The Wolf Road is the story of Elka and her adoptive daddy Trapper – at least Trapper’s who he is to her. But the posters slapped up all over towns and trading posts across the cold, wild north call him Kreager Hallet – bloodthirsty, child-killing monster of the woods.
Seven-year-old Elka is taken in by Kreager when a thunderhead (a giant tornado-esque storm prevalent in this post-apocalyptic landscape) rips her from her hard-bitten Nana’s home (her parents having left her there to chase the gold rush some years earlier). Hallet teaches her his way of life – animal-trapping, hunting, fishing and surviving in the bleak, harsh, snowy wilderness. He’s not a lovey-dovey type, but he’s her daddy and Elka is shocked when at seventeen she goes into nearby Dalston on an errand and sees the posters. It’s there that she runs into ice-queen Magistrate Jennifer Lyon – Lyon’s got it in for Kreager Hallet; she lost the most precious thing in her life at his hands, and she’s not going to stop till she catches him…
I don’t want to say much more about the plot of this book because suspense and secrets are what it’s built on. The reader roots for Elka, this little wild woodland creature who spent her childhood in a killer’s lair, who called this monster daddy. It’s hard not to admire her grit as she ploughs through the post-apocalyptic wasteland, surviving against the odds, running towards a childhood fantasy (will she find her gold-hunting parents in the far reaches of the north after all this time?) and desperate to escape the horrors of her time with Hallet, which she’s kept padlocked in the dark corners of her brain until now.
I quite liked the dialect the book was written in – it didn’t feel awkward or forced to me like I imagine it easily could do. But the thing I liked most was the way Lewis builds this post-apocalyptic world of Elka’s. It’s not big on the details – we have to build the picture ourselves as we go along. There was a catastrophe called The Damn Stupid that’s left a world of fake forests, dead land and poison lakes. In some ways it’s like we’ve gone back to the old wild west where survivalist skills and trade in basic life necessities (furs, food etc.) are how a person gets by.
Lewis isn’t a JK Rowling or a Terry Pratchett, building whole new worlds down to the very last detail. She sets a scene with just the lightest descriptive touches and lets your imagination do the rest. A little bird told me that there’s been some interest in the film rights to the book and, having read it, that doesn’t surprise me one bit. The book feels like a film. It’s like you can hear the blood pounding in your ears and the smothering silence of the snow around you. Like you can smell the pine. It’s easy to imagine the voiceover in Elka’s distinctive dialect, or a well-cast Kreager Hallet’s terrifying tattooed face as he stalks the snowy woods for his prey.
On the whole I avoid films of books I enjoy because they leave so much richness and detail out, but there’s a sparseness about The Wolf Road and a cinematic heart to it that meant it played almost like a film real in my head as I read it. It’s a thrilling read on the page, pacey and engaging … but I can’t help but think how truly magnificent it could be on the big screen. I hope someone picks it up!