“A good knife is hard to come by, about as hard as finding a good person in this damned country. When your life is your only currency and you got debts to pay, a good knife can make all the difference.”
One of my reading goals this year was to read more debut novels, and I’ve read several. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis was one such novel that I had added to my TBR almost a year before it was released in July. But, where The Wolf Road differs from the other debuts I’ve read is that this novel doesn’t read like a debut. This is a stunning novel written by a skillful writer and storyteller.
The Wolf Road is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where most people have returned to living off the land, a world that echoes the Wild West of days gone by. Lewis never makes it clear exactly what has happened to society. All the reader knows (and all the reader needs to know) is that the “Damn Stupid” was caused by men and war and has resulted in a world where the priority is to survive–hopefully with one’s humanity in tact.
When seven-year-old Elka finds herself lost in the forest, she stumbles into the hut and the life of a man she calls Trapper. Trapper takes Elka under his wing and teaches her to live a solitary life in the wild, and their existence for ten years is a relatively peaceful one.
At seventeen, though, Elka’s world and everything she believes to be true turns upside down. While in town, Elka sees a wanted poster for Kreager Hallet, the man she knows as Trapper (and in her own mind as “Daddy”). She discovers that Hallet is wanted for murder and that a sharp, cold law-woman, Magistrate Lyon is looking for him. The story that follows is told from Elka’s perspective as she tries to outrun the man who was her teacher and Lyon who is on the trail of them both.
The author makes a unique and risky decision to open the novel with the reckoning that comes at the end. The decision pays off. I was hooked from the first page, and though I was afraid that the opening would ruin some of the suspense, it only heightened it. I was eager to find out what events would lead Elka to her face-off with Kreager, and the author doesn’t reveal the outcome until the very end.
The novel is written from a first-person perspective and uses a western-style dialect. I typically find dialect in novels to be distracting, but the language choices throughout the novel remained consistent and felt authentic. Furthermore, I felt as if I were sitting by a campfire listening to Elka tell me the most thrilling and touching story I’d ever heard.
Beth Lewis builds a world that is alive and dangerous, a wild world where people are more dangerous than packs of wolves and six-hundrend-pound bears. The characters are likewise dynamic and authentic. Elka, in particular, is a complex, strong, female protagonist you want to get to know. Though many authors in recent years have made concerted efforts to write strong, female characters, Lewis creates in Elka a woman who is not overdone. Lewis doesn’t feel the need to remind the reader that Elka is a woman who is strong and that, therefore, her strength is remarkable. Instead, Elka is strong. The effect is that both men and women really are equal–both in their goodness and depravity– in this novel, something I found refreshing and inspiring.
Though The Wolf Road is a thrilling and action-packed story, it also explores important themes about family, about those to which we are born, those families we choose, and the families who choose us. In the end, the novel asks us to consider the depths of humanity, the differences between men and monsters and to realize that the line between them may not be as stark as we think.
“Monsters ain’t real ‘cept in kids’ imaginations, under beds, in the closets. We live in a world a’ men and there ain’t no good come out of telling’ them they monsters. Makes ’em think they ain’t done nothin’ wrong, that it’s in their nature and they can’t do nothin’ to change that. Callin ’em a monster make ’em something’ different from the rest of us, but they ain’t. They just men, flesh and bone and blood. Bad’uns, truth, but men all the same.”
I received this copy courtesy of Blogging for Books and Crown publishing for an honest review.