I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R.S. Belcher
Published by Tor Books on March 1 2016
Genres: Adult, Urban fantasy
The nitty-gritty: Another winner for Belcher, a good versus evil story that will scare and delight in equal measure.
“Jimmie, if what the Pagan said is true, then the universe, at its most fundamental levels, is out of whack and is falling apart. We have to do something before it’s too late.”
“Right,” Jimmie said. “Save the universe. Got it, but first we have to merge into the damned right lane.”
I started this book near the beginning of March, and I fully intended to post a review at that time. But unfortunately, the flu had other plans for me, and it ended up taking me nearly three weeks to finish. During those feverish days in bed, I was only able to read small chunks of the book at a time, and I neglected to take ANY notes at all! I only tell you this to warn you that my memory of the story details may be sketchy, as it is my habit to take notes when I read books for review. But despite my unusual reading circumstances and lack of notes, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was such a vivid story that some of the events are still playing out in my head. The book is described as urban fantasy, but to me it falls firmly in the “horror” category as well. In other words, this book scared the living daylights out of me! Belcher’s books are all a mash-up of more than one genre, something he does really well, and I’m happy to report his latest is a wonderfully unexpected mix of magic, history, truck driver/biker culture, and yes, down-and-dirty scary shit that will give you some sleepless nights.
The premise of the story is that all the highways and main roads in the country are magically connected, and they act as a conduit for both good and bad magic. From the times of the Knights Templar, the roads have been guarded and protected by groups of people, and today these protectors are truckers and bikers who call themselves the Brethren. But evil is also attracted to these roads in the form of serial killers and other murderous types. Jimmie Aussapile is a trucker who patrols the dark highways, using his CB radio to keep in touch with other members who alert each other when trouble is afoot.
When Jimmie encounters a ghostly hitchhiker one night, a young girl who hints that she was the victim of a terrible string of child murders, he knows he won’t rest until the mystery is solved. With the help of a biker named Heck and a state trooper name Lovina, Jimmie is in for one wild—and dangerous—ride, as he must stop a serial killer, rescue some lost college kids who have stumbled into another dimension, stay away from a group of soul-stealing children called the Black Eyed Kids, and still try to make his deliveries in order to pay the mortgage.
This is the fourth Belcher book I’ve read, and I love that his writing and storytelling skills are just getting better and better. (Although my favorite of his books is still Nightwise—it’s going to be tough to beat that!). The Brotherhood of the Wheel is written in multiple points of view, a style that’s often hard to pull off successfully. But Belcher does a fantastic job, as the chapters alternate among several groups of characters: Jimmie, Lovina, Heck and the Blue Jocks, an evil biker with hooves and horns called the Pagan, and a small group of heroes who live in a town called Four Houses, a town that can’t be found on any map. Eventually these disparate groups start to come together, and that’s when the story really takes off. Stephen King is a master at pulling off stories with large casts of characters, and in my opinion Belcher’s story is every bit as good as some of the best King books I’ve read. Belcher has a firm grasp on all his characters and does a fantastic job of giving each of them enough page time so that the reader is never confused or bored.
Jimmie was briefly introduced in Belcher’s last book, Nightwise (you gotta love when authors do cool crossover things like that in their books!), and when I found out he was writing a story around Jimmie and the Brethren, I was ecstatic. Jimmie may not be your typical hero archetype (he’s overweight and chews tobacco), but he’s got a heart of gold and truly cares about saving people. Belcher gives him a loving wife and child (and a baby on the way) to not only make him more lovable, but to set the stakes much higher. Jimmie tries to keep his “other” life a secret from his wife in order to protect her, but that life often keeps him away from his family. It’s a tragic dilemma that added an extra emotional layer to the story.
Belcher’s world-building is so detailed, and he’s done so much research into ancient secret societies, like the Knights Templar, that his “what if” scenario sounded completely plausible. What if the Knights Templar, after being disbanded in 1312 by the Pope, continued on in a secret capacity as protectors? Belcher has taken the stuff of legends and woven a fantastical legend of his own, one I bought into completely.
As for the bad guys, remember I mentioned that this is also a horror story? In the town of Four Houses where a great deal of the action takes place, lost travelers should beware of a diner where they might become part of the menu, and in a dilapidated garage run by the Scode brothers, you’re more likely to be tortured than get your car fixed. Luckily, a small group of residents act as protectors to these lost souls, in particular an older woman named Agnes whose house has a great source of power in the basement.
One writing quirk was a bit distracting, and I honestly believe the story could have benefited from some extra editing. Belcher loves to describe exactly what each character in his story is wearing, and so each time a new character was introduced, the story paused just long enough to give the reader a very clear picture of their clothing. I don’t mind brief character descriptions, but this happened so frequently that I started to cringe when someone new made an appearance.
But this personal complaint is certainly a small glitch (for me) in an otherwise stellar story. Belcher’s imagination, pacing and entertainingly gritty characters make this another stand-out book, one I highly recommend.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.