Where to start with this one?
I almost didn’t write this review. In name and subject matter it’s a lot like the last one: tough female protagonist moving through a harsh environment, surviving on her wits and her skills, and a western-ish tone and setting (although in this one it’s a wintery, post apocalyptic northern BC). There are differences, stark ones, but they were close enough together that I was concerned this would be a little boring for ya’ll.
However! Despite how much I love the two or three people that read this, I write this for me, not for you. So, boring or not, here we go.
This book could have been so good! I won’t go too much into the setup, but it’s a pretty great idea for a story. I love the idea of a character being raised and trained by the antagonist, using the skills she learns to best him later on. I also really liked the frontiers-y, northern BC setting and the characters she used to populate it (mostly).
Even with all that going for it (and maybe in part because of it’s potential), this book was such a fucking drag. I was really pushing myself to get through it by the end, reading not for the enjoyment of it, but for it to be over so I could move on to something else. My problems with it are many, but I’ll list them from least important to most.
The first is the patois that the book is written in. Even though the story took place in Northern B.C., the narrator and main character had a weird, faux American South accent. While it was fine most of the time, sometimes it was so janky and off sounding that it took me right out of it. I learned later on that Beth Lewis is actually British, which makes a lot of sense, because it sounds like somebody that’s only experienced American South accents through TV trying to write one (I have a lot of family from the American South, so maybe I’m a little more sensitive than most). I know this is a really strange thing to make a point of, but I’ve been running into it a lot lately and it just…bothers me. It seems like such an unnecessary complication, one more thing that, if not done right, can pull your reader out of the story. If you can’t nail that accent down, just leave it. Also, just as a side note to anybody British reading this, people from northern BC sound more like people from Minnesota than Texas or Kentucky, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.
Okay, that was a lot of writing on accents, so I’m gonna whip through these next two points.
The next is the psychological stuff. Wolf Road uses a story trope, the suppression of important memories due to trauma, that I have a really hard time buying into. I don’t think it’s ever very believable, and it always just comes across as a cheap way to build suspense. Here’s an idea, maybe make the protagonist of the book fully aware of what it is that she’s done in the past (how can you mistake a boy for a deer? I mean…what?) and arc back from a monster into a human being. Have her struggle with her natural inclination towards selfishness and violence. Give her something she’s never had before, love and community, and see how it changes her. Which kind of seems like what the author was trying to do, but instead of making her protagonist accountable and aware, Lewis tried to protect her from being blamed by the reader with a bunch of really dodgy mental loopholes (she doesn’t remember, she didn’t know what she was doing, she shielded herself from the horror of her actions by pretending that the young boy she murdered was actually a deer or something). Blegh.
The next is editing. This book could have used a cut and a half. There was a tonnnnnn of passages of her struggling with moral quandaries, her trying to figure who it was that was following her (hint: it’s the Trapper. Of course it’s the Trapper. It’s so bloody obvious that it’s the Trapper that it’s almost insulting to the main characters intelligence that she can’t seem to make up her mind about it), her arguing with herself that the Trapper and Kreager Hallet are different people, over and over again. I felt like I read her rehashing those same things at least a dozen times throughout the book. That’s probably an over-exaggeration, but the fact that I remember it that way is not a good sign.
The last thing, the thing that really irked me about this book, is the framing device at the start. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! The story starts in media res, sort of. But, whereas most in media res starts put you in the final conflict and then cut away before the resolution, this one has the ENTIRE END OF THE CONFLICT THAT IS MEANT TO SUSTAIN THE BOOK IN IT. It shows her defeating Kreager. And not only that, it shows her leaving him for the other person that’s hunting her throughout the book, tying all her problems up in a neat little bow. It completely deflates any potential tension in the story’s conflicts. I know she’s going to make it through all the scrapes that she gets into, and not only that, but I know she’s going to make it through them relatively unscathed, because at the end she’s fit and strong and talented enough to overcome everything. It’s…infuriating. Maybe it would work better if the writing to get us there was more engaging (I’ve always said that having a story *spoiled* shouldn’t really matter), but the author seemed to lean pretty heavily on the tension created by the various cat and mouse games being played throughout the book (the protagonist and the Trapper, Lyon and the Trapper, Lyon and the protagonist), but we already know how they all play out, so who cares? It’s like watching a trailer for a movie that’s just the last five minutes of the film. And just…why? If she had taken out those first five pages, just started the story at the start of the story, this book would’ve worked so much better. It was such an odd, baffling choice.
Okay, I should really wrap this rant, thinly disguised as a review, up. I know I’ve been really harsh on this book, and it’s not bad bad. I think I’m just giving this author shit for doing things that have continually bugged me in books in the past, so she’s bearing a bit more of the brunt of this than she probably deserves.
Whew! That was a lot of negativity all at once. I promise the next one will be about a book that I like. Take care of yourselves my lovelies and don’t, just don’t, put the end of your novel at the start of it.