Book Review: King of the Road by R.S. Belcher + Series Giveaway!
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of The Brotherhood of the Wheel
Publisher: Tor (December 4, 2018)
Length: 384 pages
I swear, R.S. Belcher gets better with every book. Of all his projects, The Brotherhood of the Wheel series is probably my favorite, and King of the Road is his best work yet.
First off, I love the premise. At the heart of The Brother of the Wheel series the concept of “road magic”—the idea that frequently traveled pathways have power, which often overlap with ley lines and landmarks or other structures with spiritual significance. In the United States, this would be the Interstate Highway System, and the people who make their livelihoods on it—truck drivers, bikers, highway patrolmen, toll booth collectors, rest stop operators, etc.—are the heroes of this story. They are the Brotherhood of the Wheel, members of an ancient secret society who have vowed to keep travelers on the road safe, protecting them from not just mundane threats, but from supernatural dangers and monsters as well.
King of the Road is the second book in the series, and though it can technically be enjoyed as a standalone, I would not recommend it as a starting point. The story returns to many characters we met in the first book, including Jimmie Aussapile, a thickset pot-bellied trucker whose gruff exterior belies a heart of gold. Like many in the Brotherhood, he lives a double life, moonlighting as a vigilante and monster hunter while he’s hauling freight and doing his best not to miss deadlines. At the moment, however, Jimmie is back at home in North Carolina with his family, trying to help his squire Heck Sinclair survive a gang war involving two rival motorcycle clubs. Meanwhile, Detective Lovina Marcou has traveled from Louisiana to Pennsylvania to follow up on a missing-person case, her desire to find answers driven in part by the disappearance and death of her own sister years ago. Assisting in the investigation is Max, providing Lovina with the necessary research in her capacity as a Builder, the R&D arm of the order. This time though, the mystery will lead them down a rabbit hole of terrifying danger and conspiracy, not to mention killer clowns and the infamous unsolved case of the Black Dahlia.
By incorporating so many elements together, as well as so many different plot lines, King of the Road might be the author’s most ambitious book to date, but he has managed to pull it off flawlessly. This book is a most delectable blend of horror and urban fantasy, offering up the perfect balance of dark and light, of the ancient and the modern, of the magical and the macabre. The separate mysteries Belcher develops here are each independently absorbing, but they also end up tying together in a larger narrative that compounds the immersive atmosphere of dread and unease, keeping the reader glued to the page.
And of course, I loved coming back to these characters. Jimmie was great in the The Brotherhood of the Wheel, which to some extent was also a story exploring his commitment to the Brotherhood. But now that his soul-searching is over, and he has come to terms with his personal sacrifices, it is time for him to take a step back and let his friends take the lead. Heck, Lovina, and Max are the ones who mostly drive this novel, while Jimmie settles into a more supporting role. I liked how this gave us a deeper look into the personalities and lives of the others. This time around, my favorites were Lovina and Max, whose adventures lead them to encounters with everything from hobo shamans to life-sucking carriage ghouls, as well as a visit to a haunted trailer park.
Speaking of which, I would be remiss if I did not give a special mention to the kids of the Valentine Trailer Park. One of the best POVs in this novel belongs to that of Ryan, a boy who has traveled from Baltimore with his mother to live with his grandmother in Pennsylvania. An outcast who suffers from PTSD, Ryan finds a new life as well as camaraderie and mutual support in the group of children at Valentine, who warn him against the monsters that lurk in the woods. Ryan’s chapters read like a love letter to Stephen King’s It, with clear nods to the themes of adolescent friendships, secret pacts, and a vicious cycle of terror that plagues a community. Oh yeah, and the scary clowns.
With so much going on, this novel could have been a right mess, but Belcher kept a tight rein on all the multiple threads, weaving them masterfully to create something incredible here. I’m still floored by how well everything came together. Granted, I wasn’t as interested in the storyline involving Heck and his part in the gang war, but as someone with a fascination into unsolved mysteries, I found myself completely engrossed with Lovina’s investigation into the case of the missing young woman and the connections to the Black Dahlia and Cleveland torso murders. Belcher kept the pace moving quickly, knowing exactly when to transition his scenes, and when to drop the revelations to tie the parts of his story together. He has successfully orchestrated an atmosphere of eeriness and anticipation, playing on the reader’s fears of the darkness and unknown.
We all have things that scare us, and it is precisely because of that we cannot look away. I read this book in record time, consuming it in a couple of sittings, barely coming up for breath. Full of horrors but also a surprising amount of heart and humanity, King of the Road combines excitement with an ambience of mystery. This is dark urban fantasy at its best.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Brotherhood of the Wheel (Book 1)
The Brotherhood of the Wheel Series
+ Trucker Hat Giveaway
And now, time for a pre-Christmas giveaway! Because I am such a fan of this series, I’m thrilled to be working with Tor Books to host this giveaway for a special Brotherhood of the Wheel prize package. As per the publisher’s terms, this giveaway is open to residents in the US and Canada. One winner will receive a print copy of Brotherhood of the Wheel, a print copy of King of the Road, as well as this super nifty trucker hat! To enter, all you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “KING OF THE ROAD” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Monday, December 31, 2018.
Only one entry per household, please. A winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!