I am just a few hours out after finishing The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis* and I am still blown away by this book. I would have normally read through a book like this very quickly, but I took my time reading it to stay in the world and with Elka for as long as I could, but toward the end, I just had to finish it.
The story is about Elka who leaves her home at age 7 after an earthquake. She runs across a hut with meat laying out and animal skins hanging to dry. After she steals some jerky, the owner of the hut- Trapper catches her in the act. Recognizing she is alone, Trapper takes her in and teaches her how to survive in the woods.
Several years pass when Elka hears about a man who fits Trapper's description, is told he is a serial killer, and the law is after him. Elka runs from the man she knew as Trapper into the world that she has been taught not to trust.
Elka cannot read, doesn't know her real name, but has a letter pointing her to her parents, who are still alive and left her to seek gold. Elka's journey will take her several hundred miles of walking, across water, and she will meet people who are far scarier than Trapper. All during her journey Trapper is hunting her, the law is hunting her, and her memories are hunting her.
For the back half of her journey she will be accompanied by Penelope who will be one of her few friends, as well as a wolf named Wolf who keeps showing up in Elka's life, and Elka's knife which is a character in and of itself. Penelope is bought and paid for, but is also on the run and needs Elka to survive. Elka will need Penelope just as much.
Many have compared this book to The Road by Cormac McCarthy and the only comparison I can draw is the tone of the book and that Elka is in a post apocalyptic world which is very bleak with the towns being far from one another. Otherwise, The Wolf Road is a story in and of itself almost without comparison. As I am on the topic, I would like to state that the post apocalyptic world does not play a major role in the book as it does in other books of the same genre. The book felt more like a Western more than anything in that the world is back to being part of the primitive wild, wild west.
The major critique of the book is, and probably will be for others, the voice of the book. We are in Elka's head for all of the book, although we flip occasionally to being an observer. Elka speaks in a type of mountainesque dialect. Her words are simple and are often contractions. Even though she is highly intelligent, her voice comes off as kind of slow and not very bright. It was a bold way of writing the book and if I am to be honest, I started off really disliking the voice. Elka grew on me though, so listening to her speak didn't bother me as much the more I got into the book. My suggestion is before picking up the book, use Amazon's book preview or read a few pages at the bookstore to get used to the voice of the book.
I was very much surprised to read this was a freshman novel for Lewis. The book is very complex, well written, and the characters are well developed- even the side characters. Elka's world is alive in its barrenness and the fear of Trapper coming out at any moment is constantly there. It took a lot of writing skill to create this constant feeling of dread.
One more note before closing. The book begins with the ending. In the first few pages, Elka is hiding in a tree and Trapper is right below her. I am so happy that is how the book began because we know they are going to have to confront one another at some time. We know a showdown must happen, so it is taken right off the table in the beginning. The question of will they or won't they doesn't have to hang with us through the whole book, but it also doesn't eliminate the danger Elka is in.
I gave this one a solid 4.5 stars. At 350+ pages it is a tad long and the voice is grating in the beginning, but it is a solid ride and well worth the journey once you get used to Elka.
Here is your Amazon link- The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
*I received this book for review from BloggingforBooks.com and Crown in exchange for an honest review.