Castle of the Wolf / Sandra Schwab. 2007
Castle of the Wolf is an unusual book, because it can’t be easily pigeon-holed into a specific type of story. It’s not a paranormal, but does have just a hint of the paranormal in it. I wouldn’t call it a gothic novel, yet it certainly has moments with a distinct gothic feel. It’s not a comedy, but there were many humorous moments, particularly in the beginning when Cissy arrives at the castle. The hero and heroine are common archetypes in historical romance-land—he’s disfigured from the Napoleanic wars (lost a leg), and she’s the spinster sister who refuses to settle for living under the thumb of her bitchy sister-in-law. The year of its setting is fairly common for a European historical (1827), but the place most definitely is not common (Germany’s Black Forest). All of these elements are deftly woven together by the author. In addition there are all sorts of literary references. Some I recognized, but many I didn’t. And it doesn’t come across as pretentious. The heroine is well read and educated so it seems natural for her to quote bits of poetry or refer to fairy tales and legends, because it’s part of her character. The reason she has this unusual education for a woman of her era makes sense and doesn’t come across as contrived.
I won’t bother outlining the plot, because others have done it elsewhere far better than I could. But I will mention two of the things I liked best about the plot. First and foremost, and the factor that makes it a convincing romance, is that you see the h&h grow and change in the course of the book. This is especially true of Cissy, who has to dig deep within to find the fortitude to reach for what she wants out of life. Fenris puts up one wall after another. It is interesting that when you think the final wall has been breached (after the marriage is consummated) you discover that he has it within himself to push Cissy away yet again. He’s that terrified of making himself vulnerable. It worked for me, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it bothered some readers. The other thing I really liked that I want to mention is that Cissy doesn’t fall for the hero right away. He’s rude and her initial reaction of dislike seems perfectly normal. Instead she’s attracted to Fenris’ younger brother Leo, who is, on the surface, charming and sophisticated. It takes a little while for Cissy to see beneath the veneer, but again, it all comes across as normal.
The paranormal element comes in the form of occasional extremely short interludes between some of the chapters. The final one was totally cool.
I loved her first book, The Lily Brand, and her second book lived up to the first. I pretty much devoured this one once I got into it. It rates a solid A from me. I’d like to mention that I am absolutely amazed that English is not Ms. Schwab’s native tongue. I didn’t notice any grammatical or typographical errors. She may have one heck of a copy editor, but you have to think that a large part of the quality is due to the author herself. Unfortunately, Ms. Schwab’s website doesn’t mention what’s coming next. Hopefully it won’t be 2 years until her next book is published.