Castle of the Wolf
by Sandra Schwab
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52720-0
Castle of the Wolf is an attempt to return to the Gothic tradition, with the requisite plucky heroine, brooding hero, and dark, mysterious castle. Unfortunately, the heroine is an immature twit and the hero has little reason to brood, giving him rather oafish overtones. Combined with dialogue that’s full of howlers, this book is certainly an escape, but it’s high camp, not romance.

Miss Celia Fussell finds herself living with her ineffectual brother and his shrewish wife. At twenty-seven, Cissy is long on the shelf and has spent her time, not unhappily, as a secretary and assistant to her bookish father, the late Baron Hailstone. Just as Cissy decides she’ll leave and take her chances finding a position somewhere else, her father’s will is read, and she finds herself in possession of Wolfenbach, an estate in the Black Forest. There is a catch, of course. Cissy must travel to Wolfenbach and marry “the Wolfenbach son,” if he is still unmarried.

Cissy, not bothering to check and see if the Wolfenbach son is already married, or even if there might be more than one son, heads straight for Germany. Her arrival at Wolfenbach is appropriately met with fearsome shrieking from the likes of the local innkeeper’s wife, who is sure she’ll be eaten alive by Fenris Wolfenbach, who’s been “roaming the castle some thirteen years.” His parents, however, are more than kind, having indeed sold Wolfenbach to the late Baron some time earlier, and soon Cissy finds herself in possession of Wolfenbach, much to their son Fenris’s displeasure.

Fenris, it seems, was badly wounded in the war and lost part of his left leg. He’s been hiding out (or sulking, depending on the readers’ point of view) for years, ever since his fiancée dumped him upon his return home, and a prostitute took one look at his leg and ran screaming. Cissy is prepared to meet a horribly disfigured man, but he ... has a wooden leg. And glowers a lot. Since it’s established early on that the ex-fiancée was a faithless gold-digger who immediately married a wealthy, elderly nobleman, this means that Fenris has spent the last thirteen years sulking because a whore didn’t like the look of his leg. Hardly enough motivation to make a reader sympathetic.

Cissy, having little to draw her back to England, decides to stay on at Wolfenbach. Fenris continues to brood, but over time, they have a few conversations and Cissy begins to think he’s quite attractive. Then Leopold, Fenris’s younger brother, shows up and begins to charm Cissy with his good looks. This gives Fenris even more reason to act like an oaf. Eventually, Fenris decides maybe Cissy isn’t so bad and they should marry. Meanwhile, Leopold is hanging about trying to get his hands on the Wolfenbach Hoard, a rumored fortune hidden somewhere on the estate. Oh, and someone is trying to kill Fenris.

Cissy is, to put it bluntly, a nitwit. She goes haring off to the Black Forest without doing one bit of research to see what she’s getting into. Her dialogue is ridiculous - I do believe this is the first historical romance I’ve ever read where the heroine actually says “eeew” at one point - and her descriptions of Fenris are heavily dependent on the word “total.” He’s “a total bugbear,” “a total hoddypoll,” “a total dodo,” in addition to “a daftie,” “a bugaboo,” and several other idiotic names. Leopold says “Geez” and calls Fenris “big bro.” Cissy asks Fenris at one point, “Are you totally mad at me?” and fumes that he “even yelled at her!” Finally, Cissy is obsessed with fairy tales and drags them into the story at every opportunity. This is the Black Forest as a Disneyland attraction populated by high school kids.

Fenris generated no interest whatsoever, as his motivation is clearly just a thin contrivance to plant a dark “hero” into the tale. His romance with Cissy is unconvincing and perfunctory. Leopold is so obviously smarmy that it makes Cissy look even more stupid for falling for him, and the author can’t seem to make up her mind if the story has paranormal elements or not. There are references to gargoyles watching the castle, but they come to nothing.

After a while, I started to enjoy this book, but not for the romance. I kept imagining it as a Mel Brooks movie, and it wasn’t a bad fit. However, I’m sure that wasn’t what the author intended, so as far as recommending Castle of the Wolf to readers, I’m afraid this is one book to avoid.

--Cathy Sova

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