The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

January 7, 2011

Thanks to @Madnad, my better half, for taking some time out of her busy schedule to provide another review.

Subterranean Press recently released a limited reprint of this book, which was originally published in 1989 by Grafton (Harper Collins). In honour of this, it deserves a re-read and a review as I am sure that there are a few people out there completely unaware of this gem.

It is a werewolf story completely unlike any other I have ever read and even 20 years after it was released is still a good read. Forget Underworld, forget The Howling, and definitely forget Twilight… this Lycanthrope is more ‘James Bond’ than ‘Lucian’.

The prologue offers us two tales – one of a wolf and one of a man – and introduces us to the two aspects of Michael Gallatin. Born Mikhail Gallatinov to an aristocratic family in Csarist Russia, Michael now works as a British spy and is sent on an important mission into Nazi occupied France.

The book works almost like two novels in one, flitting between the two halves of Michael’s life and at times, is in danger of spoiling the pace of the story. The first story is an account of espionage and adventure, set in 1944 Paris. Employed as a British spy, Michael is given a mission that requires his special abilities. He is dropped behind enemy lines to recover vital intelligence from a resistance agent that is under constant surveillance from the Gestapo. His discoveries lead him onto Berlin to learn more about a Third Reich plan known as “Iron Fist”.

The second story is about and how Mikhail Gallatinov acquired his lycanthropy whilst a young boy in early 1918. Less than a year after Csar Nicholas II abdicated, his mother, father and sister were all shot by revolutionaries while on a family picnic. Mikhail escapes the gunmen only to stumble upon a pack of werewolves. When he wakes, he discovers he has been bitten by a werewolf, or lycanthrope as they call themselves. After surviving the initial transformation of the virus, he is adopted and raised by the pack.

The character of Michael/Mikhail is an A grade alpha male. The women he meets find him irresistible, even though he does little more than look good, and have broody green eyes. He reveals nothing about his inner feelings, and while the reader gets to learn about his past, and therefore his motivations – his conquests don’t. As a female reader, I struggle with understanding what drives these women to fall for someone they know absolutely nothing about. He isn’t even that great a spy – seemingly getting himself captured on a regular basis and often to the detriment of his colleagues. I was able to work out what he was searching for, knowing the same information he did, several hundreds of pages before him. Fans of Ian Fleming’s work will however, love this character.

Praise must be accorded to the author as the book seems extremely well researched. A lot of historical detail regarding the Russian and WWII portions of the book is evident. It is clear that the author has also done extensive research into the mannerisms of wolves, and an obvious affection for the animal comes through.

Personally speaking, the fantasy portion of the book and Mikhail’s life amongst the pack was far more entertaining for me. The family dynamics between Mikhail and the other pack members are well written and engrossing.

One of a couple of things that disappointed me was the two halves of the book don’t really ever seem to meet, even though I kept hoping they would. There are some lose ends from the early years of his life that just seem to be swept under the carpet and never mentioned again. There is a big gap in Michael’s timeline when we leap forward from his feral time as a child in the forest to working for the British Government. I can only presume that the author intended on doing a sequel to fill in this plot oversight. Apparently the Subterranean Press reprint includes a recently written novella about Michael Gallatin, and so I if you are lucky enough to get hold of one of these special editions, these issues may well be addressed.

The other thing I found a little grating was the use of euphemisms when recounting the unnecessarily drawn out sex scenes, seems now quite dated. I am not saying I was expecting pornographic levels of detail, but it seems inconsistent with the glorious techni-colour of detail used to describe the guts and gore.

That being said, it is a good story, and the action at times is quick paced with complicated plot lines yet easy to read. Michael goes on a journey of self discovery in the book and even with the slightly misogynistic overtones, he is a character of nobility and dignified savagery as he comes to terms with his two sides. Despite the cheesy concept of werewolf-turned-spy, it is a novel well worth sticking with and one I would heartily recommend.

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