Visiting London in 1908, Russian landowner Gregori Lohmatski is urgently called home when his father is reported killed by a giant bear. He asks his American friend, hunter John Sherwood, to join him; but when the two arrive at his Padarok Lessa estate east of St. Petersburg, Gregori finds that his father is indeed dead; his brother, Maxim, an officer of the political police, is missing; and his revolutionary sister, Natalya, is waiting defiantly to be arrested. Meanwhile, Sherwood tries to track the homicidal bear, without success, and ponders Gregori's shamefaced confession that certain of the Lohmatskis are capable of shape-shifting into bears. Then Maxim shows up, with only feeble explanations for his absence. The police drag Gregori away and attempt to grab Natalya; she and Sherwood flee, chased by Maxim--in bear form! Maxim the bear mauls Sherwood, who wounds Maxim with a silver bullet. Recovering swiftly, Sherwood becomes a were-bear himself. Pursued by Maxim's agents, he and Natalya--soon becoming lovers--then head for Siberia, where he intends to become a bear-god to the superstitious locals. The traditional equation of bears with Russia, redeveloped here, hardly amounts to allegory as the publishers seem to think; otherwise, a well-handled and historically engaging fantasy--though not quite up to the standard of Merlin's Bones (1994).