The Wolf Road is a novel that I’ve been wanting to read since its publication in 2016, and whilst it has taken me a little while to get to it, it did not disappoint.
Since the Damn Stupid turned the clock back on civilisation by centuries, the world has been a harsher place. But Elka has learned everything she needs to survive from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her in when she was just seven years old.
So when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper – Kreagar Hallet – is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka.
Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind – and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.
The Wolf Road is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape that reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Lewis’ novel has a similar level of bleakness to it and I was hooked immediately – regular readers will know that if I describe a book as “bleak”, it probably means that I really enjoyed it, and such is the case here. Since the “Damn Stupid”, people in BC (which I think is British Columbia), have reverted back to a lifestyle that I would associate with the 1800s, and the novel feels a bit like a Western, with characters carrying six-shooters on their hips, and a gold rush in the Yukon territory. The novel isn’t specific about what the Damn Stupid actually was, and whilst I know that some readers may find this frustrating, I don’t mind it at all, and I certainly didn’t see it as a negative here. I thought that there were sufficient hints for the reader to form their own conclusions, and I found the level of information appropriate to the nature of the story.
Elka’s parents are amongst those who headed north to find their fortune, leaving Elka behind with her Nan. Following a storm, Elka is lost in the woods, and eventually stumbles over a trapper’s hut. He takes her in, and teaches her how to hunt and survive in the wilderness. (If you’re wondering what happened to Nan, don’t worry, it all becomes clear). For ten years, it’s just the two of them, but on a trip into a local town for supplies, she spots a wanted poster, featuring Trapper’s (as she has come to call him) face. And her life is turned upside down, as she realises that the man who took her in, who she had begun to see as a father-figure, isn’t the man she thought he was.
Elka is a fantastic character who is incredibly capable – she can forage, hunt, find or build shelter, and she is more than capable of protecting herself against the predators that she might encounter in the wilderness – whatever form they may take. She is, in short, a survivor. She has had little interaction with people, however, and her inexperience and naivety land her into trouble time and again, leading to some prickly situations. This can sometimes be a little frustrating in a character, and yet for Elka it didn’t come across that way. It fits so perfectly with her character that the reader has to go along for the ride, hoping that she will get out of her current fix more or less intact.
I’ve deliberately not gone into the plot in any detail, but Elka’s discovery of Trapper’s true nature prompts her to seek out her birth parents, who she hasn’t seen or heard from for 15 or so years. There are many ups and downs in Elka’s journey, and the plot never lets up – there is always the feeling of Elka being followed, hunted even, that makes this a tense journey with an unforgettable protagonist.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐