Barbara Michaels is one of my favourite authors. I must have read Houses of Stone and Vanish with the Rose a hundred times throughout my young adulthood. Strong, somewhat stuck-in-the-mud heroines with a penchant for falling into the quasi-supernatural world, but in modern times, making the gothic feel of the story so unsettling that you have to reread in order to make sure you got every savoury detail.
Generally, I have always associated Michaels with modern stories with heavy elements of gothic romance. There is the scary seeming castle or old manor home with the ragged garden and the shadows – the love interests, one playful, the other icy. There is always a heroine with more curiosity than good sense sometimes and with a healthy dose of self-preservation and intelligence to get through her own story.
Then I read The Black Rainbow. A Michaels novel that was actually gothic – set in the 19th century, in England and yet still so tangibly a Michaels novel.
So, when I read the back of Sons of the Wolf, I knew I would have to read the novel…
Ada and Harriet had never met anyone like Mr. Wolfson, the strangely magnetic, darkly funny man who was to be their new guardian. Who, confined to a wheelchair and flanked by two fierce dogs, both welcomed and intimidated the girls. And who had two equally mysterious sons, Julian and Francis – one was as good-natured as the other was evil. But evil, as Harriet soon discovered, ran rampant through Abbey manor and the surrounding moors. Especially in the moonlight…
We open with a typical 19th century premise: our heroine was a lady of means but her means have been cut off – notably, her grandmother died and left her, for all intents and purposes, penniless. Harriet is the shrewd, stature-concious older cousin and self-appointed guardian of her younger, brighter, prettier cousin Ada, and she and her grandmother have a horrible relationship that carries on after her death.
The lawyers in charge of her grandmother’s estate are at a loss at where to put the girls when from the shadows comes Mr. Wolfson, the half brother of her grandmother. Though the two never really associated with one another, Harriet believes she would be better with family then at the mercy of the son of her grandmother’s lawyer who has made it clear that he is only after his own betterment.
The girls travel northwards to York, and along the way they meet those who warn them about “The Wolf”. Her distant relation, Mr. Wolfson, has the reputation among the villagers as a hard man … and possibly a werewolf too.
Though Harriet initially dismisses the idea that Mr. Wolfson is anything but the kind, if severe, guardian and father of two strange sons: Julian, the easy going and well dressed younger son, and Julian – the dark, ferocious looking older son with the desire to both leave his father and become a surgeon.
Added to this, Harriet is drawn to the Abbey grounds more and more. The ruins of the Abbey entreat Harriet to brave riding horses through the cold in order to explore it.
But there is still a niggling doubt in her mind – could it be possible that Mr. Wolfson is a werewolf? And does the change in the house have anything to do with the gypsies who have put up camp on his property? And what will happen when Harriet discovers the truth for herself?
Written in a journal format, the book is easy to follow and the characters are familiar to anyone who has read a gothic romance. Though Harriet can be a tad too formal, too restrictive and very uppity on certain matters, she is also a sympathetic character – a woman who has been passed over her entire life by anyone who cared for her, and who doesn’t see her own worth until it’s nearly too late. The climax sparks quickly and then lags a little, but it’s a wonderful twist. The ending left me wanting more, and was a tad difficult to follow – but the atmosphere was beyond repraoch – a well gloomy feel!
All in all, a worthy read, even if it is a familiar story.
I recommend it!
Next to Review: Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz