Castle of the Wolf: Fenris

I really wanted to like this.

It’s a modern author’s take on the gothic novel. The heroine loves reading, especially fairy tales. The hero is a man recovering from deep wounds.

I wanted to love this because

It didn’t work out.

The thing with plotlines of heroines in severe distress, whether emotional or physical, is that you become invested and need to know what happens to her. Take Pamela for an example. This 18th century novel was written to make sure young ladies learned to keep it in their pants. The novel was basically Pamela, the loveliest, sweetest maid in the world, constantly resisting and escaping her employer’s attempts to get her in bed. It doesn’t sound like an exciting read, especially since you’re treated to speech after speech about the value of a woman’s virginity.

But I still couldn’t put it down because I just needed to know what was going to happen. Gothic novels from the  early 19th century operated on the same principle.  If vampire romance is my guilty pleasure, than old school gothic novels are my guilty guilty pleasure.

What intrigues me is the idea of a Gothic novel written by a modern author. These days, I think a lot of women are not content with a swoony heroine.  But we do like dark heroes and creepy castles with hidden secrets. Or at least I do.

I’m going to have to give Sandra Schwab credit here because it’s hard to take the gothic romance and make it into something a picky reader like me will enjoy. And though there were parts I had a problem with, props to her for taking this on. But…

Well let’s begin. Celia Fuseli (Cissy) is 27 years-old and she has just lost her father. Her brother is the new Lord Hailstone, much to the wicked glee of her awful sister-in-law. Cissy is 27 years old, well past her prime in this book’s setting (somewhere around the 1820’s). Her passion was studying fairy tales and folklore alongside her father but even this can’t ebb her despair.

Then at the reading of her father’s will, it is revealed that she has inherited the Castle of Wolfenbach in Germany but she can only retain this estate if she marries the current lord of the castle. You see the lord of the castle, Fenris von Wolfenbach ran off to fight Napoleon several years ago. Because he went to fight before Germany joined the war against France, he is considered a traitor and his home was stripped from his family. Cissy’s father, a dear friend of the von Wolfenbachs, purchased the castle so that they could stay there.

In the beginning I liked Cissy She is feisty and determined to be more than her brother’s poor spinster sister. She’ll need that spunk because Fenris von Wolfenbach is a wounded man. When he left to fight, his fiancée left him and his brother continually blames him for disgracing their family. What’s more, he came back injured and has a wooden leg. He considers himself a monster and half a man. When Cissy arrives, he is furious to learn that his parents don’t actually own Castle von Wolfenbach and is determined to drive Cissy away. She is put in dirty rooms that aren’t cleaned after she gets there, served cold meals, faces mice and rats,

Cissy is not amused.

The cabbage-headed dod wants to fight? Gingerly, she sank down on the corner of the bed. He shall have his fight. She folded her hands primly in her lap and awaited the servant’s return.

Yeah, she uses a lot of weird phrases when she’s mad. I think the author is not fond of curse words because with the men he usually has “he cursed” or “he swore.” I liked some of her creative insults but some seemed out of place.

Around this time, Fenris’ brother Leopold comes on the scenes. He’s golden-haired, flirtatious, funny–pretty much everything Fenris is not. Cissy is pretty happy since it seems she may not have to marry Fenris after all. There are a few things  about Leopold that bother her (he’s very forward and laughs at her love of fairy tales) but for the most part she’s swooning over him like crazy.

Well…then leopold gets drunk one night and accost Cissy, trying to force himself on her. It’s still early in the book so I was wondering what other trials they would have to face if Leopold was being unmasked right away. I also was a little meh about making Leopold a rapist because that’s an easy way to make any guy a villain. I did appreciate though, that they allowed Fenris to step in and show that he’s not such a jerk after all.

A large hand closed over Leopold’s shoulder and the older von Wolfenbach pulled him away. “You talk too much, little brother,” he said. His voice was just a lazy drawl, yet when he shifted, his body was between Leopold and Cissy. “And you’re dead drunk. Go to bed.”

He’s shielding me, Cissy realized numbly. He’s using his body as a shield for me.

I liked Fenris in this moment. He was getting redemption for his earlier actions. And I wasn’t mad at him for those either because he’s a very hurt, sad man with a great amount of guilt.

Leopold returns later trying to make amends but Cissy will have none of it. Leopold gets angry, saying that Fenris won’t make a good husband because he’s “half a man”. Cissy responds by saying that she’s going to marry Fenris. The chapter ends.

And the book picks up three months later.

This is where the book loses me. I still read it because I wanted to see the happy ending but I became frustrated because the conflict becomes based around Fenris feeling like he’s not good enough for Cissy and that he’s a monster while Cissy constantly attempts to win over her husband and every time she succeeds a little, he rejects her again soon after and they spend another few weeks or so without seeing each other.

Within pages it goes from this:

His lips were soft on her skin. They opened and his warm breath whispered over her knuckles. He made a small sound deep in his throat and then he turned her hand around and pressed a lingering, moist kiss into the center of her palm.

To this:

Ten years. It had been ten years since he had last touched a woman. And she had been a whore with disgust in her eyes. His body had repulsed her, and despite the money  he had given her, she had not been able to hide it

No, he had absolutely no right to bother a fairy princess. Not when all he could hope for from her was pity.

To be fair, Fenris has a lot of baggage to work through. But when he goes right back to rejecting her a long day of lovemaking and her making it very clear that she does not pity him, that she finds him beautiful, its frustrating. In real life I could see this cycle happening. But in fiction, especially a romance novel, I expect there to be some growth. At least a little acknowledgement of the change would have been nice.

The plot surfaces after this cycle…cycles a few times. Someone is trying to kill Fenris, first by damaging his wooden leg in his sleep so he’ll have a bad fall, then by spooking his horse so he’s thrown off. Cissy must find the culprit while trying to make her husband learn to love and trust her.

And he does come around eventually. And the culprit is discovered and later the castle gargoyles punish him for his deeds. (In interludes dispersed throughout the novel are little interludes, explaining how the castle’s gargoyles feel about the situation. I wish this had been developed more to really be a part of the story.)

Overall it’s not a bad book. I enjoyed how Celia applies fairy tales to her situation though later on she gets stuck on calling Fenris “my wolf”. (Fenris/Fenrir is a monstrous wolf from Norse mythology.) This is just a small pet peeve with me–I don’t like corny endearments. That’s my personal taste though, from what I’ve seen of other reviews no one mentions it. And the sex scenes…well there were some awkward parts to them. I went fast through them.

The element I enjoyed the most was the clock in the mansion that told the story of a fairy princess who was turned into a sheep as punishment for loving a dwarf. At 12 the sheep in the clock turns back into the princess and the lovers are reunited. Even though this became a focus for Fenris’ emo, I thought it was really sweet. A similar clock was in the Hayao Miyazaki movie Whisper of the Heart. I can’t find the story this is based on so if anyone knows, tell me please.

What I think the author should have done (I hope that’s not a priggish thing to say) is not have Cissy and Fenris get married so soon. She had four months to marry Fenris or lose the castle, they could have spent those four months getting to know each other before the Big Misunderstanding Cycle began. I like the wounded heroes and I could have liked Fenris a lot better if there was more of the way he was when he protected Cissy from his brother.

Overall, I liked Cissy better than any heroine from the old school Gothic novels because she didn’t faint from fear like those old school girls always seemed to do. But Fenris was not the mancandy I was looking for.

Breakdown

Appearance: Black hair, broad shoulders, well-formed chest muscles, wooden leg that doesn’t seem to be a problem at all.

Personality: Melancholy, guilty, angry

Best Quality: His love for his family and the way he’s upset that his error has cost them everything

Worst Quality: Too deep in his cycle of “I’m a monster no one should ever love me”

Grade: D

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5 Responses to “Castle of the Wolf: Fenris”


  1. 1 Mary May 30, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Sounds kind of lame. I don’t like it when they bring in stuff like “My little wolf” with no other reference to it besides his name is like the name for wolf from Norse.
    And I would get frustrated to from the cycling of “I’m a monster, don’t love me”

    I like the concept of Cissy though, seems like a good idea, and the basic premise of the story seems good, sounds like it didn’t pan out in the right direction though, which stinks. 😦 Oh well..

  2. 2 Sandra Schwab June 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    The grandfather clock in CASTLE OF THE WOLF is actually meant as a reference to the clock in WHISPER OF THE HEART:
    http://www.sandraschwab.com/CotW-secrets-grandfatherclock.htm

    🙂

    • 3 allyjs June 6, 2010 at 7:09 pm

      Excuse me while I pick my jaw off of the floor that Sandra Schwab commented on my blog…

      ..Okay. All set.

      That makes sense XD. I was googling everywhere for what it was based off of. Whisper of the Heart such a cute movie. I want to see “The Cat Comes Back” where the Baron is a main character.

      Thanks for clearing that up!

  3. 4 Sandra Schwab June 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I have to admit that I didn’t like “The Cat Comes Back” all that much. IMO, it’s one of Studio Ghibli’s weaker films. Do you know “My Neighbor Totoro”? If you haven’t seen it yet, run, don’t walk, to the nearest DVD store. It’s that awesome.

    Btw, thanks for reviewing “Castle of the Wolf”! Sorry the novel didn’t work all that well for you.

    Best wishes from Germany,
    Sandra

    • 5 allyjs June 7, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      I loved Totoro, it was adorable.

      You’re welcome! Thank you for writing the book and taking the time to read my review!

      Best,
      Ally


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