Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins book review

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins is out 21 March 2013 from Gollancz

Wolfhound Century is fiercely ambitious but struggles to reconcile its vision with the nuts and bolts of narrative. That said, we can expect great things of Peter Higgins and, despite its shortcomings, his debut novel is uniquely intriguing.

In terms of genre, it’s a mad book. Kicking off with Investigator Vissarion Lom’s mission to catch a political terrorist in Mirgorod, capital of the Vlast, we appear to have an alternative 20th Century Russian thriller, until a wagon train led by giants passes a stakeout. Then the fantasy comes thick and fast – sentient rain, stone golems, a forest god. Archangel, a gargantuan celestial being that crashed into the planet’s crust and became stuck, roves with its consciousness and tries to usher in one of two competing futures.

Still with me? We have dystopic elements, where a Big Brother-like figure leads a decades long war against the Archipelago. Very much a background, it tints the tale with totalitarian streaks. And all this percolates through a distinctly steampunk vibe – after all, it’s not often you see a giant cut down by a submachine gun.

For all its boldness, though, the reader must work hard to follow the plot, obscured as it is by shoots of strangeness that never quite flower. The antagonists’ end-game is muffled and Lom’s motivations are as indistinct as the warring futures. We only see a glimpse of the continental conflict.

As a thriller, we are disappointed by the abrupt right-turn taken after the halfway point that locks the main characters in a low-level conflict. The necessary follow-up has great potential, but Wolfhound Century is let down by an unorganised attempt to tame a sprawling story.