I received this book for free from First to Read, Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
Published by Crown/Archetype on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Psychological, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Suspense
Format: Electronic ARC
Source: First to Read, Penguin Random House
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The Wolf Road is an intimate cat-and-mouse tale of revenge and redemption, played out against a vast, unforgiving landscape—told by an indomitable young heroine fighting to escape her past and rejoin humanity.
Survival/revenge/redemption + tough-talkin’, knife-wieldin’ heroine + post-apocalyptic setting + a strong female friendship. “The Wolf Road is an intimate cat-and-mouse tale of revenge and redemption, played out against a vast, unforgiving landscape—told by an indomitable young heroine fighting to escape her past and rejoin humanity.”
“Way I reckon it, men killed more wolves than wolves ever killed men. I know who I’m more afraid of.”
Elka is orphaned when she is seven years old and taken in by a reclusive man living in the woods. She affectionately calls him Trapper and he teaches her how to survive in the wild. A decade later she visits a nearby town and finds a wanted poster featuring Trapper’s distinctive tattooed face. Her entire worldview is shattered; the man she’d built up in her head “as some kind a’ god” unforgivable crimes. She may be his next target now that she knows the truth. She goes on the run in hopes of finding the parents who abandoned her to mine for gold in the far north town of Halveston. But the more distance she gets from Trapper, the more she starts remembering the events of their life together. She starts seeing these moments in a different light and wonders if she shares some of the blame for his crimes. What follows is a tale of revenge and second chances, as Elka faces the brutal, unpredictable conditions of the wild and the even more dangerous threats from the “civilized” world.
I couldn’t unravel all them strands, all them lies and feelings what got knotted up over the years. Any lie can turn to truth if you believe it long enough.
Seventeen-year-old Elka received very little education in anything except survival and is illiterate. She is a straight talker and speaks with somewhat of a cowboy dialect. The story takes place mostly in the woods, but the towns she encounters have a strong Wild West feel. There’s good mix of quiet moments and action. It has a lot of violence and gore. Hunting is an integral part of Elka’s survival and she goes into great detail about the trapping and preparation of animals for food. There is also stomach-turning brutality against humans. The setting is post-apocalyptic North America, but the specific details of the event that led to humans living in such dire conditions remain vague. The details have been verbally passed down through generations and it sounds like it might have something to do with the Cold War. The big event is called by many different names (the Fall, the Reformation, Rapture, the Damn Stupid) and it occurred around the time Elka’s grandmother was a baby. The story doesn’t really have much to do with “the Damn Stupid,” except for the way people wasted their blank slate. It is more about Elka’s physical and mental journey. I really admired Elka’s strength and independence.
I don’t much like roads. Roads is some other man’s path that people follow no question. All my life I lived by rules of the forest and rules of myself. One a’ them rules is don’t go trusting another man’s path. No matter if that’s a real one trodden into dirt or all them twists and turns his life has taken. 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, ain’t enough light and water so they end up wilting and dying off. It’s the same with us humans, though you wouldn’t know it to look at them most a’ the time. Ranches and stores are passed father to son, momma to girl, but there ain’t no room for it. Son tries to run things like he wants, father ain’t having none of it, they start feuding and soon that family ain’t no more.
The book begins with a bang!The book begins with a bang! The first chapter shows Elka confronting Trapper, which is actually what the entire story leads up to. Knowing some of the end events did not lessen the tension for me. The confrontation captured my attention immediately, but it holds so much more emotional weight once the whole story is revealed. Despite the knowledge of Trapper’s crimes, the relationship between him and Elka and her wide-eyed admiration of him is very sweet. (I never thought I would find a story about a salmon’s eye endearing!) The rest of the book details the events that led to the confrontation. After Elka goes on the run, it is impossible to shake the feeling that Trapper is lurking nearby. She battles unpredictable elements in the woods. While Elka is very resourceful in the wild, she’s naive when it comes to people. She spent a decade in an isolated cabin with Trapper, under strict instructions not to communicate with anyone. Despite her better instincts, she is a little too trusting at the beginning of her journey and gets into a few vulnerable situations. She also has the added stress of being chased by law enforcement, who think she is an accessory to Trapper’s crimes.
Memories ain’t no one’s friend. They show you all the good things you had, all the good things you lost, and don’t let you forget all the bad shit in between
Elka spends much of the beginning surviving on her own, but she starts to interact with a wider variety of people about a third of the way through. My favorite part is when Penelope enters Elka’s life. Penelope is prissy and not made for living in the wild, but she has survival skills that Elka doesn’t: she can read, has medical knowledge, and is very beautiful. Elka has an adversarial attitude towards Penelope at first and is reluctant to befriend her, but a strong bond develops over time. Their differences make their interactions interesting and sometimes hilarious. I would love to read a book solely about them living in the woods together!
“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 nothing’ wrong, that it’s their nature and they can’t do nothin’ to change that. Callin’ ’em a monster makes ’em somethin’ 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…Nothin’ a man can do can make him stop bein’ a man.”
The Wolf Road explores the nature of evil as Elka comes to grips with the part she might have played in Trapper’s crimes. Elka learns that the past doesn’t have to doom your future and that maybe having a “pack” isn’t so bad. This book has a similar feel to The Dog Stars and Vengeance Road, so if you liked those books I definitely recommend you check this one out. It really quenched my thirst for danger and adventure! (Which I only want to experience from the comfort of my own living room!) There was never a dull moment and I was engaged from beginning to end. Elka is a captivating character that I will never forget.
Life is life and you got to live it in the here-now not the back then.