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One I like about Belcher's work, and it shows up here for sure, is the dark, bleak environment. He really knows how to set the scene. (It helps if you know a lot about music, as songs and rock band t-shirts are mentioned with some regularity. Probably at least half of these references slipped right by me, to be honest. It might be fun to go back and try to find all the songs online and listen to them later on if you're into that sort of thing.) It is a bit easier to relate to the POV characters here than it was in Nightwise; they are basically sympathetic people though they do have some flaws. We have Jimmie, an overweight, balding trucker, Heck (short for Hector), a young veteran who belongs to a motorcycle club and who has some anger issues, Lovina, a Louisiana cop with a passion for finding missing children, and Ava, a college student. There are a few other POVs, but I would call these the main ones. I feel like Ava's story ties up here pretty well (not that she couldn't show up in a future book), that Heck's is just getting started (waiting for a revelation about his background; lots of hints are dropped). Jimmie seems more constant, but he's a bit older than the rest, more experienced, more knowledgeable about the ways of the world. In terms of character development, I think Ava undergoes the biggest transformation. I get the feeling that Heck's moment will come in a later book, and Lovina may or may not show up again. At any rate, I do feel that each of these characters was fully fleshed out, which does not always happen with a multi-POV book. They are all at different points on their journeys, and that is OK. It would honestly be a little weird for them all to develop the same way in the space of one book. I do think you end up caring about each one of them, wanting them to succeed.
There are definitely some graphic scenes and some adult content and language. This doesn't bother me, but I know it affects some people's decisions as to whether or not to read a book, so I figured I'd throw that information out there. A few of the fight sequences remind me of cartoons or action movies and will probably require a temporary suspension of disbelief. But, this is urban fantasy so that is to be expected! They are exciting, though, and the last 1/3-1/2 of the book has a quick pace. (The first part is slower, though not *slow*, and has a fair amount of exposition.)
Another thing I like about Belcher's work is the melding of seemingly disparate elements of the supernatural into the same work. In this case, it is Celtic mythology and Neopaganism with urban legends and Creepypasta stories from the internet. It sounds outlandish when I write it this way, but I think it actually works quite well. It helps that Belcher is a pretty good B.S. artist (I mean that as a compliment).
There are several settings, most near interstate highways, which end up having a mystical significance (similar to the imagery on US currency in Nightwise). I personally found it kind of fun that some of the action took place around Atlanta (near where I live now) and other parts of the action took place in Kansas (just west of where I used to live). But we also visit dive bars, exclusive clubs, jails, cheap hotels, and simple family homes. A few of those places (mostly the homes) are refuges, and we see the seedy underside of society in the others.
So anyway, the world is really richly developed and the pacing is good and the plot is interesting, with several mysteries to uncover. I do feel like the heroes/heroines are in real danger, not just occasionally, but often, and they don't escape unscathed. So that is appreciated.
There is really just one thing I don't care for in this book, and it is why I am giving four stars instead of five. But the writing in the first few chapters was clunky. Too much time was spent giving physical descriptions of various characters, when we are in their POV scenes (so it isn't natural for them to be thinking about what they look like). It feels like infodumping. And I don't think it was strictly necessary. There are details about, say, Jimmie's appearance, that are brought up in more oblique ways later in the book, and I think these suffice. The other thing that bothered me about the writing was POV switching. So this is basically written in third person limited, with alternating points of view. And that is fine. But there are abrupt switches, sometimes in the middle of a page, without any separation or indication that things are changing. Sometimes it leads to confusion. We spend a lot of time in the head of Alana, one of Ava's companions, early on, and then we abruptly switch to Ava for more scenes with that group, and I was kind of scratching my head as to why we were ever in Alana's head in the first place. (I would understand if she had been the only person who could relate those events, but she wasn't.) Anyway, this sort of thing still occurred later in the book, but it was much less prominent. It was just jarring in the first 1/3 or so.
Overall, though, this was enjoyable for me and I finished it in about three days even though I haven't been reading much lately. Will definitely be picking up future volumes featuring these same characters and/or set in the same world.
“A civilization is only as healthy as its roads,” a leader of the Brethren explains to a new recruit. ”Merchants, politicians, scholars, pilgrims—they all need safe, consistent access from point A to point B to do what they do; otherwise, things start to fall apart. Do you have any idea how much the U.S. economy relies on goods moving across the nation by truck, airline, and train? That’s all Brethren turf. Truckers, state troopers, outlaw bikers, mobile-home caravan cults, gypsy cabbies, airline crews, railroad men, sailors, teamsters—we have members and affiliate members everywhere…. We guard all routes of transport these days, not just physical paths—that includes the Internet, what they used to call the information super-highway, and the telecommunication networks too.” Be warned, though, these boys (or girls) won’t necessarily be around the next time some bozo zips by you on the freeway and scares you half to death; they have bigger fish to fry, starting with serial killers and working up to renegade nature spirits.
The story is told through alternating viewpoints of a number of characters, including a veteran member of the Brethren, trucker Jimmie Aussapile, and several others for whom the Brotherhood of the Wheel is a new idea, ranging from biker-with-an-attitude Heck Sinclair to stranded teenager Alana. All are well developed and, in different ways, likeable. The writing is also excellent, as was obvious from the first line: “Jimmie Aussapile’s Peterbilt tractor trailor thundred down dark I-70, relentless as an ugly truth.” Belcher’s descriptions of events such as the funeral of Heck’s stepfather, Ale, had a wonderful rightness to them: the funeral was a perfect modern-motorcycle-club version of a classic Viking sendoff, except perhaps for lacking a flaming ship. There’s plenty of action and suspense, too.
[quasi-spoiler alert] My only possible complaint was that, as a pagan/wiccan, I had mixed feelings about Belcher’s making Cernunnos, the Horned God, the chief supernatural villain. I don’t question the idea that nature spirits, like nature itself, can be ruthless: as Agnes, the story’s representative of the archetypal Crone, says, “Nature is not good or evil. We put those names on it. These powers simply are, like water or wind.” Calling the Horned God “the essence of predation” and “the unchecked, uncaring, unreasoning force that seeks dominance over all systems, over all life” seems rather strange, though: I can’t think of a single horned predator, and I don’t think that even the uncaring side of nature is interested in “dominance” as such; what it seeks is survival. Belcher makes up for this slander, however, by making the equally pagan-archetype Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone) the chief supernatural force for good in the story.
The story wraps up completely and well, but it leaves a few trailing questions and hints that suggest the possibility of a sequel. I hope those hints are right.
Most recent customer reviews
From the very strong opening scene to every scene that follows, Belcher's novel is a shotgun blast of Southern-fried...Read more