"I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” a famous fantasy character once said, and that quote neatly sums up the feeling I get from Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins as I read.
A blurb by Richard Morgan on the cover compares Higgins to China Miéville which naturally set my expectations dangerously high to begin with. It is not only because of too high expectations that Wolfhound Century failed to deliver, however – apart from great and original world building, the novel does feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.
The novel is not very long, but even so the plot seems terribly drawn out. Wolfhound Century is the first book in a series, so perhaps it simply suffers from having act as an introduction to both the world and the larger, overarching story. The world of Wolfhound Century is a sort of alternate, or perhaps parallel (the details are somewhat unclear), version of Russia where Inspector Vissarion Lom is called to Mirgorod and ordered to track down a dangerous terrorist. But the state and its secret police have long since become corrupt, and as a consequence Lom's seemingly straightforward mission is not as uncomplicated as it may seem to begin with. Lom is a familiar character - the good, honest policeman in a morally bankrupt force with a dark past – and the rest of the characters are unfortunately just as insubstantial and formulaic.
Wolfhound Century certainly has its occasional glimpses of greatness. I have already mentioned the world building, that is indeed reminiscent of Miéville, especially his Bas-Lag novels. Higgin's world is one of golems and extra-terrestrial angels and where a forest filled with strange creatures looms outside the city, its hidden secrets threatening the very order of the whole country. Furthermore, Higgins has a blunt but at the same time evocative way of writing and the entire book seems saturated with unfulfilled potential. Of course, it may be my limited knowledge of Russian history that causes me to miss out on a certain dimension of the novel and makes it seem flat to me, but I think that the largest issue I have with Wolfhound Century is that it feels too much like the opening chapter to a bigger, more cohesive narrative. Further down the road, that story may indeed fulfill what Wolfhound Century occasionally hints at, but I am unsure if it has convinced me to read on.