Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Wolf of the Highlands


The Wolf of the Highlands by Bil Howard is an interesting novella composed of 12 episodes. It mixes adventure with history and time travel. It is a novella of experience and self-learning as we see the Ray Barrett’s character develop throughout the book.

The story focuses on Ray, who goes to the mountains to rethink his life and clear his head. There he meets the Scotsman MacGregor and a wolf. At first, the reader is unsure if MacGregor is real or is a figment of Ray’s imagination. After their first meeting, Ray is hurled into the past where he is a Native American called Hoka. Ray calls his time-travel adventures “experiences”; they are sudden and frequent.

The language is simple and it is evident that Mr. Howard knows his history. I like how he lightly incorporates bits of it in The Wolf of the Highlands making it quite interesting.

There are four main characters along with many other minor ones coming from the various and distant periods of time that Ray travels to. Both MacGregor and Alexia are “Spirit Guides”, which Ray cannot grasp what that really means. We also meet Fasser, who constantly tries to kill Ray. A little towards the end, Ray considers what a Spirit Guide means: “What was a “spirit guide”? What did they do, really? Was it a job opportunity that was listed somewhere? He laughed at the thought. “Help wanted. Must be willing to travel through time and irritate the hell out of people.” (p. 103).

The pace of the novella is quick and exciting, though slightly confusing at first if the reader is unaware of the time travel theme. The reader meets the protagonist and the wolf, sees the past and present as well as witnesses a battle in the first episode of the novella.

The dialogue in The Wolf of the Highlands has two main purposes; it acts as a source of information and comic relief. The latter occurs when it is Ray and MacGregor speaking. Ray is short-tempered and MacGregor rarely gives him a straight answer.

The reason or rather reasons that made me give this novella a 4-star rating are: 1) there were several instances of incorrect use of ‘lay’ versus ‘lie’; 2) at the beginning there were many parts that were repeated word-for-word and at other times there was redundant repetition of certain words, like the repetition of ‘thick’ four times in one paragraph. An example for the word-for-word repetition is: “He remembered the sudden horror that came over them as they realized that it was not their brothers playing a trick on them.
It was not our brothers playing a trick on us, but…”. The word-for-word repetition here, and in other places, was rather annoying for me.

The Wolf of the Highlands has an abundance of verdant landscapes and some beautiful images like “the only salve that could take away the ache that was deep inside.” (p. 44). There were also several instances of philosophical thinking and introspection, which contained some interesting lines like “Knowledge should answer questions rather than create more of them. Or did it?” (p. 52)

As the story progresses, we see the development of Ray’s character, which is very nicely done. Ray compares his various experiences and reacts differently to the idea of death in each. “Although he couldn’t put a finger on specific lessons that he had learned in each one, he began to have a better sense of who he was. It was as though he were the steel blade of a sword which had been heated, hammered on and cooled in order to make it stronger.” (p. 114).

Episode 12 answers all of Ray’s questions as it mingles humour with revelation. Both Ray's sarcasm and MacGregor's light-heartedness are funny and amusing. Their constant tittle-tattle in many such instances throughout the novella creates comic relief.

Time travel stories are often tricky at the end but Mr. Howard manages a successful ending as both Ray and the reader see the various missing pieces of the puzzle fall in place at the end.

I had a bit of difficulty rating this novella, for I did enjoy it, though some parts (mentioned above) annoyed me. So, excuse the odd rating of 4.25 stars.