February 16, 2014 by mmileti
Now that I have had a good taste of the speculative fiction that is to be released in 2014, I can now declare that 2014 is the year of the spectacularly original debut novel, Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins being no exception. This novel is extremely hard to delegate to one genre, as it effortlessly dances the line between alternate history, fantasy, and noir crime fiction. It is set in an alternate history to 1940’s Stalinist Russia, and brings more than just the physical setting to play in this novel. Higgins has filled his characters with the mindset of those times, as products of an unstable society, constantly living with fear of each other. There are not any other novels that I can think to compare this novel to, and its striking originality is one of its best qualities.
The story follows Investigator Vissarion Lom, who has been summoned to the capitol city of Mirgorod to catch a terrorist. He has been chosen for this position because he is a complete outsider, and the head of the secret police feels that he has no one else he can trust in his search for the villain Josef Kantor. Kantor is a charismatic man who convinces many to join his cause, and as Lom searches for him, he comes to find that it feels like the whole city is working against him, including the bureaucracy and the institution that he serves. But Lom preservers in his search, going against both the natural and the supernatural, as Mirgorod is a city built on the corpse of a fallen angel (a piece of which Lom has embedded in his body, giving him an air of the supernatural himself), and it is filled with giants, gollems, magical forests, and other elements out of Slavic fairy tales.
This novel is not only original in its genre, but also in the way it is written. Its chapters are short, and the pacing of the plot is very fast, almost giving the book the feel of a crime drama. The writing, on the other hand, is beautiful and a bit dense, and the subject matter is very sophisticated. Even though it is paced light a pulp novel, its contents demand a sharp and discerning reader to catch all its nuances and follow the plots implications. For the average reader, I would recommend doing a quick Google search on Stalinist Russia, as I feel the echoes of this era play a large part in the capacity to fully appreciate this novel. The characters were dynamic, but it was a little hard to fully sympathize with them. A little more background foundation for Lom in particular (especially in the early part of the book) would have helped me to become a bit more engrossed in the story. Despite this, I really enjoyed this book, and will definitely be reading future works by Higgins.
I’m going to rate this book a 7.5/10.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.