Once a Wolf by Susan Krinard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a worthwhile read, but I was torn on the rating. Is it more of a 3-3.5 star book, or a 4 star book? It really is too good to be a 3 star book, although I found the narrative a bit withdrawn at times.
I think there could definitely be a little more dialogue, as this story is heavy on description. Yet at the same time, the story is beautifully-told, showing the wonder of the Southwest, barren at first look, but teaming with life and joy underneath. I was immersed in the simple world of the people of New Mexico, literally tasting their spicy delicious food, hearing the engaging music, and enjoying hearing them speak Spanish in my mind as I read.
The characters in this story are very complex. Each one fights an internal struggle against what she/he truly is, against the monster seemingly lurking inside.
Rowena is an English lady (transplated to New York Knickerbocker society when this story begins) who has determined that she will deny her inner wolf, at great cost to herself. She despises her wolf-nature, and has wrapped herself in an almost impenetrable layer of ice and formidable self-control. She has accepted the arranged marriage that she originally rebelled and fought against, to Cole MacLean, a Texan of great influence, with a sinister reputation that she has tried to ignore. He is the only man who she feels that she can marry. He knows of her wolf, because he has one, and he won the battle over the wolf. She feels she can be his wife, have his children, and never lose control.
However, Rowena is forced in the middle of an ages-long feud between the MacLean and Randall families (going all the way back to Scotland). Tomas Randall is the only survivor of the Randall family and he has become a bandit and outlaw who goes by the name of El Lobo. He tricks Rowena into coming West and essentially kidnaps her, to taunt his blood enemy, Cole MacLean into coming after her so he can get justice for the murder of his mother and father. Part of his vengeance is seducing the icy lady into his bed. Tomas is an appealing hero of depth, with a passionate, fun-loving nature, but also an intensity that makes him an intriguing hero. I never felt like he was the bad guy, although he has no problem seeing himself that way or allowing Rowena to believe he is a bad man.
Rowena finds that Tomas does bring to life the Lady of Fire (as Tomas calls her). She finds it harder and harder to suppress the inner wolf, as Tomas temps and seduces her, but also inspires her loyalty to his cause, and respect for how he takes care of the simple people who have been cheated and uprooted by her conscienceless fiance.
Other complex characters in this story are Weylin, Cole's brother who believes in justice as much as Cole believes that might makes right, Sim Kavanugh, who is Tomas right-hand man, and hates woman, particularly resenting Rowena for making Tomas soft, and the young, gifted Esperanza, who can see into the heart of a person and tell them what their inner desires are.
This book did weave a spell around me. I wanted to finish it, and I enjoyed reading it. However, it was a little wordy at times in its descriptions. However, I loved how she described the characters Changing. I am a big werewolf fiction fan, so I was transfixed by the elemental beauty of the Change as described in this book. I felt sympathy for the characters who denied this very essential part of their nature, but could easily see why Tomas loved and embraced his inner wolf.
Once a Wolf has some beautiful moments to offer me as a reader. It was also a very fine western. I felt a little disappointed at a very important flaw in Tomas' nature that comes to light towards the end, but as in life, no one is perfect and we don't always handle tragedy and adversity as well as we should. As for Rowena, I liked her from the beginning, and my admiration only grew over the course of ths story. It was a wonderful evolution in her character as she learned to embrace the wolf that was part of her essential strength.
Although Once a Wolf is the second in a series, you do not have to read it's predecessor, Touch of the Wolf, first as it really doesn't add anything essential to enjoying this story on its own. This book is a recommended read for those who enjoy werewolf romance and westerns, and a strong, but not annoying or overcompensating heroine. I will definitely read more of Ms. Krinard's books.
View all my reviews >>