likes to go into the forest on a moonlit night, take off his clothes and morph into a wolf. ("Bisclavet," as they say in medieval French.) His shapeshifting abilities are treated like any addiction; he does it for the rush, the thrill of heightened sensory awareness. And, as is the case with most addictions, he’s tried and failed to kick the habit. But his private passion has unexpected consequences when his silly, scheming new bride and her ambitious former suitor discover Tiarnan's secret. Suddenly, his own future and the fate of his entire estate and all the people who love and respect him are at stake.

Bradshaw's tale is a sly nod to the "Beauty And The Beast" legend. But in this case, a beauty is responsible for transforming the hero into a beast when Tiarnan's angry bride prevents him from shifting back into human shape, forcing him to roam the countryside as a wolf. It's up to a somewhat lesser beauty (but a much more valuable woman) to restore him. Bradshaw ingeniously invents a character named Marie (in hommage to the poetess herself) to quietly assume the role of heroine, but in other respects sticks close to the plot of the original lay. Medieval court life is brought to vivid, robust life, while issues of betrayal, redemption and, yes, love, are beautifully handled. Bradshaw is particularly good with Tiarnan's interior struggle to retain his human identity within the body of a wolf. For readers like moi who had no idea there was even a word for werewolf in medieval French, the very idea is a revelation. It's also an irresistible story that makes for a delightful read.

Lisa Jensen is a novelist, critic, and avid reader of historical fiction. She has been a professional film critic for a Santa Cruz, CA newspaper for 27 years. She also reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle for 13 years, where her specialty was historical fiction and women's fiction. Her first novel, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA, an historical swashbuckler, was published in 2001.

Please visit her website at www.witchfromthesea.com

Contact Lisa at lisajensen@sbcglobal.net

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