Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What if one of the Allies' greatest spies during WWII was a werewolf?
The Wolf's Hour is the story of Michael Gallatin, born Mikhail Gallatinov. His journey is sprawling and meaty, full of intense moments, both emotional and physical. Although I am not sure this technically counts as an epic, it feels very epic to me. Because there is so much to see about how Michael goes from being a privileged eight-year-old during the bloody Russian Revolution to a thirty-four year old British Secret Service spy. You might say, "That's a big jump." But when you read this book, you find out how he evolved from that boy to the man he becomes.
Things to Take Into Consideration:
*This is a bloody, gory book. There is a lot of violence. The action scenes are almost always gruesomely described. If you're really squeamish, be warned. I am not big on gore (at all), and I often winced as I read. However, it doesn't come off as gratuitous. Why? Because this is about predators, human and animals. Michael has to learn to live in the brutal world of the wolf and the more brutal (for it is often not of necessity), unnecessary viciousness of humanity. I feel that McCammon draws a contrast between wolves and humans. Wolves kill for survival. They can attack fiercely and brutally, but their motives are for living another day. Whereas the vile actions of the Nazis and some of the Russians during their Revolution depicted in this novel speak of human evil and the dark heart of human nature. To kill, maim, and to harm for paltry reasons (if there are any good ones), that's not the animal world. That's purely human. Not all humans are evil, and McCammon shows that. But those that are commit so many heinous acts that it weighs on the soul, even when reading a fiction novel set during WWII. Even Michael, a man who lived as a wolf and has a dual beast nature, is not so cruel and blood-thirsty as the Nazis, with their racial and ethnic hatred, their greed, and thirst for domination. I liked how he is asked the question about where werewolves fit in God's eye, by his tutor, Wiktor, and eventually asks himself later on in his life--to find his answer. Suddenly he realizes his place in this world of ugliness, God's wolf avenger. I have to make it clear that I despise the Nazis so much, I liked the idea of having someone like Michael around to take care of them. He realized he couldn't save everyone, but he always tried to do what was right.
*There is a fair amount of sex in this book. Michael's life plays out over nearly thirty years, and in that time, he loves and 'loves' numerous women. I'm not real big on seeing a character 'hook up' with several people over the course of a book, but I suppose that this is another layer to his character that plays out. And in all those encounters, you get the sense that Michael does respect and love women. So it wasn't exploitative, in my opinion.
*As I mentioned earlier, this book focuses heavily on the War World II time period. McCammon does not shy around the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and if that is disturbing to a reader, you might want to avoid this book. If a reader has an interest in WWII, I do recommend this book. It focuses mainly on the Nazis as the evil entity behind this war. Interestingly, it does not focus as much on the political state or evolution of Soviet Russia, or the atrocities that were committed under Stalin. While he doesn't paint the Soviet Army as the only or primary good-guys, neither does he delve deeply into that part of the WWII puzzle (and the reasons why the Soviets were able to crush the Axis on the Eastern Front). This is interesting, since Michael is Russian born, although he becomes a British citizen. But at over 601 pages, this book is plenty long enough, and I can respect that McCammon chose to focus on one aspect of the war.
*This book is about loss, struggle, the fortitude it takes to keep going and living when everything you love and that is familiar and comfortable to you is taken away. It's very angsty and sad, in other words. Just when you have hope that things might turn out out okay, the rug gets swept out from under you. McCammon does a great job of building and sustaining that tension. In real life, there isn't a such thing as "and they lived Happily Ever After." Instead, we have seasons of joy and plenty, and then there are seasons when sorrow seems to prevail above other emotions. But we have to keep moving through those seasons and take the lessons we can from both periods in our lives. Michael shows tremendous fortitude in his life, considering all that he went through. Giving up just isn't part of his makeup. Instead, he takes those hard-won, painful lessons and uses those to grow stronger. How can you not love that about him?
*The mix of espionage with supernatural was very well done. You might be fooled into thinking that things will be much easier for Michael because he is a werewolf. Oh, no! He bleeds just like humans, he can be gravely injured, he suffers from illness and starvation. Being a wolf gives him strength and endurance more than humans, but he is not infallible. Instead, his dual nature is just one other tool in his spy armament. And even that can be a liability in some circumstance. Although I think I do like the wolf who regenerates quickly, even with life-threatening injury, and heals more rapidly than humans better, the portrayal of lycanthropy in this book is better-suited to the tone and overall story. McCammon very carefully avoids using deus ex machina, but instead relies on Michael's physical conditioning, his mental acuity, and his extreme drive and determination, along with help from the Resistance groups of various parts of occupied Europe, and his spy cohorts. The espionage unfolds very well. That razor edge of spywork, and the extreme cost that comes with it. Knowing your life could be forfeit from any mistakes or just because of the danger of the work, and also that you cannot save everyone. You have to make sacrifices so that the greater good could be done. Man, I felt that moral angst deep down as I read this book. I held my breath as Michael and his compadres dealt with the Nazis and did their dangerous work, hoping they wouldn't be caught, and if so, they would find their way to safety. With this book, there certainly are no guarantees. You don't know who will make it, including the lead character. As I said, very well done!
The Wolf's Hour is compelling, involving reading. My emotions were deeply engaged, all of them. The story of Michael Gallatin, a man with many identities, drew me in. He is a great hero, and this is a great story about his life. When I finished it, I was kind of sad, because I felt as though he was part of my life for that time I spent reading this book. I highly recommend this novel!
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