We’re back with a brand new Gollancz Geeks Friday Reads! Every Friday we’ll be sharing a Gollancz Geeks reviews with you. Today’s brilliant Wolfhound Century review was written by Patrick Mahon. You can tweet Patrick @PJMahon or leave a comment for him on our blog. Have you read Wolfhound Century? Let us know in the comment or by tweeting us @Gollancz.
Check back next week for another Gollancz Geeks Friday Reads review!
Wolfhound Century is Peter Higgins’ debut novel, although you wouldn’t know it from the assured storytelling and confident style. This book reads like the output of a seasoned professional, rather than a man with a handful of published short stories to his name.
The story is set in a fantastical alternate version of soviet Russia, a totalitarian state called Vlast that is fighting a seemingly endless war against its neighbours, knows as the Archipelago. Their technology is reminiscent of the early twentieth century with some steampunk additions, such as the ‘Mudjhiks’, large humanoid robots controlled by the brains and spinal cords of cats or dogs.
Vissarion Lom is a provincial police inspector who is called to the capital city, Mirgorod, to locate and apprehend a terrorist called Josef Kantor. Lom is an honest policeman in a world of infinitely flexible ethics, and the senior functionary who gives him the job of catching Kantor explains that he can’t trust anyone in the city’s own security apparatus; Kantor has evaded capture so many times that he must have the protection of someone senior within the regime. The suspicion is that Kantor is in the pay of hardliners who feel that the Vlast leader, known as the Novozhd, is going soft and may be about to sue for peace with the Archipelago. They want Kantor to go on a reign of terror that will discredit the Novozhd, allowing them to replace him with a figurehead of their own choice.
The deeper Lom digs, the worse the stench of corruption he uncovers – and the more enemies he realises are out to ensure that he fails. But there are powerful supernatural forces hiding in the forest that surrounds the capital, and they want Lom’s mission to succeed. Can they help him to catch Kantor before the hardliners have him liquidated?
Wolfhound Century is an extraordinary debut from an author who deserves great success. It has strong overtones of the New Weird, with a firm nod to China Mieville’s The City and the City in particular, all set within a taut, multi-layered plot that would do John Le Carré credit. However, at the heart of Higgins’ success are his characters. Lom is an intriguing lead: fiercely independent and with a strong moral compass, he is a million miles away from the Hollywood hero archetype, being pretty useless in a fight and much better at taking physical punishment than doling it out. His basic decency is what makes you want him to succeed despite the overwhelming odds.
By way of contrast Lom’s opponent, Josef Kantor, is almost the perfect villain: coldly ruthless and efficient, and so remorseless that when his own father led a worker’s uprising, he voluntarily shopped him to the authorities then went along to his execution, just to gain revenge for the man’s record of domestic violence when he was growing up. Despite this, he is strangely charismatic. It is a testament to Higgins’ skill that I found myself rooting for Kantor at several points in the story, despite knowing what an evil person he really was.
In addition to these main characters, other notables include the Archangel, a gigantic rocky alien which has fallen from outer space and is buried deep in the forest, ethereal creatures born of the forest itself and a young woman called Maroussia who is Kantor’s daughter and may hold the key to saving the country from her father’s revolutionary plans. All are given their own personalities and they provide multiple sub-plots to further enliven the main story.
The other feature that singles this book out from so many debut genre novels is the beauty of the prose. Higgins is a gifted stylist and his words are a pleasure to read. I am sure this is a book that will bear repeated re-readings in the future.
Wolfhound Century is a complex, thoughtful and fascinating novel that is endlessly entertaining. I loved it, and I fully expect it to be a huge success.