The Wolf Road | Beth Lewis | 2016 | Borough Press | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
A global apocalyptic disaster – the ‘Big Stupid’ and the years of war that followed it – have reduced the starkly beautiful northern lands of Canada into a lawless wilderness. The seasons veer between excessive heat and lethal storm-battered cold, lakes are poisoned, the modern way of life is barely a memory in the towns while the country is owned by wolves, bears and demons in human form.
Elka was a young child when the Trapper found her lost in a storm in the forest. While never quite befriending her, the Trapper becomes Elka’s family, teaching her how to hunt and to survive. But all that changes when Elka, now a young woman, sees a Wanted poster in town and on it is the painted face of a murderer – the Trapper.
When Elka runs away into the wilderness, on the trail of a distant memory of her parents who long ago abandoned her, she is pursued – not just by a raging Trapper but also by Lyon, a lawmaker who is determined to visit retribution on this killer and his presumed accomplice, Elka. The chase will drive Elka into the very heart of danger but Elka is no ordinary woman. She has the Trapper to thank for that.
The Wolf Road is a remarkable novel in so many ways. The most obviously striking achievement is the voice of Elka which guides us through her story. Elka can’t read and, like many people in these post-apocalyptic days, has possibly never even seen a book. She barely knows another living being to talk to. So her language is her own and it fills these pages with the force of her personality and it is a marvellous thing. It doesn’t take long at all to get used to it and very soon it reads so naturally and richly. This voice more than anything else gives depth to Elka’s thoughts and fears, her world and the landscape she must overcome, and the situation she is faced with. Its warmth is in stark contrast to the cold and chill of the forests, lakes and hills she must cross on the path to her dream while fleeing her nightmare.
I loved Elka very much. She is so tough, brave and resilient but there are times (in between the frequent moments of peril) when Elka does let us in to her secret thoughts. Sooner or later she has to face the legacy of the Trapper, a figure more monster than man, and it’s not ever going to be easy.
The Wolf Road is the tale of a journey across a post-apocalyptic wilderness and so it is filled by the characters that Elka meets along the way, not all of them two-legged. There is good and bad among them but the bad are truly horrifying now that crime, superstition, madness have been allowed to flourish. The locations are wonderfully described. The scenery and the weather are characters in their own right – their influence on Elka can’t be understated.
It’s extraordinary to think that The Wolf Road is Beth Lewis’s debut novel. Elka is a fantastic, memorable creation with such a wonderful distinct voice. But the plot also thrills from the outset, the author showing herself to be a master of tension and surprise. And all of this against such a magnificent backdrop. I had the feeling that the ‘Big Stupid’, appalling as it was, is just one more phase in the life of this wilderness that it will overcome. And because of that, combined with the force of Elka herself, I never found The Wolf Road to be a dark read. A book of the year for me.
Also reviewed at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, just take a look at the poster below.