Bantam, $4.99, ISBN 0-553-56775-6
Paranormal Romance, 1994
The year was 1994. Romance was discovering the allure of the vampire, thanks to Anne Rice starting the whole emo fang movement, and authors like Amanda Ashley adapting the vampire mythos exclusively for romance, happy ending and all. In the midst of the angst of the undead pretty boys, Susan Krinard released Prince of Wolves. This is one of the earliest books featuring a werewolf hero, one that is tailored to the romance genre. There may be other authors writing werewolf romps at that time, such as Cheri Scotch, but those books play out – somewhat ironically – like urban fantasy romps of today. Susan Krinard was there before erotic romance, Lora Leigh, and Jacob Black.
Thus one is therefore my first werewolf romance, and you know what they say, you never forget your first. Rereading this book eight years later is a pleasant exercise in nostalgia. It still manages to kindle some of the intense emotions I felt when I first read it, although understandably there are many things about this book that feels dated today.
The plot is pretty simple. It all begins when our heroine Joelle Randall makes a trip to the Canadian Rockies for a pilgrimage of sorts to the site where a plane crash took her parents’ lives. She hopes to finally make a break with the past, and instead, she finds herself intrigued by the mysterious and darkly handsome guide, Luke Gevaudan, who plays hot and cold like all spook heroes did back in those days. We know that he’s a werewolf, but Joelle doesn’t, so her romp in the wilderness is about to get very… interesting.
There are no pack politics, dramatic confrontations with other shifters, or any of the more action-oriented tropes we have come to expect from a shifter romance today. Prince of Wolves focuses heavily on the cat-and-mouse game between Joelle and Luke, with Joelle very much wanting to uncover his secrets even as Luke tries very hard to avoid succumbing to the mate-mate-mate thing that led to some unhappy events in his past. There is plenty of delicious sexual tension between those two, with Ms Krinard playing up the whole dark and mysterious aspect of Luke to a pretty successful degree without making Luke coming off as too cheesy. This book is also soaked in gorgeous scenery. The wilderness becomes an untamed yet appropriate backdrop for the relationship to unfurl. The vivid scenery keeps the story going when things start to drag.
Yes, this book also suffers from a very obvious sagging middle, as Luke and Joelle just keep having sex and more sex and then some more, as if they are trying to repopulate the whole wilderness with baby werewolves or something. But you have to remember, this is one of the earliest werewolf romances and there was not many books to compare this to back in those days. Even through the slowest parts of the story, I am still fascinated by my first exposure to what would soon become ubiquitous and even tired tropes of shifter romances. Heroes who would fall in love with and mate only once in their lives? That’s quite romantic to me, and Luke really makes the whole fantasy of being his one and only a sizzlingly attractive one. Okay, he’s a bit of a whiny wet blanket at times, but compared to the even worse vampires of those days, he’s the life of the party. Luke also shows some alpha traits that authors like Christine Feehan would later take to extreme degrees. Here, Luke doesn’t hesitate to fiddle around with Joelle’s mind to make her love him, although to give him credit, he’s desperate when he does that. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, but what the heck, he’s cute and I’d forgive him this time.
Joelle starts out a pretty bland heroine whose role is to be the reader’s placeholder as she slowly uncovers the secrets of Luke’s people – the last of a race of werewolves who live quietly among humans in the Canadian wilderness. However, she is also an example of a trope that is unfortunately rare in shifter romances: she’s actually a strong-willed heroine who eventually turns the tables on Luke and makes him beg for her forgiveness. By the last page, she has undergone enough character growth to become the more interesting character of the two.
In many ways, this one succeeds as an example of a story that capitalizes fully on its setting to introduce a romance that is an erotic and intriguing blending of animal instincts and human emotions. That’s not to say that it is a particularly great story. The sagging middle aside, the story also suffers from the author obviously cheating by having her characters speak in French to keep secrets from Joelle as well as any reader who doesn’t know French. I get frustrated after a while by the author’s liberal use of such a cheating technique to continue to mask her story in mystique. The pacing is also uneven – it is common to come across long periods of idyll before encountering a pile of action scenes crammed into a few pages.
But as an introduction to shifter romance, Prince of Wolves works beautifully. It sells me the fantasy of a happily ever after and actually had me hooked on shifter romances for a pretty long while. Eventually, I got sick and tired of all those painfully bad mate-mate-mate stories that come after this book, but I still get a shiver of delight from rereading this book. Ms Krinard had created a lush and primal romance that sold me on the idea of werewolves – which up to that point were more at home in horror stories than romantic tales. Other books have come and gone, some that are better written and paced than this book, but this book will always have a place in my heart because it’s my first. And it’s a very nice type of first.