Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mark Chadbourn's "The Ice Wolves," a Hellboy Novel

Hellboy has waged war against diverse antagonists, including Nazis and the witch Baba Yaga, over the years. In Mark Chadbourn's turn at the intellectual property created by Mike Mignola in 1993, Hellboy is pitted against an army of werewolves on the snow-covered streets and hills of Boston.

Because of Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy is almost a household meme; everybody thinks they know Hellboy, although they actually usually know only del Toro's version, as embodied by Ron Perlman.

Chadbourn's Hellboy seems different to me and the novel's setting is pure Chadbourn: haunted houses, ancient races, archetypal creatures, running amok in the major cities of the world. In The Ice Wolves, the eponymous wolves are more the incarnation of the dark, primal instincts of man, released into the modern world through the operation of two occult devices created by a shaman to save his tribe from ravaging wolves in a pre-historical world of Eastern Europe. Through magic, the wolves are absorbed by man and their murderous instincts internalized to lie dormant until their release during the Time of the Black Sun.

The novel begins with Kate Corrigan at the folklore department of New York University, awaiting Hellboy. Through her research, she has determined that certain periods of history have witnessed epidemics of lycanthropy and that these occurrences involve a prophecy of the coming of the Time of the Black Sun. She and a colleague have discerned a pattern of movement and mayhem that indicates that there is a modern epidemic and that the wolves are converging upon the United States.

Hellboy's arrival coincides with the appearance of the wolves in the United States and the death of Kate's colleague, Daniel. Daniel's last act is to materialize to Kate and Hellboy and warn them that the wolves have activated the Heart of Winter and are headed to Boston to retrieve the second relic, the Kiss of Winter, in order to initiate the Time of the Black Sun. Daniel informs them that the Kiss of Winter is hidden in the Grant Mansion in Boston, a house rumored to be the most haunted house in New England.

With the introduction of the Grant House, Chadbourn leads us into H. P. Lovecraft territory. He also delves into several sub-plots: the story of Brad Lynch and his estranged father, now owner of the Grant Mansion; the story of the Grants and the origin story of the Kiss of Winter; the birth of the lycans and their involvement with and search for the two relics; a haunted house story; time shifting and time travel; and a pastiche of Gothic elements that align the novel with the works of Poe, H.P Lovecraft, and Henry James.

Chadbourn handles each narrative level competently; however, sadly, I did not find the parental tales particularly interesting, although they are integral to the plot and must be developed in order to resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, Chadbourn shines when dealing with mythic and archetypal elements and action.

Ultimately, the two stars of the novel are Hellboy and the haunted house and these two characters are worth the journey through the work. Chadbourn writes a smooth crystalline prose and he knows how to tell a story. The Gothic aspects of the novel are true to the genre and the pastiche of Lovecraftian elements is convincing.

I was particularly intrigued by Chadbourn's recreations of the past and the origin of the wolves and the two relics: the Kiss of Winter and the Heart of Winter.

The novel is a fast read, loyal to the genre and its hero--Hellboy.

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