The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon. This book is a remarkable tale of pulse-pounding excitement with a uniquely sympathetic, fascinating portrait of the werewolf as nobel warrior-and conflicted being. Complex, compelling and utterly real.
Yes, it's a horror novel. Yes, it's a werewolf novel. Yes, it's a World War II novel. Yes, it's a spy novel. But it's also all of these things wrapped into one.
Robert R. McCammon has, in The Wolf's Hour, written the apotheosis of the werewolf novel. It embraces the mythology while at the same time expanding and transcending it in ways never done before. The Wolf's Hour is such an ambitious undertaking that it should have failed. I mean, it is a werewolf novel while being a spy novel and combines the two seamlessly. It is a credit to McCammon's ability that it succeeds and then some.
Young Mikhail Gallatinov's family is killed on a picnic while he is chasing a lost kite into the nearby woods. As the killers are looking for him, they are attacked by a pack of wolves who bite Mikhail but do not kill him, instead bringing him back to their home. Turns out they are werewolves led by Wiktor, who immediately adopts Mikhail as a son, taking him under his paw to teach him the ways of being a man and a wolf. Along the way, Wiktor poses a question that leaves Mikhail/Michael pondering for the rest of the book: "What is the lycanthrope in the eyes of God?"
McCammon's powers of description are awesome. Just from reading this book, I feel that if I were ever turned into a werewolf, that I would recognize the symptoms beforehand. His descriptions of the changes and the various personalities that the pack have--not only as people but as wolves--are another part of the joy of reading it.
The Wolf's Hour is really two books in one. The first half interlaces Mikhail's life among the pack with "Michael Gallatin"'s preparation for his mission in the second half. We follow young Mikhail through his trials as the transformation sickens and nearly kills him; he watches the others metamorphose but he resists a full change; and Wiktor teaches him Shakespeare, Dante, and world history from all the books amassed in their home.
The second half mainly concerns Michael's mission, following him as he accompanies German film star Chesna van Dorne to discover the meaning of "Iron Fist" which takes him through a concentration camp, on a train playing a cat-and-mouse game with big game hunter Harry Sandler, and eventually preventing the Nazis' attempt to prevent D-Day. This part is still good but I think I would have enjoyed it more were I a WWII buff, which I am not. War as a subject does not interest me, so I was reading this part hoping for Michael to change into a wolf, which he does often enough.
The ending leaves room for a sequel and McCammon has said that we would be interested in revisiting this character--the only one he has said that about. (One would think, however, that his recently announced retirement would prevent that from ever taking place.) Michael Gallatin is one of the more interesting characters--definitely--that I have read and will be on the lookout for this purported sequel. But in the meantime, I'll have to satisfy myself with McCammon's other novels.