The Wolf Hunt - Gillian Bradshaw The book is written beautifully. The prose is luminous, the historical details, sprinkled though the narrative, make the times of the Crusades stand alive, and the descriptions are vivid. And the characters populating the story are diverse and reflective of the Renaissance. BUT…
The structure of this novel consists of two stories: the frame story and the inside story. I love the frame and its protagonists. I dislike the inner story and its main character intensely, and this dislike reflects on the entire novel.
The frame introduces Marie, the heiress, an extremely principal heroine, as only fictional people can be in our unprincipled age. The story starts excitingly enough with her getting abducted from a convent and brought into the household of a duke against her will. Unfortunately, almost immediately, Marie is relegated to the sidelines. Endowed with grace and compassion, she is a prim medieval maiden. She sits decorously at the ducal court and waits for the inner story to move forward. Perhaps, somewhere in the pages of the ending, the author would find a place for her again.
Then there is Tiarnan, a brave and noble knight who saved Marie from bandits in the beginning of the story. Afterwards, the frame flows into the story proper, and following a weird twist of the author’s imagination, Tiarnan marries another girl, beautiful slut Eline. When his wife betrays him, he begins roaming the pages as a wolf. At this point, he is almost as useless to the story momentum as Marie.
To my consternation, the bulk of the inner story is written from the POV of Eline. A pretty and petty young woman, she is self-absorbed and narrow-minded. She destroyed (or at least attempted to) her husband Tiarnan, a man who loved her dearly, just because he was different. Without a moment of hesitation, she sacrificed his life and sanity for her own creature comforts. She is the villain of the story; her motivations are base and totally comprehensible, but she is so sly and shallow, it feels wrong to give her the lead role.
There are people I know in real life who are exactly like her. In the day-to-day existence, they’re nice, upstanding citizens. But when a disaster strikes or an adversity calls for understanding and acceptance, they retreat behind their self-righteousness and their rigid ‘morals’ and plow ahead like blind tanks, demolishing anyone who dares to stand in their way, anyone who dares to be different. Jews, blacks, gays, and many others divergent from the white, Christian ‘norm’ have suffered from such people throughout the centuries of human history. She is much worse then a standard literary villain because she lives among us, breathes the same air, and nobody can guess that she is evil.
In Bradshaw’s novel, she gets her comeuppance in the end, but the entire tale left a bad taste in my mouth. Reading about Eline felt like being smeared with filth. I wanted to know more about the real protagonists, the ones I could sympathize with, Marie and Tiarnan, but for most of the novel they were simply two passive figures, immobilized in the frame. Eline was the one who propelled the plot forward. And I can’t forgive the author for giving the little bitch so much space between the covers. She is a monster; she doesn’t deserve the spotlight.
The question that plagues me the most is why Tiarnan chose pretty, empty-headed Eline instead of virtuous Marie in the first place? He seemed a smart guy. Did Eline’s gloriously blond beauty blind him to her ugly morals and absent conscience? Why did he think with his dick instead of his head? Almost he had brought his plight on himself by acting like a moonstruck idiot.
When the frame was finally reestablished by the end of the novel, Marie again stepped forward, and Tiarnan was restored to his human knightly splendor. But I was left to wonder: was his suffering a punishment for his bad judgment? Was it a morality tale after all?
According to blurb, the novel is based on a medieval manuscript. Maybe that fact alone could explain the frame structure of the novel (popular in the old times) and its characters’ depiction in black and white. They are not two-dimensional, oh no, they have depth to them, but they are all universally either goody-good or really bad. There is no gray area in any of the characters, and for a writer of Bradshaw’s caliber, that seems an odd flaw.
Overall a very-well written novel which I mostly disliked and had trouble finishing. A strange experience, although to be fair, I have to say that it does not reflect the novel’s quality but rather my personal taste.