Fans of Borchardt's two previous novels in this series (The Silver Wolf and Night of the Wolf) will welcome this latest action- and intrigue-filled installment that continues the saga of lady werewolf Regeane and her sworn shapeshifter mate, wolf-turned-man Maeniel, in Dark Ages Italy. In a cliffhanger opening, a runaway Saxon slave saves Regeane from death in an Alpine avalanche. When the two attempt to take refuge in a nearby monastery, they discover a mad abbot under the control of an invading demon spirit, the Bear, who leads a ragtag troop of bandits and monks turned zombies. Although they escape with Maeniel's help, the Bear follows, determined to possess a werewolf body and increase its power. Maeniel undertakes a mission from Charles (Charlemagne) to scout the geographical and political landscape ahead of the king's troops as Charles lays siege to Lombardy and its self-indulgent ruler, Desederius. In the meantime, Regeane's greedy cousin Hugo bargains with the Bear spirit and finds himself caught up in Desederius's plot to capture Maeniel. Fortunately, Regeane and the Saxon arrive in time to rescue him. Borchardt's strength, as usual, is her deeply researched setting, which brings alive the barbaric era after the fall of the Roman Empire. Newcomers to the series may have some difficulty keeping up with the present while wading through the extensive backstory, where characters' motivations sometimes seem more convenient to the plot than sensible. (Feb. 27) Forecast: Borchardt continues to carve out a viable writing career akin to that of her celebrated sister, Anne Rice--to whom the publisher still feels compelled to compare her, in its promo for The Wolf King--appealing as vigorously to the romance as to the horror market. (Borchardt received the 1997 Best Historical Romance Award from Romantic Times). With her continued crossover appeal, this novel (with foreign rights sold in Germany, Holland and the U.K.) should do well, full moon or not, despite its flaws.