Freelance writer living on Brisbane's north side. Studied creative industries - currently studying library and information services.
Published October 30th 2011
Following the huge commercial success of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (which I am not here to slander or praise) book stores across Australia began to (wisely, I believe) 'cash-in' on the 'Paranormal Romance' craze by dedicating an entire section of their stores to paranormal fiction.
Now, this has allowed many paranormal/fantasy/romance writers new-found glory and many not-so-new books new-found adoration. Take the series by Charlaine Harris for example; who, you say? The writer of the True Blood series airing its fifth season in 2012. Well, I can remember reading those books when they were titled the Southern Vampire Mysteries at least two years before I found out they were going to be made into a show; and now the books are being re-printed with nice new covers of Anna Paquin's face and have prime spots in the Paranormal section of your local book store. Good for Charlaine Harris, isn't it?
To the main part of this article; I was scouring an Angus and Robertson closing down sale when I came across an interesting find: Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski, published in 2010 by Woolshed Press – an imprint of Random House Australia. Reading the blurb, it seemed like it belonged in the category of Youth Adult Fiction, and I would say that anyone from 12-21 would enjoy this book.
Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski
What do you do when everybody you care about grows fur and fangs at least once a month?
Etienne, son of a lord in the kingdom of Armorique, goes to train as a knight with Geraint of Lucanne. Geraint is brave and kind, a good teacher and master – but he has a secret that he has kept from his family. He is bisclavret, a born werewolf. When Geraint is betrayed, Etienne must ally with the local wise-woman and her daughter, themselves bisclavret, to save his lord. But time is running out. If Geraint's enemies have their way, Geraint will soon be trapped in his wolf form.
And Etienne has his own secret. The decisions he makes will change his life forever
Wolfborn is an engaging read of nicely fleshed-out characters with understandable motives, desires and dreams. The hero of the story, Etienne, is very likeable in his achievements and his failings, and (spoiler alert) his gradual and gentle love for the bisclavret Jeanne makes for a pleasant accompanying story to the main plot-line. Yes, this story very much follows the orientation-conflict-climax-resolution formula, and yes, it is a little predictable at times, but for me, that aided my reading of it and yes, it gave me peace that they all lived happily ever after.
After reading this story I read the afterword, and was pleased in doing so. It seems Wolfborn was written as a sort-of tribute to Sue Bursztynski's knowledge of history. It seems that in the twelfth century, a woman known only as Marie de France wrote a collection of stories called the Breton Lais (defined as a popular narrative of Medieval French and English Romance Literature). Wolfborn is based on one of these stories, that also has an Irish version and one set in Britain in the time of King Arthur.
Apparently, many of Marie de France's stories have been re-worked by the likes of Chaucer and other Middle English writers. The story that Wolfborn is based on is one called the Lai Le Bisclavret. In it, an unnamed knight lives a happy life with his wife, until he tells her that he is bisclavret. She then accepts another knight who has been courting her and, with his help, steals her husband's clothes, without which he cannot return to humanity (which parallels the story-line of Wolfborn).
The bisclavret knight is stuck in his wolf form for some time until he meets the king, who is impressed by the well-mannered wolf and takes him home to court. There he stays, popular with everyone, until the lady and her new partner arrive. Nobody understands why the wolf seems to hate the knight, but when he leaps up and bites off the nose of the unfaithful wife, it's clear to all that something is wrong. The wife confesses her deeds and returns her husband's clothes. She stays with her new partner, but all of her female descendants have tiny noses.
After reading Wolfborn, it is obvious which parts of the story remain aligned with Marie de France's and which have been tweaked or changed completely. Either way, Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski is a worth-while read with an interesting history behind it.