For fans of Rice’s early work who may not have not enjoyed her more recent offerings, The Wolf Gift is a homecoming to the world of supernatural fiction. The story begins, much like any other werewolf tale, with an accidental bite and a monstrous transformation. However, the similarities largely end there, as Rice puts her own distinctive spin on werewolves by blending the tension between theology and science with a touch of the traditional superhero narrative. Reuben, a young reporter, becomes a man-wolf whose transformations are driven not by the cycles of the moon, but by the scent of evil and the cries of the victims who desperately need his help. The transformation causes a slew of changes in his behaviour and personality which strain his relationship with his mother, Grace, a brilliant surgeon; his father, Phil, a university professor; his brother, Jim, a doubt-ridden Catholic priest; and his girlfriend, Celeste, an up-and-coming lawyer. The change is artfully illustrated by the subtle difference in Reuben’s narrative voice between when he is in his human form and when he is roaming the forests as the man-wolf.
Rice has a particular talent for evoking topophilia in her work; she has famously brought New Orleans and the Louisiana bayous to life in her Vampire Chronicles and the Mayfair novels. In The Wolf Gift, she lavishes this attention on San Francisco and the great redwood forests of northern California. This skill is important as Rice begins the novel by carefully establishing the tone and setting of the narrative, while the characters and the plot are revealed more slowly. Rice’s riveting ability to render place is key to holding the reader’s attention through the limited action of the first two chapters. Similar attention is invested in describing the house at Nideck Point where much of the action takes place.
Although The Wolf Gift marks Rice’s return to the horror genre, issues of religion and morality remain central to the narrative. For example, Reuben uses the Seal of the Confessional to take his brother into his confidence. Reuben’s transformation into the Man-Wolf only heightens the natural human desire to understand our purpose, and further complicates the already difficult questions of morality. In this he is not unlike Rice’s vampire protagonist, Louis. Although Reuben is eventually able to uncover some answers as to the origin of the Morphenkinder, the question of the morality of the Man-Wolf is largely left open for exploration in a future novel.