★ ★ ★ ★ ★
‘I been worried something rotten for you, Elka. This world ain’t no place for a kid like you on your own. There are worse things than wolves in the dark. Worse things than me.’
If you like your post-apocalyptic thrillers served bloody, you’ll devour this.
Raised in a cabin in the woods by a man she calls Trapper (and sometimes Daddy, to herself), Elka has been deprived of love and kindness her whole life, but she knows how to survive. Which is pretty useful when, after ten years, you realise he’s a bloodthirsty killer, and now he’s chasing you through a post-apocalyptic wilderness.
Elka is one of the best protagonists and narrators I’ve read. The story’s all in her coarse British Columbian dialect, so you kind of forget you’re reading. Instead, it feels like sitting by a campfire listening to a wild, illiterate hermit with a gritty tale to tell.
Humans have been doing what humans do, and destroyed the planet by dropping bombs everywhere. In one big event everyone calls the Big Stupid (or the Fall, or the Reformation, or even the Rapture if you’re from down south), maps are now obsolete, and there’s no modern technology. It’s back to a primitive world with a shaky bureaucracy, public hangings and a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Killer storms appear just like that, forests grow faster than they should, and chemicals seep out of buried bombs, causing invisible dangers everywhere.
Nothing really seems to be on Elka’s side.
There’s some really stunning writing in here. And it’s incredibly physical. Because Elka has grown up outside of a normal community, she has a rather animal way of engaging with the world. She’s guided by her gut (sometimes literally – that girl loves jerky!) and an urge to survive, rather than a strong moral compass. This all translates into some blunt and brilliant descriptions along the way – graphic, but never self-indulgent – and some difficult situations as Elka grapples with her survival instinct versus her suppressed humanity.
Seriously, it’s hardcore gruesome. In the first paragraph there’s a scalped child, for crying out loud. (Or rather, a de-childed scalp…) And it continues in the same vein. Gore and guts and bodies steaming in the snow.
It’s a thrilling read: a seriously good cat-and-mouse story with an epic setting and some really messed-up stuff.
On the journey, expect to question things like family, belonging, and what it means to be human, good or evil.
Read the first chapter (it’s here). If you like that, you can probably stomach the rest, and you should buy it when it comes out 30th June.