My house is full of books. I mean really, really full. Rob and I both buy books, we both had a bit of library each when we met (with surprisingly few duplications – a couple of Pratchetts and English dictionaries and that’s about it) and, though work, I get a lot of proofs (advance reading copies). And, to make things worse, with the ARCs I can’t pass them on to charity shops for resale when I’ve read them. I can donate them to schools, hospitals and the like but anything I don’t want to keep ends up being put in the recycling. I’ll leave you to think about that for a moment. If I don’t love a book enough to give it permanent shelf room I have to send it to be destroyed. After a particularly heavy clearing-out session I usually feel like a mass book-murderer – more than a little unclean…So that is why I have a Kindle – I can get most of my proofs as e-books and, within a few months of getting mine, I could almost feel my house getting a little lighter. If it weren’t for publishers tempting me with actual books sent to the store and having the occasional roadshow there is almost a risk of a repeat of the film Up. So, thank goodness for the lovely people at Harper Collins for inviting us booksellers to an evening of books, wine and nibbles recently over in Manchester. I came away with an almost embarrassing amount of books (three tote bags – it is an addiction…), a signed copy of The Trouble With Goats and Sheep and lots of good intentions to read them all and make sure I tag the publisher. And I’m going to start with Wolf Road.
I’ll confess. When I got my copy from the Manchester event I already had a copy lined up on my Kindle. This meant that I was reading it without referring back to the plot outline or a blurb on the back of a physical copy and, initially, I was pretty sure I was reading a book set in late 19th century America. Think John Wayne films or Stef Penney’s Tenderness of Wolves. Think guns, bleak winters, trapping for furs and candlelight.Elka lives with her rather strict grandmother after her parents went North in search of gold but, when a big storm hits, she is taken in by a man she calls Trapper (and who, as the years go by, she thinks of as ‘Daddy’). Years pass and she learns to hunt and survive in their remote cabin with only infrequent trips to the nearby town. It is on one of these trips that she meets Magistrate Lyons and discovers that Trapper is, in fact, a wanted killer called Kreager Hallet. The story then follows Elka as she heads North herself – away from Kreager and in search of her parents. It becomes more and more apparent that the setting is actually a postapocalyptic near future – set after something Elka herself refers to as the Damn Stupid – and that Elka herself is a remarkable woman. We get the whole story from her point of view and in her voice – everything is written in a way I can only describe as a really bleak Little House on the Prairie accent – and we discover the secrets of her past as she does. Her life seems to be nothing but hardship, sorrow and loss and yet we see her growing and developing her relationships with both people and her environment.
What I loved most about this book – aside from the plot, the voice of Elka and the wonderful descriptions of the world she lives in – was the fact that almost every character I cared about and admired was female. Some of the villains are women too but in Elka, Lyons and Penelope we are treated to three strong, flawed and very admirable females.