Published by Crown
Published on July 5th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover
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True Grit meets The Road in this postapocalyptic psychological thriller--narrated by a young girl who has just learned that her adopted father may be a serial killer, and that she may be his next victim.
In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn't her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires--everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements--and each other.
Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents.
But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won't be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she's going to survive, she'll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he's turned her into.
His eyes searched the trees. Black as pitch them eyes, black as disease and disorder and hate and lies. He grinned, flat white teeth like gravestones, and twirled his little fish gutter in his fingers, flinging blood everywhere, rolling out the red carpet.
“Elka, you know I don’t mean you no harm.” His voice turned friendly. “I’d never hurt my Elka.”
He wandered around like a blind man, trudging through the snow, steam lifting off his body. Always hot after a killing. He was lean, carved out of wood some say, and but for the tattoos had a face you’d take home to your mother. He leaned up against a cottonwood tree, panting to keep the cold out, getting sick of hide-and-seek.
“Could a’ killed you a hundred times, girlie,” he said, slow. “Could a’ taken my pig sticker and cut your neck to navel while you slept. Could a’ peeled your skin off easy as boiled trout.”
I remembered all those years calling him Daddy and felt sick.
“Could a’ made my winter boots out of your back,” he carried on, voice getting more excited, smile getting bigger, like he was reeling off courses at a feast. “New belt out of your arms. Could a’ stuffed my mattress with your silky brown hair.”
He laughed and I felt sicker. He raised his knife, pointed it into the trees, right at my face though he didn’t know it.
“You’d make a fine pair of boots, Elka girl.”
Heard it all before but it didn’t stop the cold creeping up my back, cold that weren’t snow. Cold that weren’t ice and winter. I’d heard him say worse but never to me. I was still afraid of him, the things he’d done, the things he made me do. But damn if I wasn’t trying to turn it to good.
“All these months you been looking for me, Kreagar, and I found you first.”
I raised up my own knife. Weighted right nice for throwing. I told him in my head to stay there against the tree, told him don’t you move a muscle.
“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.”
But for the blood he could have been a normal Joe out on a stroll. But for the kid’s scalp swinging in the breeze, he could’ve been anyone. But he wasn’t. He was Kreagar Hallet. Murdering, kid-killing bastard Kreagar Hallet. Took me far too long to figure that out and no prettied-up words would change it now.
I stood up on the branch without making more’n a snowflake shudder and wound back my arm. Breathed out. Pictured him like a deer. Threw my knife with all the force I had, straight and true and hit him in that soft spot just below the collarbone. That metal went through his shoulder into that tree, pinned him hard, heard that wood thud you get during target practice. And I’d done a lot of target practice. Damn if that weren’t a perfect shot.
1.) Penelope and Elka are each other’s foil, allowing each other to have the ‘you save me, I save you’ relationship that they talk about in the story. What did you like the most about writing their relationship?
I enjoyed writing them fighting most. It was great for me, that after so long on her own, Elka finally had someone to talk to. I don’t think she liked it much, she’s not one for company, which made it all the more fun to write. They have some great fights!
2.) Penelope explains her father’s betrayal by saying, “I suppose even the closest to us can be strangers.” Elka, however, distinguishes the difference between the Trapper that she knew and the murderer Kreagar. Why is she so determined to make this distinction?
I see it as a coping mechanism. She loved Trapper, he was her father figure, taught her all he knows to survive and treated her with something like kindness. Kreagar Hallet is a murderer. In her mind, at least for most of the book, these are two separate people. She’s not willing to admit to herself what he was really like and her part in his crimes, it’s self-preservation really. How could she be so blind? How could she let him kill people and not do anything? Because, to Elka, Trapper didn’t do them, Kreagar did.
3.) Elka was taught her whole life to survive in the forest, but when she is displaced into human society, she struggles without Penelope. If you were living in the world of your novel, which survival skillset would you rather have?
Elka’s, most definitely. For her day-to-day life she doesn’t have to rely on any other human being whereas Penelope is totally at sea in the forest. She wouldn’t survive more than a few days without Elka. I’d love to be self-sufficient and live in the woods (as long as I had WiFi!) so Elka, at least parts of her personality, are wish-fulfillment for me.
4.) One of the most compelling parts of this book was the main character’s voice and perspective on the world. How did you get the idea to create this unique voice and are there other characters’ voices from novels you have read in the past that stand out in your mind as really unique and essential to the story itself?
I love a good storyteller and I think a strong voice is essential for that no matter the medium. It was less about which books influenced me and more about which movies. I love movies where I feel like I’m being told a story though most of these originated as books – Forrest Gump, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Help, Shawshank Redemption (actually, any Stephen King adaptation). All of these have strong narratives alongside the action and that’s what I wanted.
5.) Nature in the book is shown to be a fickle and merciless antagonist, with ‘thunderhead’ storms destroying Elka’s home as well as becoming an obstacle throughout her journey. What was your mindset in making the environment such an important character in the story? Does this reflect how important nature is in your life?
When I was in college, I studied the Gothic Tradition and one of the elements that really stood out to me was the setting and how important atmosphere and weather were to those kinds of stories. Wuthering Heights is my favourite book and the setting, the moors, the houses, are so richly detailed they come alive and become characters in their own right. Wuthering Heights, the house, has a different feel and voice and atmosphere to the more genteel Thrushcross Grange, and the moors and the weather are similarly aware and alive in the book. I knew I wanted to write a story with that kind of atmospheric setting, I wanted to evoke it, make the reader feel like they were walking in the woods or shivering in the trees with Elka. Nature has always been hugely important to me. I grew up in the country so drew on all my memories of playing outside, being in the woods, or by the sea, the smells, sounds, sights while writing The Wolf Road, I hope it added a touch of authenticity to Elka’s experience.
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