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Not quite a horror, but...
on 23 September 2008
A full-blooded Penny Dreadful of the first water, Wagner the Werewolf is a rollicking bodice-ripper of a tale chock full of heaving bosoms, bloody murder, and plenty of derring-do. It also has a werewolf - but not really so's you'd notice.
It's almost a misnomer to label this book a horror story. Oddly - for the first ever treatment of the werewolf legend in English literature - there is surprisingly little lycanthropic action. The fact of the hero Wagner's lupine curse is almost incidental, a footnote to the main tale. It sometimes happens that there are so many sub-plots and secondary characters jostling for attention that poor old Wagner himself gets completely sidelined - at one point, scarcely a third of the way into the book, our hero is thrown into prison and does not reappear again for another seventeen chapters!
But that isn't to say that Wagner the Werewolf still isn't a darn good read, or that there is little to recommend it. Simply come to it expecting a tale of high adventure rather than gothic horror, a merry romp around mediaeval Florence (and later Arabia) with a full quotient of dashing bandit captains, imperilled heroines, dastardly sheiks and sadistic nuns. The prose is relentlessly melodramatic, sometimes veering on the downright purple, but invests the tale with enough of a sense of fun and frenetic pace that these faults can usually be overlooked. This madcap book has it all - a shipwreck, a seige, the Spanish Inquisition, a dark family secret revolving around a locked cupboard and even a cameo or two by the Devil himself...
Oh, and there's a werewolf somewhere in there, too.