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Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins
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Wolfhound Century (edition 2013)

by Peter Higgins

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87None137,689 (3.29)20
Member:bookstothesky
Title:Wolfhound Century
Authors:Peter Higgins
Info:Orbit (2013), Hardcover, 380 pages
Collections:Your library, Books, Read in 2012
Rating:****
Tags:arc, uk fantasy, fantasy, uk science fiction, science fiction, steampunk, read 2012, read

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Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

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Wolfhound Century is one of those books with vivid imagery and an immersive world that trap you when you start reading them and you can only stop once you have finished. Peter Higgins has laid out the foundations for an astounding trilogy. You could read this novel only for the experienced pacing and precise descriptions, but you have the plot and characters that add even more to the book. Considering that this is Higgins’ debut novel, I can only dream of what he shall accomplish within the next decade.

Even days after reading it, I can still find myself remembering some of the descriptions. The narration can be dark like in many recent SFF books, but Higgins does it so elegantly that each graphic description is perfectly justified and necessary for the overall text. This has been a wonderful debut, and I certainly hope to read more from this author in the future.

Read the whole review on Jetpack Dragons: http://www.jetpackdragons.com/2014/03/wolfhound-century-a-20th-century-soviet-un... ( )
  sylbecke | Apr 6, 2014 |
What the heck is a Wolfhound Century? The book's name is taken from a prefatory quote by Osip Mandelstam, a poet persecuted by Stalin, whose works I do not know. Without a larger context it is hard to know what Mandelstam or Higgins means. The book itself is an offbeat combo of "The Magister and Marietta", the Strugatsky brothers, and the darker echoes of Solzhenitzyn, with space aliens, gollems, and robots embedded in what is mostly a police procedural.

Inspector Vissarion Lom is a cop, but not quite a normal man. As a child the authorities implanted a piece of meteorite into his forehead, a procedure with as yet fully understood consequences. Lom is called from the eastern forest fastnesses of pseudo Siberia to the bureaucratic bowels of the capital, a reimagined Petrograd. Somehow the mission is not as secret as he thought, and somehow he isn't a completely random personnel choice. It turns out that his childhood friends are deeply involved in the suspect activity, whatever the suspect activity actually is.

Wolfhound Century is the first in a series. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the sequels.

I received a review copy of Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins (Orbit) through NetGalley.com. ( )
  Dokfintong | Mar 31, 2014 |
An assured and engaging debut

In a totalitarian state, where everyone is watched and dissent is crushed without mercy, a disparate set of individuals are trying to change the status quo. But who is fighting for good and who for evil? And what of the bystanders, witnesses and unwilling participants?
In a world very similar to, but not quite our own, the rivers and towns will flood and there will be blood on the snow before the world can change.

Approaching this novel with no preconceptions or expectations, beyond mild curiosity, I found Wolfhound Century to be a thoroughly gripping and rewarding genre-crossing story.
Most of the novel reads like a cold-war thriller, based in a faux 1930s-1950s totalitarian state, with only the lightest coating of fantasy. But, like finger-thin slivers of ice, the fantasy elements puncture the John le Carre environment, gradually melting and merging until the two are inseparable.
And this is where some have appeared to struggle: is this a thriller or a fantasy? For me, it is a bit of both; mostly it is a dark and gripping thriller that uses fantasy to provide a strong element of originality to the story. It is quite clear that the fantasy element, already overtaking towards the end of this book, will be far more dominant in the next novel, but this is no bad thing, the subtlety of the shift is such that you are inescapingly drawn in.
Like a skilled chess game, Higgins introduces a broad range of characters, spread out across his 'not-quite Russia' board, some destined to be mere pawns to be removed when their role is completed, while others will take their place in the final battle.
But, which is which?
This is where the book has really excelled, characters are frequently not what they first appear and apparently major players unexpectedly exit the story in the most shocking of ways. Coupled with the slow-burn build of the story, you will find yourself stepping further into this world, accepting the history of the 'Angels' and fearing the grip of the Vlast.

The novel isn't quite perfect, the fragmentary nature of the first part makes it a little hard to get into, but it is necessary for the overall plot that these pieces exist. But is is well worth persevering and overall, I thoughly enjoyed it. This is one of the first books this year that I have actually sought out the sequel for. I look forward to its release. ( )
  PJKennard | Mar 19, 2014 |
One of the wonderful things about speculative fiction is the gradient of possible worlds its writers make available to readers. Rather than invent a planet nestled in a distant corner of the universe, or resort to the generic dragon and wizard haunted realms of fantasy, writers of speculative fiction can create inverted versions of our world. This is what Peter Higgins accomplishes in his diverting novel, Wolfhound Century (Orbit, February 4, 2014).

As the book's cover makes clear, Wolfhound Century is set in the fictional equivalent of the Soviet Union. The resemblance is at once clear and ambiguous. Readers will recognize in the Vlast (the nation) Russian "motherland" ideology. The Novozhd, the Vlast's selfless and noble leader, is George Orwell's Big Brother (itself a stand-in for Stalin) made flesh. And the redundant security apparatuses described throughout the book evoke the paranoia of the national security state.

But Wolfhound Century is not merely a replica of the USSR. In the Vlast, nature is alive: Rain assaults the protagonist, quite literally, upon his arrival in the capital. Giants work alongside humans, and yet other folkloric creatures are known to, if still feared by, citizens. And "angels" fall from the sky, the rock from which they're made used by humans in medical and military experiments, providing some of the "beneficiaries" incredible powers. (The angels appear to be sentient meteorites, a fair guess given Russia's reputation for being struck by objects from space.)

Inspector Vissarion Lom, our hero, received as a child an implant of "angel flesh" into his forehead; the powers it provides him are negligible. At the opening of Wolfhound Century, Lom has frittered away his career as a provincial police officer by refusing to engage in the politics necessary for advancement. Despite his outsider status, or perhaps because of it, he is summoned to the capital, Mirgorod, to investigate the notorious terrorist Josef Kantor. The story, then, is straightforward: Lom seeks Kantor, and Kantor, at the behest of one of the fallen angels, plots against the Vlast. Their collision is as inevitable as the fall of angel stone to earth.

Higgins' strengths are his setting and his writing, which work together to create a surreal, dreamlike quality that will either entrance or repel readers. Readers, confronted with a fun house image of the Soviet Union, are immediately disoriented. A giant participates in a terrorist raid. What is this place? Higgins wisely elaborates on his creation not with explication, but with detail: Just pages later, Higgins describes giants pulling wagons down a busy street, a scene of everyday life. The effect is surreal in the best possible way.

Higgins' prose contributes groundedness to his fantastical setting. Higgins' sentences are short and punchy, economical; they move the story forward. Higgins is particularly adept at describing landscapes, regardless of whether they're urban or rural. The final third of the novel is set in the marshes outside of Mirgorod, and Higgins' evocation of the swamps is especially successful.

Wolfhound Century has two issues that may put off some readers. The first half of the novel moves slowly as Higgins sets the scene for its more explosive second half. The story at times seems to wander, as adrift as Lom's investigation. Still, patient readers will be rewarded: The payoff here is not merely the action that takes place nearer the end of the book, but also the opportunity to further explore Mirgorod and Higgins' world. Readers begin to receive answers halfway through the book, but shouldn't neglect to enjoy the questions they're faced with as the story builds.

More problematic is the fact that Wolfhound Century is obviously intended as the first installment in a series. It becomes clear in the last quarter of the story that the action will not be resolved by the end of the book, and it's only fair to warn readers that this is the case. (Indeed, the sequel, Truth and Fear, is slated to be published on March 25, 2014.) This comes down to a matter of taste: If you are a reader who isn't bothered by cliffhangers, or if you're willing to commit yourself to another series, Wolfhound Century's ending won't intimidate you. Other readers will wish there was a greater sense of resolution.

Wolfhound Century is a quiet, unassuming book that will sneak up on those readers who have the patience to permit themselves to be rewarded by it. It in some ways reminded me of Ian Tregillis' recent novel, Something More Than Night. Recommended for readers of unconventional fantasy/sci-fi and those with an interest in Russian mythology and folk culture. ( )
1 vote LancasterWays | Jan 30, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I love Russian history, steampunk, etc., and I should have loved this book. But unfortunately, after three tries, I just couldn't get into it enough to finish it. The chars are unengaging and the plot is muddled. Save your money. ( )
  corglacier7 | Jan 1, 2014 |
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2013-03 (USUK)
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Epigraph
The woulfhound century is on my back --
But I am not a wolf.
--Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)
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Fantasy thriller set in an alternative early twentieth century Russia.
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Investigator 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 insurgents 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.… (more)

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