The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis
In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn't her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires—everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements—and each other.
Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents.
But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won't be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she's going to survive, she'll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he's turned her into.
Review: I’m starting to think I don’t like road trip books, even post-apocalyptic ones. There’s just something about watching a character wander around that’s really, really . . . tedious.
Elka lives in the ruins of what was once British Columbia. As a child, her parents went north in search of gold, leaving her to be raised by a man called Trapper. Elka and Trapper live deep in the forest and rarely see other people. On one of her rare trips into town, Elka learns that Trapper is wanted for the murder of a young boy. She decides to run away and find her parents. With Trapper on her trail, the police hunting for her, and a head full of secrets, she might not make it through the wilderness.
When I opened this novel and read the first line, I immediately groaned and closed the book. It’s written entirely in dialect, like Elka is talking to the reader. I don’t like dialect because it slows down my reading so much that I get frustrated. But, I decided to plow through this book. My reading life needs challenges, right? The mystery of Elka’s past was compelling enough that I wanted to read it. I’m glad I did. The dialect isn’t too hard to understand, and I got used to the writing style fairly quickly.
“Ain't no monster. Monsters ain't real 'cept in kids' imaginations, under the beds, in the closets. We live in a world a' men and there ain't no good come out of tellin' them they monsters. Makes 'em think they ain't done nothin' wrong, that it's their nature and they can't do nothin' to change that. Callin' em a monster makes 'em something different from the rest of us, but they ain't. They just men, flesh and bone and blood.” – The Wolf Road
I think Elka is a realistic post-apocalyptic character. She’s not very likeable. She knows how to survive in the wilderness, but she’s uneducated and doesn’t have any people skills. (I can totally relate to her in the people-skills department. I don’t have those either.) She would rather do things by herself instead of relying on another person.
Actually, Elka’s character development is kind of amazing. She changes a lot over the course of the novel, and all of the changes are believable. She starts off completely denying the awful things she did while living with Trapper. As the story progresses, she struggles to live with herself because of what she’s done. Eventually, she has to admit to her past and figure out what to do with her future.
“I didn't take well to pitying yourself. It weren't worth the effort or time and it pissed people off.” – The Wolf Road
“You can't admit to someone else what you're too damn afraid to admit to yourself.” – The Wolf Road
“One a' them rules is don't go trusting another man's path . . . People do it, they do what their mommies and daddies did, they make them same mistakes, they have them same joys and hurts, they just repeating. Trees don't grow exactly where their momma is; ain't no room . . . I weren't following no one up through life.” – The Wolf Road
Elka is an unreliable narrator. She’s hiding some horrific secrets. If her secrets get out, she could be executed. The mysteries in Elka’s past were compelling enough to keep me reading, even though I wasn’t loving the book.
I had a really hard time getting into this story. Part of the problem was the dialect, and part of it was the slowness. Elka spends a lot of the book walking through the forest. She does occasionally run into danger, but the dangers are separated by long stretches of walking. I didn’t become truly interested in the story until halfway through, when Elka encounters Penelope. The strange and wonderful people who Elka meets are more thought-provoking than a walk in the woods.
The characters who Elka crosses paths with give the reader a better sense of the post-apocalyptic world. The world is my favorite part of the story. It has a Wild West feel. It’s lawless, unpredictable, often gory. I love the vividness of it.
I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. I enjoyed the world, and Elka is an intriguing character, but I was underwhelmed with the plot. I feel like I spent a long time waiting for something to happen.
TL;DR: A creepy mystery and a believable world, but you need the patience to wander through the woods first.