The Wolf Mile was a book that surprised me. For the first 20%, I honestly wondered if I was even going to finish the book, I certainly didn’t expect to get thoroughly involved in the story or get frustrated when the book ended on a slight cliffhanger leaving me with more questions than answers. It is a very slow burner, and the first part of the book is a slog through military training and battle terminology which I admit I really don’t care for. But once The Wolf Mile got to the point where you started to know the protagonists and started to feel something for the unnamed characters training alongside them I began to get emotionally invested.
At the start of the book is a list of the Pantheon and the Palatinates (in basic terms the teams taking part) alongside the locations of their headquarters. All of the Palatinates are named after great conquerors and their armies, and their geographical headquarters corresponds to their historical record, for example, Caesar Imperator’s Legion has its HQ is in Rome and Zheng, Lord of Qin’s The Warring States HQ is in Beijing. It’s mentioned in the book that Alexander of Macedon and The Titans had previously been located elsewhere before being relocated to Edinburgh, so that explains their HQ not matching historically. What I couldn’t work out was why a Viking horde was located in Edinburgh when the Vikings had never conquered Scotland (a fact that is repeated in the book by one of the characters). I found out why when I went fact-checking for this review and couldn’t find mention of “Sveinn the Red” the leader of The Horde. I did find mention of Sveinn Ásleifarson who appears in the Orkneyinga Saga, a narrative history of the Orkney and Shetland Islands. I don’t know for sure if this is the basis for Sveinn the Red, but that at least makes some sense. It also fits with the high level of research that I noticed throughout The Wolf Mile especially when it came to Viking traditions.
What really lets this book down, at least for me, is the lack of diversity in it. Right from the start, I was acutely aware that the ‘they’ mentioned in the synopsis was really a ‘he’ with Lana taking a distinct back seat to not just Tyler but all the other male characters in the book. Around about 70% of the book is about Tyler and mostly from his point of view. Another 10% was other male characters, and the final 20% was Lana. I have nothing against male protagonists and read them just as much as female ones, however, the book is advertised as being about both of them and then fails to live up to that. It’s also worth mentioning that all the Palatinates are named after male conquerors/historical figures. While female conquerors were a minority in comparison to their male counterparts they still existed and since The Wolf Mile is set in the UK, why not Boudica instead of Alexander of Macedon?
I also found Tyler a difficult protagonist to like, whereas Lana was someone I could identify with on many levels. As a disabled woman, I didn’t appreciate how Tyler was cast into the position of a disabled and disadvantaged underdog when his injuries were the result of his own stupidity; he was caught selling drugs by the local gang on their turf despite knowing the dangers. Tyler could have quite as easily have just been a disabled person rather than having a highly sensationalized background.
At the same time, while I identified with Lana, she’s also an extremely stereotypical female character; the wounded woman who was was dealing with the loss of a child and other trauma. The writer isn’t oblivious to this because at one point Lana calls the organises of the games out on it, on how they have chosen a woman like her because she was easy prey for their call to arms.
Other than the gender in balance, there’s not just a complete lack of LGBTQ+ characters or relationships; it’s as if they don’t even exist. A perfect example is when the author reflects on Tyler not noticing how he’s seen by the students as a handsome blue-eyed man of mystery; it’s only the female students that are mentioned. There’s also a tokenistic racial character, Freyja, who at first I silently celebrated. Then no other non-white characters were introduced and points were drawn to her attractive physical features, such as her hazel eyes, repeatedly. While Edinburgh is a predominantly white city (census data here) and has a smaller ethnic minority community than Glasgow (census), there still shouldn’t be just one non-white character.
Overall The Wolf Mile has an intriguing mystery that will grab your attention, but in my opinion, it needs some polishing up in other areas. There was a sneak peek at the end of the book for book two and it seems as though an important female character will play a prominent part in it. I just hope that she actually gets the screen time she deserves and isn’t sidelined like Lana was in this one.
I was provided with a free copy of The Wolf Mile by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Wolf Mile is available to read in digital format right now and will be published in hard copy on the 5th August 2021!
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