Elka barely remembers a time before she knew Trapper. She was just seven years old, wandering lost and hungry in the wilderness, when the solitary hunter took her in. In the years since then, he’s taught her how to survive in this desolate land where civilization has been destroyed and men are at the mercy of the elements and each other.
“Tiny electric lights like glow bugs in glass jars were strung up ‘tween tall posts and made that street look like the starry sky.” – pg. 108, The Wolf Road
Lewis captures her audience with the refreshingly feisty leading lady, Elka and the journey she takes to escape the murderous and bloodthirsty man that she had grown to love as a father. Having lost everything at a young age, Elka was taken in by Trapper and raised to respect and utilize everything that nature had to offer. For 10 years she had learned his tricks and the trades of the woods including hunting and trapping to survive. These skills were too easily put to the test when Elka learned the truth about Trapper’s murderous nature, having a comfortable woodland life torn away and a sinking fear that she would be the next to lose her scalp at his hands. She sets off on a journey to find her biological parents and escape the bloody past she was unknowingly a part of. Little did she know that she’d set her own trap trying to find redemption, and would soon discover how much like him she had become.
My Thoughts – This being Lewis’ debut novel I am happy to say that she did a wonderful job harnessing the language, scenery, and heart-skipping moments of terror and suspense brought on by a young girl alone in the wild that is trying to escape the law and a very dangerous man. It was a difficult start because I was not expecting the broken English of the backwoods to be used so diligently throughout. Once I was able to read and understand the abbreviations and work out what the characters were saying, I quickly dove in.
The first scene in this book throws you immediately into a confrontation between Elka and Trapper (you will soon after know him by Kraeger) where ultimately she is fighting to survive after a hard journey to escape him [Kraeger]. The entirety of Elka’s story is a lead-up to this moment, which the book will return to at a later point. At times the pages seemed longer than they were and things seemed to drag on more than necessary. Considering that in an apocalyptic world without vehicles, and knowing that travel was a commitment of true labor by foot, I still am certain that this story could have been cut by about 100 pages and still have been entirely interesting.
To witness Elka harness her skills of survival in the woods nearly every step of the way really helped to establish her character and fine tune her purpose. Whether it was starting a fire, trapping a rabbit, fending off (or running from) vicious wildlife, trying to make friends with strangers, or falling victim to the snake-like tongue of a handsome gentleman with hidden purpose – the realism made it very enjoyable to walk alongside her even through the struggles. She is one tough cookie, even while learning some life lessons on the road.
Trapper, or Kraeger, is a mysterious fella throughout the entire book. He doesn’t like to talk, or be talked about so you don’t learn anything about his past or why he is where he is. I suppose that’s Lewis’ point in making him such a secretive, awful person that you dislike immediately upon introduction. You get Elka’s version of Trapper as the man who took her in, raised her, taught her the ways of the forest in the first few chapters. The perspective changes when Elka finds out who Trapper really is, Kraeger, the human scalper & murderer. His nighttime “wolf hunts” turned out to be his game of cat and mouse with hunting innocent women and children and taking their scalps as his prize.
It is obvious throughout the book (more so toward the end) that many of Elka’s memories from the 10 years she spent with Trapper were blocked out of her mind. They slowly come back to her as the story progresses, making her remember the terrible things that she took part in which all lead up to the twist at the end. In the last 50 pages, you come to find out that she played a much larger, much bloodier and guilty part in the cruelty of Trapper’s ways than you were led to believe during the first three-quarters of the story.
My absolute favorite thing about The Wolf Road was the vivid imagery that Lewis used throughout. She described the scenery, things that Elka experienced for the first time, with such a colorful and imaginative likeness you could picture it as though you were there standing next to her.
“This was a forest a’ pure beauty. We was too far north now for the lodgepole pines but black-and-white spruce and some a’ them alpine firs covered everything. Moss crawled up rocks and strangling ivy tightened ’round trunks. Forest was thick and the air hung round in a mist most a’ the day. Smelled a’ softness and warm and like them first days a’ spring, even this far into summer. This forest was alive, I felt it in every bit a’ me. Exciting chatter a’ squirrels and crickets, tracks and trails a’ deer and moose, no sign a’ man’s heavy hand.” – pg. 236, The Wolf Road
Overall I think that this is a very well done debut novel full of rich scenery that houses a decently rounded protagonist and a mysterious and vengeful antagonist. The length of the novel (356 pages) seems a bit long to me, it took me longer than planned to finish because I had such a hard time staying interested after reaching the halfway point. It became more like the repetitive tale of a girl running from a killer with an anticlimactic ending for me, but the writing was done well and the use of such detailed imagery and lifelike situations kept it intriguing. I can’t justify categorizing it as much of a thriller/suspense book, it comes across more as a lightly suspenseful fiction piece with the last 50 pages being the most twisted and gripping part. A great read for anyone looking for a change in the apocalyptic scene who appreciates a good wilderness survival story with a surprise ending.
I’ve received this complementary copy from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Beth Lewis is a managing editor at Titan Books in London. She was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has traveled extensively throughout the world and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and great white sharks. She has been a bank cashier, a fire performer, and a juggler.
For more information on the author, please visit her website at http://www.bethklewis.com/