Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins (Orbit, March 2013)-Vissarion Lom of the Podchornok provincial police, has tried many times to get transferred to the capital city of the great Vlast, Mirgorod. He eventually gets his wish, but when he arrives, he finds out that he’s been summoned to catch a revolutionary by the name of Josef Kantor. Kantor, an “impresario of destruction”, is responsible for countless lives lost and horrendous atrocities in the name of freedom, and he’s also a ghost; a legend, an enigma, and a man shrouded in mystery. It’s made very clear to Lom, upon his arrival in Mirgorod, that he will be on his own in seeking Kantor, with no help from the police. He seeks out an old friend, a professor named Raku Vishnik, with whom he parted ways with when Raku went to university and Lom stayed in Podchornok to join the police. Eventually the university fired Raku after finding out about his family and his connection to artists and poets, and now he is the official historian of Mirgorod. He wanders the streets of the city with his camera, photographing the things that can’t be seen, the universe underneath of Mirgorod. Raku is welcoming to Lom, and Lom settles in with his old friend to get to work in finding a terrorist. Lom soon finds out that Mirgorod is a very dangerous place, and that he’s under threat by much more than just Kantor and his band of murderous revolutionaries. Amongst the death that hovers over Mirgorod like a haze is the Archangel, fallen from the stars, mired in the woods, a stone monolith with an alien intelligence… and it’s awakening.
Lom is much more than a policeman, and possibly much more than a man. Angels have been falling to earth for centuries, and humans have been taking pieces of their stone bodies and using them for “enhancements”. Lom has a piece of angel stone implanted in his head (placed there as a child) and sometimes he gets glimpses of another world, one lying just beneath the one he lives in, and at times, seems to exhibit certain powers. The Pollandore is the world that might be, that hasn’t been, and Kantor wants it destroyed, but he’s not the only one. Laverentina Chazia, Commander of the Secret Police, also wants to see it destroyed, and she’ll go to any means to do it. It’s up to Lom and a young woman, Maroussia, whose past lies in the dense forests surrounding Mirgorod, to save the past, as well as a future without constant war and bloodshed.
Peter Higgins has taken an alternate Russia rife with squalid alleyways, secret police, cabarets where artists gather to discuss their forbidden work and indulge in equally forbidden behavior, and thrown in fallen angels and pocket universes for good measure. I can’t forget to mention the rusalkas (water ghosts or nymphs), giants that are used as slaves, and the Gaukh Engine, which is the machine of steel and electricity that is the heart of the city’s archives. While Wolfhound Century tackles some pretty big ideas and themes (among them, transhumanism and cosmism ), the author has cleverly wrapped these ideas up into a story about a man, and a woman, who came from nothing, but are destined for greater things, and where myth and reality are sometimes indistinguishable. Wonderfully atmospheric and alive, not unlike the verdant, sentient forest that surrounds Mirgorod, and beautifully written, Wolfhound Century is equal parts nightmare and dreamscape, and what a dream. If you find yourself getting confused about the role of angel flesh and how it works, don’t worry, all will be revealed at the end. Speaking of the end, it’ll knock your socks off, and leave you hoping for the next book very, very soon. Wolfhound Century is a strange, complex, earthy, sometimes violent read, and one of the best debuts I’ve gotten my hands on.