The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis #RRSciFiMonth
The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a post apocalyptic thriller set in a world that feels like the wild west and follows in the footsteps of a young girl who has to be one of the strongest and most readable characters that I’ve read about for a long time.
The story starts in a way that could be considered a massive giveaway as we meet Elka, out in the wild, stalking Kreagar Hallet. I admit that I think this was a bold move but I also think it paid off. I was hooked and although the final outcome was already revealed (to an extent) the journey itself is totally compelling. Hallet is a monster of a man, driven by his own base needs he abducts and murders. Until recently Hallet was simply the ‘Trapper’ to Elka He took her in at the age of 7, named her and taught her how to survive in the wild. Basically he rescued her and became her father. Unfortunately the truth is now out about The Trapper, or Hallet’s, true nature and Elka is implicated. There’s a new law woman in town hunting Hallet and she’s now hunting Elka too and as Elka flees in search of her actual parents more than one person is following in her footsteps.
At this point the story reverts back and Elka tells of how she came to live with Trapper out in the middle of nowhere until it finally brings us up to the current point. This really does make for fascinating reading not to mention a little bit horrifying as Elka reveals memories from her past that whilst they might be easy to understand now, in retrospect and with the benefit of a little more maturity, seemed much more innocent to a seven year old’s eyes.
I’m not really going to go too much into the plot to be honest as I don’t think it’s really necessary. For me, what made this story such a compelling read was the story telling voice of Elka and the frontier type setting. Wanted posters, people panning for gold, sheriffs and swift retribution for criminal deeds.
Elka is an excellent character. A little bit heartbreaking too in some respects. She’s tough and prickly but she also endears you to her. She has lived out in the wild for so long that she doesn’t really have much time for people and to be honest when you encounter some of her adventures you can’t really blame her. Wild animals are just that – you can trust them to act instinctively. Humans come with different guises, they’re sometimes duplicitous, sometimes sneaky and sometimes, hopefully not too often, vile. The other thing with Elka, and I say this now even after completion of the book, I’m not totally sure what parts of her story were absolutely true. I found myself with raised eyebrows at certain parts of the story – little things, for example, how she got her name. Is she a totally reliable narrator? I’m not sure. And that could simply be innocently wanting to give whoever she is talking to the most palatable story, it could also be hiding very unpalatable truths. On the whole, I liked her and I would definitely be happy to find out we can expect more tales from her but I have no idea whether this is intended as a standalone or not.
The other characters in the story are all really well drawn. Hallet – we don’t get to hear much from him but the anecdotes and snippets shared by Elka gradually draw a picture and you can’t help but feel the fear that Elka feels as he stalks quite literally in her footsteps. She knows how dangerous he is, strangely, her time spent with him doesn’t seem to be one of fear but now she is standing against him she certainly recognises the danger. Elka also makes a friend. A young woman called Penelope who has a rather sad story herself. Penelope doesn’t have the smarts of the wild but in other respects she’s quite a canny character. Don’t write her off as ornamental as she definitely has an inner strength. The new law on the block is Magistrate Lyon and I certainly wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. She’s tenacious to say the least. Not that you will blame her when you discover her story. Finally, we have the other ‘friend’ that Elka makes. A friend with much more in common with Elka than anybody else. A wolf. Prickly, untrusting but loyal. I have to confess that I’m a sucker for elements of a story like this and so I loved the parts in which the wolf appeared.
I can’t really fully explain why I was so enamoured by this book so much but I’ll give it a go and hope it succeeds in tempting you to pick it up. This is a post apocalyptic book but it has a difference. It isn’t focusing on the disaster, the before, the whys or even what the majority of the survivors are now doing. In fact we don’t really learn anything of the history other than it being called the ‘Big damn stupid’ by Elka’s nan. I love this absence of detail because to be honest it’s inclusion wouldn’t have brought anything to the story other than some unwelcome bulk. This book focuses only on a tiny fraction of people such as Elka who have learnt to survive out in the wild. On her travels, when she visits other towns she is herself surprised by the difference in life that the people there live compared to the one she leads and that hits you as a reader too, but I just loved this focus on the wilderness. The survival, the harsh setting and the fact that Elka, in spite of her upbringing is still learning to survive in these conditions. There’s a sort of beauty in the wild that the author manages to capture here and also a feeling that Elka is truly in her element.
This is a journey, across hundreds of miles of difficult terrain. Elka endures adventures along the way and indeed hones her own abilities in a way that transforms her from the pupil into a person who can indeed survive using her own wiles. More than this it’s a rather torturous journey into Elka’s memories of what truly took place during her time with Trapper. (My advice. Read all of Elka’s memories carefully and store them away for later.) Trapper provided her with a home and shelter. Let’s just face it, he was her saviour and I’m pretty sure that, whilst she doesn’t express it ,she loved him. To discover the bad side to this man that she trusts to be her father is devastating and the only way she can cope with the knowledge is to think of him as two separate characters, Hallet and Trapper. In a similar way she has closed doors in her own brain. These doors don’t come unlocked easily and some of them will give you definite pause for thought. I won’t say any more.
I have no hesitation in recommending the Wolf Road. It’s dark and dangerous with characters that really jump out of the page at you. It’s absolutely a compelling read and in spite of the massive spoiler that virtually opens the book there was, for me, no lack of tension – mainly because I was so desperate to find out what had happened in the past and what was going to happen for Elka as she moved forward.
Go and pick up a copy and give it a go. A wonderful story telling voice that is unique and compelling and a story that is laden with tension.