Monday 17 September 2018

Wolf's Hill

Wolf’s Hill is the third book in the four volume Black Road series written by Simon Bestwick and published by Snowbooks. The previous two volumes are reviewed here and here.
Events in the post-nuclear-apocalyptic world have thus far seen the formation of a rebellion against the ruling Reclamation and Protection Command led by the wonderfully named Helen Damnation ably assisted by a host of other characters, not least the Grendelwolf Gevaudan Shoal. Added to this is a heady concoction of science and ancient magic as the military commanders seek to procure the ultimate weapon to use against the rebels.
Both previous books did an admirable job of creating a fully realised post-apocalyptic world populated by realistic, fully rounded characters (with detailed back-stories) whilst at the same time sustaining a narrative which hurtles along at breakneck speed. Wolf’s Hill is no exception to this; indeed, it expands the world Simon has created and also introduces a raft of new characters. Reading this book, I was perhaps even more impressed than I already have been at the work involved in creating the world and its huge cast of characters. I have visions of a huge piece of paper, probably covering an entire floor of a room, covered in names, locations and events with arrows and lines connecting them all like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Here we’re introduced to the Garalakh Tep Sharhr, the “Dwellers beneath the Hill” – a whole community hitherto unknown who, it’s implied, will play a huge role in what is building up to be the decisive battle between the two opposing forces. It’s a bold move, waiting until the third book to introduce them but it’s one that pays off and which is handled very cleverly – their presence revealed in one set of characters’ timeline, their history in another. I was put in mind of Simon’s Black Mountain series of stories whilst reading these scenes – no bad thing. Their introduction also feels part of the natural progression of the narrative, not bolted on for convenience.
Make no mistake, this third volume in no way treads water, is not simply filler before the big finish. There’s more plot here than you can shake a stick at, not least the very bold move to present divisions within the rebellion and a threat to them from an unexpected source.
Whilst Helen faces up to these problems, Tereus Winterborn begins strengthening the alliances between the regional commanders using a mixture of politics and thinly veiled aggression. It’s here that I had my only problem with the book as Simon has chosen to name his commanders after notable personalities in the indie horror world. Granted, he has changed the sex of many of them but I found it took me out of the story as I was reading these scenes – imagining Jim McLeod as a woman will do that to a person.
Such minor criticism aside, there’s still so much to enjoy between the pages of Wolf’s Hill. I particularly enjoyed the character development of Dr Mordake, whose back story is presented here. The good doctor is set to play a major role in the conclusion so it was good to see him get a starring role here.
I loved Wolf’s Hill; it’s no mean feat to keep up the pace and energy of a series this far into it but Simon has succeeded admirably in so doing. It’s not hyperbolic to describe the series as epic – there can be no denying that it is. This really is a massive achievement and deserves no little respect for that. This is a major work and should be recognised as such. The best thing is, of course, there’s more to come - and I can’t wait to see how everything concludes.

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