You never know what to expect with a Gillian Bradshaw novel. Unlike many authors who concentrate on one sub-genre or a particular historical period, she has written books set in a wide variety of times and places with her fine writing the only connection among them. In The Wolf Hunt once again Ms. Bradshaw has a surprise in store for her readers. The ďRomanceĒ sticker my public library stuck on the bookís spine is somewhat misleading. It would be unfortunate if readers dismiss it believing it to be a straight romance. Rather than a traditional romance novel, this is an unusual mix of historical/fantasy/romance that should appeal to readers of all those sub-genres.
The story is set in medieval France in a time of bitter rivalries between neighboring duchies. Marie is the only daughter of Lord Guillaume PenthiŤvre de Chalandrey; she has been residing in a convent while her father is on a crusade to the Holy Land. Although his land lies within the duchy of Brittany, her father had sworn fealty to the duke of Normandy. When her brother dies, she becomes a valuable heiress and the dukeís ward in her fatherís absence. A small band of men led by Alain de FougŤres arrives to escort her to her fatherís overlordís court.
Marie soon realizes they are traveling the wrong way. Alain informs her that he is escorting her to the court of the duke of Brittany. Marie is horrified; she is being delivered into the hands of her fatherís enemy. That night she manages to escape from an abbey guesthouse. Keeping to the forest and off the road so as to elude pursuit, she heads back towards the convent.
In the forest, she comes across a wolf by a bubbling spring. It runs off when she shoos it away. She falls asleep dreaming about the wolf turning into a man. She awakens to find three outlaws around her. They steal her money and are about to rape her when a huntsman comes to her rescue.
Her rescuer is Lord TiarnŠn of Talensac, a favorite of Duke Hoel of Brittany and a rival of Alainís for the hand of the beautiful Eline of Comper. He believes Eline loves him, but Alain knows her father will prefer TiarnŠnís suit because he is the lord of valuable property. TiarnŠn turns Marie over to Alain and his men to be escorted to court.
Marie is impressed by TiarnŠn and is slightly disappointed by the news that he is to wed, but she swears she will not marry a man of Duke Hoelís because it would be betraying her fatherís vow of fealty.
Eline is young and excited by the position she will soon hold as TiarnŠnís lady. But the reality of marriage is not the perfection she had imagined. Among her disappointments is that TiarnŠn regularly leaves her alone for several days while he hunts in the forest. She becomes convinced that there is a secret he is hiding from her, and she badgers him until he confides in her. This secret will so horrify the young bride that she will betray him with Alain and initiate the sequence of events that will lead to catastrophe. Only Marie will begin to suspect the secret behind TiarnŠnís disappearance.
Thereís much to appreciate in The Wolf Hunt. This is one of those rare books where everything works. The story begins quickly with much of the underlying conflict and the major characters being presented in the beginning chapters. The well-paced plot never falters; it held my interest from the very first chapter.
The major characters, Marie, TiarnŠn, Alain, and Eline are all well developed and three-dimensional. Their actions, even those that are deceitful, are credible and in keeping with their character. Marie is an especially appealing heroine. Over the course of the book she grows and matures as she struggles to remain true to her fatherís vows even as she begins to realize they conflict with her own views.
The author has successfully portrayed her historical setting including the complex personal and political relationships based on fealty. There is a decided medieval tone to the book. (The Authorís Note discloses that the book is based on a work by the twelfth-century poet Marie de France.) The setting is more than mere wallpaper for modern characters in medieval costume.
This is one of those books that as I neared the end I wished were much longer. I enjoyed it very much and strongly recommend it to readers who are interested in something fresh and unusual. If you have yet to discover Gillian Bradshawís novels, this is a good place to begin. You will likely soon find yourself searching out other books by her.