I must admit to a deep affection for Gothic Romances, cheesiness and all. ‘Lycanthia’ is decidedly the best entry into that field I’ve encountered, with the twists that one expects from Tanith Lee elevating the book past all the clichés of the genre.
Here, in a 19th-century French (?) setting, the hapless (?) protagonist is a young man, Christian Dorse. Finding himself the unexpected heir to an ancestral manor house, he betakes himself to languish in his new property. Languishing is what he aims for – Christian believes himself to be an invalid (although it’s not quite clear if he is), and is a self-centered, not very likable individual. All he wants to do is to be left alone, to play the piano, and to feel sorry for himself.
However, his house, with its strange servants, the insular village nearby, and – most of all – the neighboring woods, seem to harbor sinister secrets. It’s not clear if Christian’s destiny is to fulfill a traditional role in a way of life he has never known, or if he will be shunned as an outsider.
He meets a strange couple, outcast from the village, and seemingly helpless to resist, falls into a web of supernatural depravity (or is it natural, beautiful love?). Christian is spurred to become more than he was – to re-examine what in life is truly meaningful. But will he succeed in breaking from the mold he has created for himself?
Lycanthia is a genre novel, a werewolf story – and also a beautiful, challenging and thought-provoking work.