The Wolf Road.
4.5 stars out of 5.
Everything Elka knows of the world she learned from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her under his wing when she was just seven years old.
But when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper – Kreagar Hallet – is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka.
Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind – and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.
I was lucky enough to win a copy of the book courtesy of Goodreads Giveaways.
The Wolf Road is Elka’s tale, told by Elka through a first person perspective in her own unique voice, that does take a few pages to get into but when you do and after you’ve gotten to know the character you realise the tone fits her perfectly. She takes you along with her, from the young girl relying on Trapper to help her survive through to her discovery of the truth and her subsequent journey to find her parents all the time traversing countless miles and landscapes. As the story progresses and Elka travels further along the Wolf Road confronting memories of her past and the horrors done by Kreager Hallet, the ramifications are slowly revealed and as events transpire we build to the inevitable reckoning and conclusion between Elka herself and Kreager.
Whilst the book itself takes place in a post apocalyptic time the actual world has reverted back to a setting that is very reminiscent of the frontier style western era, you have ranches, cattle, huts, small towns, wanted posters, a Sheriff turned Magistrate, deputies, a six-shooter, horses, hangings, claims and mining/prospecting for gold which all adds up to an old West vibe. Not much is written about the world before, we find out what happened and what the event was called ‘the Damn Stupid’ followed a few years later by the ‘Second Conflict’ but mostly everything else takes a backseat and is only vaguely mentioned throughout. This doesn’t detract from the story as you learn enough and it makes a refreshing change as the book isn’t a post apocalyptic epic tome akin to The Passage or The Stand where there are constant relics, technology and reminders of the past and the destroyed civilization that also focuses on a massive scale and the worldwide destruction and resulting aftermath. Instead, with The Wolf Road, yes the world of the past has been destroyed but while reading you really feel that the world of the book is the wilderness and that the wild itself plays a large part in the story. I really felt that by reducing the scale and scope of the story and simply focusing on a few central characters who are all intertwined that it improves the book making it a far more personal read and allowing you to invest more time in the fate of those characters.
Now for me, I really liked the setting, there’s just something about the solitary, lonesome wilds and I found the western influence to be no bad thing, while I haven’t read any western books my Dad was a huge fan of westerns and back in the long ago days of my childhood I was brought up watching all the classic Clint Eastwood films. At times Elka really reminded me of Mattie Ross from the classic that is True Grit (both the John Wayne version and the 2010 remake with Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges are well worth your time) as she’s feisty, determined and capable.
The setting is harsh and desolate and Elka’s story for the most part is a lonely one until she meets Penelope about halfway through the book who is the opposite of Elka and is everything Elka isn’t, smart, polite and literate. The relationship that develops between them that at first is built on necessity and survival soon turns into genuine friendship and respect as both leave their imprint on each other, Elka shows Penelope how to survive in the wild and Penelope teaches Elka her letters and how to read. I don’t use spoilers in my reviews as I don’t like to ruin the story for fellow readers but I will write that Penelope also gives Elka something far more and it’s a very poignant moment. The core characters are well-developed, the duo of Elka and Kreager being the centerpiece of the story told and have a very deep and complex relationship that impacts mostly all the other main characters in the book. Penelope is also well thought-out and is a likeable companion to Elka along part of her journey and is deeper than she at first seems. Magistrate Lyon is probably the least developed out the main cast and while slightly one-dimensional we are given the reason for her being how she is and you can definitely understand her actions and the commitment in her tenacious pursuit of Elka and Kreager. Along the way Elka also encounters a variety of minor characters who play some small but pivotal roles, ranging from good through to bad.
Onto the Wolf. Yes, the Wolf gets a mention all by himself as I’m a sucker for animal companions in books. Overall the Wolf doesn’t play a huge part in the book, only brief appearances and then you find him missing for largish sections but the role he does play is substantial and I found him to be an integral part of the story and who Elka is.
Lewis has an easy yet descriptive writing style that once you get used to Elka’s narrative or as she would say, way a’ speakin-(example right there) lures you into the world and you find yourself both captivated and invested in the characters as Elka struggles along her harrowing tale. The Wolf Road is often dark and bleak, showcasing pain, tragedy, loss, sorrow, betrayal, lies and the evil in people but also self realisation, retribution and kindness. With odd moments thrown in along the way that make you both laugh and smile. The story shows us that though there are animals and dangers out in the wilderness, it’s actually human nature you have to look out for and that you find monsters and evil hidden within humanity not the wild but also in some cases the hope for redemption to.
There’s alot to like in The Wolf Road and I feel that it’s a book that transcends an individual genre, you have the post apocalyptic element albeit slight, a western feel, thriller type moments and strong characterisation that makes it a very gritty character driven read. For anyone looking for something abit different or just a great read in general then this is the book for you.
This is an exceptional debut from Beth Lewis and a cracking good read. The book just like one of Elka’s snares, traps you and doesn’t let go until the final page.
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