When Ruth as a child she was attacked by a wolf. She was traveling through the woods with her brother, Stephen, on the way to her grandmother's house and a wolf savagely attacked her, marring her leg with it's teeth and it's claws, a wound no means would ever heal without scarring. But Ruth gets in a blow with her knife before the wolf escapes, and Stephen takes her to their grandmother's home. Her grandmother helps as best as she can, but none of her knowledge of herbal lore is suitable to revive the deep gashes of flesh and muscle that Ruth has lost in the encounter. Her brother helps too, trying his best to get her to walk before he has to depart to Jerusalem to aid in the holy wars there. When Ruth learns of this she is greatly saddened, and takes her sorrow out in her father's forge, knowing that the pain in her heart is greater than the pain in her leg.
Nine years pass and still the crusades rage on. Ruth has become a strong young woman, accustomed to hard work thanks to the hours she puts in as a blacksmith to her father's secret shame. She visits her grandmother, Giselle, whenever she can, knowing that the studious old woman is not welcome in the village thanks to her "Witchcraft" like interests, even though she has a few other visitors coming to learn what she knows. One day, Ruth's cousin Peter returns from Jerusalem, thin and wretched and with a haunted look that alarms Ruth, especially after he delivers the news that Stephen was killed in battle. Ruth is greatly disturbed by this and retreats into her work to dull the pain.
A chance encounter at the smith proves to be Ruth's undoing. After an altercation with Simon, the local tanner, ends in angry blows exchanged a handsome young noble man named William steps in to right the situation. He forces Simon to pay for the work that he claims is shoddy and the tanner leaves in annoyed disgrace. Ruth is weary of William and at the same time attracted to the man who interfered, especially after he proves to be such a charming man, but he seems as if he has some sort of secret he can't convey to her, even after he begins to spend more time with her. Besides that a wolf is skulking around the village woods again, even though the villagers had hunted down the one who attacked Ruth nine years prior. Why is it that the wolves can't seem to let Ruth, or her family, alone?
Part "Little Red Riding Hood", part "Peter and the Wolf", part feminist allegory, part werewolf fetishism, this story seems to span all sorts of genres. The basic elements of "Red riding hood" are there of course, Ruth does spend much time tripping through the forest to grandmother's house, carrying a basket of food and wearing a cape, but beyond being set upon occasionally by wolves that is about where the similarities end. Much of the story is set about her own self-consciousness of her boyish-like physique and attitude, and her growing relationship with William, which she is unsure of because of her own self-doubt more than his own mysterious nature...then there's a lot about this that seems to degenerate into a lycanthropic lust story as one of the characters arrousal arises from his desire to devour. It makes it an interesting twist on the fairy tale combined with a take on a bodice ripping romance novel, only cleverly done so you can't quite tell it's a bodice ripper until most of the way through. It is not surprising to me though, having read other work by Debbie Viguie, that she manages to pull this feat off. I was greatly impressed by the twist and turns in "Midnight Pearls" (another book in the "Once Upon a Time" series) as well as by the character development. I am starting to notice a pattern, however...the cursed main character (s), the inadequate feelings from that of the main female protagonist, the magical elements that are there, but subtlety so... this is what I have come to expect from her work and I was not disappointed by this. I will say that some of the romantic protestations had me rolling my eyes, and for that I might have to deduct a little off of my enjoyment just because it was annoying at times, but overall this is a good read...worthy of four and a half stars, though I have to award 4, because I can't do halves on Amazon. Fans of dark tales will enjoy this as well.
"Slash, claw, bite, kill. Angry trees shouting above; ignore them, ignore them.Trees don't touch me, can't hurt me. The woman tasted sweeter than the man, but the man had more meat on him. Destroy, devour, the wolf will have it's fill.
Blame the wolf, always the wolf. Never me, just the wolf. Watch him kill, blood will spill. Growling, snarling, clawing, biting.
All are dead.
All are dead."