Wagner the Werewolf by George W.M. Reynolds. Review by Lisa Schussler
As Reynolds was more widely read, in his time, than Dickens it is surprising to see that Wagner the Werewolf is the only one of his works widely available. Although it is actually the sequel to an earlier novel by Reynolds, titled Faust, A Romance, it can easily be read alone. This is fortunate since the former seems impossible to find.
Reynolds was passionate about various social issues and these come across clearly in his tale. Wagner may be a savage, indiscriminate killer when in wolf form. But the real threat lies in the power of the Church over public and private life, intolerance towards Jews and foreigners, and the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. We enter a world of palaces, bandits, convents, curses, and conspiracies.
Set in 16th Century Italy, Reynolds' gothic novel recounts the horrors of the Inquisition through the tale of a man fighting to break the werewolf's curse. The story begins in the Black Forest when Faust appears at the cottage of a dying Fernand Wagner. Faust informs Wagner that he can exchange his old, feeble body and crushing poverty for youth, immortality, and wealth. Wagner quickly accepts this proposition.
Four years later, Wagner is in Florence. Here he meets the deaf and mute Lady Nisida. They fall in love, each unaware of the other's secrets. Traveling through Italy and the Ottoman Empire we meet the victims of Nisida's rage and the heroes who thwart her. Despite Wagner's just heart, both his fate and Nisida's are intertwined, secreted within a closet, and they must unite to face it.
The book's main strength is the complexity of it's main characters. Even though Wagner is deeply in love with Nisida, he chooses justice over loyalty to her. Nisida is cold and cruel to those she deems her enemies but she is also capable of great love. Flora, Nisida's servant, suffers greatly at her mistress' hands but finds forgiveness. And Alessandro, Flora's brother, having become Grand Vizier of Constantinople, uses his power and influence to benefit the just in Italy. Another strong point is Reynolds' vivid writing. One can feel Nisida's rage, Wagner's agonizing metamorphosis and frantic excursion through woods and fields, and Flora's terror at her imprisonment by the Carmelite nuns. Together, the supernatural and historical elements make Wagner the Werewolf a fascinating and haunting early English exploration of the werewolf theme.
Lisa Schussler is a medical scientist, long-time reader, and horror
fan. She has entered several fiction writing contests and is currently
moderator of the Horror Forum on the Bestsellers & Literature online