Book Review: 'Brotherhood of the Wheel' by R.S. Belcher
'Brotherhood of the Wheel: Volume 1'
If you are a fan of modern urban fantasy/horror and don’t know the name R.S. Belcher, allow me to introduce you. If you do know Belcher, congratulations on being one of the cool kids. But don’t worry, we can all be cool kids together in our enjoyment of some very fine lit. Brotherhood of the Wheel is one of my absolute favorite urban fantasy novels for several nuanced reasons.
Our story actually begins with the book Nightwise, which I have not completed despite Brotherhood of the Wheel being a spin-off, so to speak, of that novel/series. But I wasn’t offered a deal on the audiobook of Nightwise, I was offered a deal on Brotherhood of the Wheel, and since I was assured that not reading Nightwise would not destroy my understanding of Brotherhood, I went ahead and gave it a listen.
The audiobook is performed by Bronson Pinchot, and he is phenomenal. Not only does every character have a distinct voice, but their unique accents and cadences are maintained, most notably the character Heck, who speaks with a blend of Scottish and North Carolina drawl. My hat is off to you, Mr. Pinchot. Incredible performance. I enjoyed it immensely.
But that is the audiobook. What about the text? Well, I’ll tell you.
One of the things that bothers many in the urban fantasy and horror communities (in truth, there is a lot of overlap here), something that can even be outright offensive, is when a protagonist is confronted with a non-Christian, non-European problem—a wendigo, for example, to pull from my own region of the world—and it’s good ol’ Christian Whitey to the rescue. When the problem is not Christian and/or European in origin, it is problematic for the solution to be Christian and/or European. Cause and resolution should be balanced.
To use my example, if a wendigo is terrorizing your characters, the solution had better be Algonquian and not European. (I have seen many urban fantasies fall prey to this scenario, even series that I otherwise enjoy.) Another example would be if an ancient, pre-Christian power is used by a serial killer to run amok and attempt to destroy the world, the solution had better not be Jesus. (If you watch even a handful of horror films, you will learn that Jesus, generally in the form of the Catholic Church, is the answer to just about any haunting or possession story ever.)
Brotherhood does not use Jesus as the solution to its problem, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I happen to identify as pagan, but I don’t think a reader has to be pagan to be tired of the Jesus To The Rescue trope. And that is all I will say about that because I don’t want to spoil the intense action and drama. Suffice it to say that Brotherhood has a pagan solution for a pagan problem. Thank you, Mr. Belcher.
As a writer, in terms of style and word choice, Belcher pulls no punches. His worlds are gritty, greasy, unfair, and very violent. But there is good in there, and good is doing its damnedest to protect the innocent and oblivious by whatever means necessary. And good doesn’t come from a higher power so much as from the characters themselves. From people. Regular people. A trucker. A police officer. A motorcycle gang. A war veteran. A scared college student. Good also curses—a lot—and I like that.
Some of the fun of the evil in this story is the use of urban legends. The Ghostly Hitchhiker (classic) and Black-Eyed Kids (BEKs) are front and center in this installment. I wasn’t too familiar with BEKs before this book, so I looked them up online, and whoa. Do they look freaky. It’s always off-putting when things we think we know don’t behave the way we expect.
This book is just the beginning of what I can only assume is going to be an awesome series. It’s a hell of a start, anyway, and I am also a fan of Belcher’s other series which starts with The Six-Gun Tarot. Brotherhood is currently in development as a television series, so I look forward to that, as well. The second book in the series, King of the Road, came out just last week, and I am reading it now. So far, it’s good, y’all. I’ll write a review as soon as I am done.
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