BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
This book is perfection.
Okay, okay, there was one thing that didn’t sit entirely right with me, but which I don’t feel adequately skilled to comment on, and that was the concern that there were discrepancies within the slanguage used.
Elka is illiterate, and she often uses weren’t instead of wasn’t, uses a’ instead of of, and abbreviations such as ’bout, ‘neath, ‘stead, ‘hind, ‘tween, and afore. At times while reading, I thought I might have caught some discrepancies, where she used the correct word rather than the one she used in its place most of the time, or the full word where she would normally use the abbreviation. This might have been done in an effort to make the text more readable, or it might have been an error in the translation of text into illiterate speak, but either way I was too caught up in the story to mark out the possible discrepancies, and this is why it gets 10/10.
Now, having got that out of the way, I can start gushing, right?
This story is set in America and Canada (with mentions of places such as BeeCee, Couver, and Tucket) after the Big Damn Stupid; the accidental release of nuclear weapons which ended many lives, poisoned large chunks of land, and destroyed technology, casting civilisation backwards, and robbing them of a lot of their historical knowledge.
Them bombs weren’t even meant to fall on our land. It was a mistake, a guiding error or some such nonsense, the old’uns said, what meant all their bombs fell all at once in the wrong places. They was meant for the down south cities and places humans already wrecked, they was meant to kill people not the wild. They filled the sky with smoke and poison and turned the thunderheads feral and vicious. Old’uns said they stopped the water running and all the lights went out. They left behind a world of burnt rock and scraps a’ green and no one never said sorry. I figure the wild don’t think us humans deserve what it’s got not more and tell you the truth, I think it’s right.
When she was seven, she was picked up by a Thunderhead, an extreme storm that was amped up by and has continued to happen semi-regularly since the bombs.
Then I was in the air. Table lifted up like a dry leaf and afore I knew it, I was too high to let go. I dug my nails into the wood and scrunched up my eyes. Rocks and twigs snagged at me, cut up my arms and legs, pulled out my hair in clumps. Tiny balls of ice hit my face and felt like hot metal filings. That wind threw the table and me around like we was nothing. Only existing for the fun of the thunder.
She was found and raised by Trapper, a man who wouldn’t tell her his name, but became a father figure to her and trained her in the ways of hunting, trapping, and preparing the meat of animals.
‘Keep the fire lit, Elka girl,’ he said and stalked off into the trees.
I always kept the fire lit and he knew it but he said it every time he left no matter what. Figured maybe it was his way a’ saying a kindness without having to. Stead a’ I love you, you keep the fire lit.
Not long after she starts calling him Daddy to his face, she goes into town to trade their animal skins for coin and other items, and she sees his face on wanted posters.
But for the blood he could have been a normal Joe out on a stroll. But for the kid’s scalp swinging in the breeze, he could’ve been anyone. But he wasn’t. He was Kreagar Hallet. Murdering, kid-killing bastard Kreagar Hallet. Took me far too long to figure that out and no prettied-up words would change it now.
Elka runs home, the magistrate looking for him follows. After she sees the scalps Trapper kept from his kills, and after watching Magistrate Lyon set fire to the home she’s known for the past ten years, Elka sets off on a cross-country journey to find her real parents. But of course it’s not going to be as easy as that, because Lyon is searching the country for her, and she’s not the only one.
‘Could a’ killed you a hundred times, girlie,’ he said, slow. ‘Could a’ taken my pig-sticker and cut you neck to navel while you slept. Could a’ peeled your skin off easy as boiled trout.’
I remembered all those years calling him Daddy and felt sick.
‘Could a’ made my winter boots out of your back,’ he carried on, voice getting more excited, smile getting bigger, like he was reeling off courses at a feast. ‘New belt out of your arms. Could a’ stuffed my mattress with your silky brown hair.’
He laughed and I felt sicker. He raised his knife, pointed it into the trees, right at my face though he didn’t know it.
As mentioned at the start of this review, illiterate Elka is our narrator, so the entire book is written in her illiterate speak, complete with abbreviations and slang. She’s tough as nails, a survivor, and has no time for nonsense. She’s not been well socialised while living alone with Trapper, but throughout the story she does form a couple of very different, necessity-based relationships that will leave the readers feeling heartbroken and gooey all at once.
Certain elements of this story ensure it will not be to everyone’s taste. The way it’s written, for starters, and the fact that this is more a survivalist adventure with a bit of crime thrown in, rather than the sci-fi/post-apocalyptic world that the mentions of the Big Damn Stupid might suggest. But this is just such a well-rounded, well fleshed-out story that I couldn’t help but get lost in it. There was nothing about this story that I could point at as not making sense or not being enjoyable, even if that was a morbid, upsetting kind of enjoyable in certain instances.
Part Winter’s Bone, a dash of Little House on the Prairie, and with a serial killer and some extreme circumstances thrown in… One can’t help but adore Elka and bless her illiterate little heart.
I had not requested this book, but it turned up on my doorstep anyway, and I’m so very glad that it did. Beth Lewis has been added to my must read list, and I wait impatiently for her next book.
Do yourself a favour and add her to your list, too!
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