Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Wolf Road

Elka doesn't remember her parents at all, but was raised by her strict, abusive grandmother. One day after a fight, a storm takes her away into unfamiliar territory. A man she calls Trapper finds her and takes care of her, teaching her survival skills to live in the wilderness. Years later, she sees a wanted sign in town and discovers he's wanted for the murder of women and children. She accidentally leads the law to his cabin, stranding her on her own with the man she thought of as her father and the law chasing her as she hopes to find her estranged parents.

Wolf Road is told by Elka as if she's speaking it. The entire thing is in her accent and dialect. It takes a bit to get used to, but shows how she thinks and feels. Although without formal education, she learns quickly how to survive in the woods. I enjoyed her intense journey and her no-nonsense attitude. She isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to survive and gets out of difficult situations in her own way. The way she thinks through problems and relates things to her own experience is unique and made the book an interesting read. Elka gives in to the urge to give up at times and makes loads of mistakes, but it made me root for her even more.

Quite a few villainous characters cross Elka's path. Some of them are one dimensional characters, but others were nuanced and realistic. The Trapper, who she discovers is a killer named Kreager, is the main villain. His only good act is to take care of her when her found her at age 7, which was later found to be for selfish reasons. He is unapologetically evil and enjoys being so. I would have though an overly virtuous person would go after him who was flatly good, but I was wrong. The woman after him is Magistrate Lyon, who punishes most crime with death. This case in particular is close to her heart because Kreager killed her son. Elka has as much if not more to fear from Lyon than Kreager, so she's doubly on the run. Lyon's sense of morality is black and white, driven by vengeance. She does monstrous things as well, but has the law on her side.

On the surface, Wolf Road is a historical thriller novel set in the 1800's with the same technology, social order, and sensibilities. Elka reveals that the Cold War led to the Big Damn Stupid (as her grandmother calls it) where North America was bombed with nuclear weapons by accident. The only differences between this post-apocalyptic future and the 1800's are huge, unpredictable storms that Elka calls thunderheads and the spots of land still affected by radiation. I would have liked a little more detail on the events, but it's left intentionally vague. Although it's a relatively minor point in the larger story, this fact gives the story just a bit more depth and mystery.

The Wolf Road is a fast read that held a lot more than I expected. Along with the science fiction and thriller aspects, some horror elements make the narrative even more intriguing with murder and cannibalsim. Beth Lewis crafts an addictive story and I look forward to what she writes next.

My rating 4/5 fishmuffins

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