I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this book when the ARC showed up in my mailbox. And the blurbs from Peter F. Hamilton and Richard Morgan insured that my curiosity was well and truly piqued. Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century appeared to be unlike everything else on the market out there.
After the major disappointment that was A Memory of Light, I needed something different, something that could help me get back on track. And for some reason, Higgings' novel seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
Here's the blurb:
Inspector Vissarion Lom has been summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist --- and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police. A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown terrorism with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists. Lom has been chosen because he is an outsider, not involved in the struggle for power within the party. And because of the sliver of angel stone implanted in his head.
The worldbuilding is fascinating and probably my favorite aspect of this work. The pseudo-Soviet communist environment makes for an atypical setting for this SFF tale. The depiction of this totalitarian state was particularly well-done and gives Wolfhound Century its own unique flavor. The narrative is dark and brooding, which creates an irresistible atmosphere. Oddly enough, throughout the book I kept hearing the song "Belly of the Beast" by Anthrax as I was reading on.
You walk this earth without a heart
You tear the innocent's souls apart
You shovel your conscience into the grave
You walk this earth without a heart
Your uniform couldn't be take off
A tattoo burned into your flesh
Your mind, your voice
These are your instruments of death
How could you dare to be so bold
You only did as you were told
Marionettes dancing in time
To the apologetic lines
For all the monsters of our time
Wolfhound Century is impossible to label. It's some sort of hybrid that combines contrasting fantasy and science fiction elements. The mysticism of the Forest and its creatures are definitely fantasy, while Angels falling from the sky after roaming the stars are essentially science fiction. Sadly, the author doesn't elaborate much on those topics. Which means that a vast aura of mystery permeates the entire novel. Interestingly enough, although this could be perceived as a negative point, it just makes you dig into the tale even more.
The cast of characters is comprised of a decidedly disparate bunch of men and women. To be honest, I found that a bit off-putting at the beginning. And yet, as the story progresses, you realize that you need all those discordant POVs in order to fully understand what is taking place and to appreciate the depth of Peter Higgins' creation. Hence, it's not always about shining some light on the protagonists' thoughts and motivations, but it is also about giving readers a chance to learn more about the world at large and the way society works. Understandably, from the start one realizes that it's Inspector Vissarion Lom and Joseph Kantor's tale, as almost everything hinges on them both. But Wolfhound Century wouldn't be a page-turner without its supporting cast. Indeed, it's those secondary characters whose POVs unveil just how many layers there are to this story. Hence, Maroussia Shaumian, Raku Vishnik, Lakoba Petrov, and Major Safran are, in their own ways, as important to the overall story arc.
Insanity, the normal state
The left hand a hammer, the right, the stake
Driven so deep into the heart
It's killing love, it's killing faith
It's killing 'cause it's from the heart
What better way to demoralize
When your own children are your spies
The things you trust are not the same
Trust in death, trust in grief
Trust in hope is trust in pain
Wolfhound Century grabs hold of you from the get-go and refuses to let you go. The rhythm is not fast-paced by any stretch of the imagination, but the tale captures your imagination in such a way that makes this book very hard to put down. The relatively short chapters force you to keep going, making you reach the end all too soon.
And therein lies the problem. There is no ending per se. Sure, you reach an ending. But there is absolutely no closure, no resolution to any of the plotlines. Taken aback, at first I believed that my Advance Reading Copy was missing a few chapters. I contacted the folks at Orbit to inquire whether or not that was the case, but I was told that my ARC was indeed complete. And although Higgins signed a book deal for a trilogy, there is no concrete information regarding the title and tentative release date of a sequel at the moment. . .
Which, in the end, left me quite perplexed. Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century was well on its way to becoming the speculative fiction debut of the year. In this house, in any event. But to bring what was up until that point a brilliant story to such an arbitrary ending, with no resolution whatsoever, makes no sense. This was shaping up to be one of the very best SFF titles of 2013. But the manner with which Wolfhound Century was brought to a close, I'm not sure what to make of it. To give you a sense of perspective, it is as though Star Wars would have ended when the Millennium Falcon reached Yavin IV. . .
Still, Wolfhound Century remains a very good read. For the setting alone, it's well worth a read. But the total absence of closure will definitely put off certain readers.
To learn more about the author and the book, you can visit Higgins' official website.
The final verdict: 7.5/10
For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe