Friday, 12 April 2013

The Wolf Tattoo by Kenneth Fore - Book Review

Despite hundreds of sub categories and genres available to the book publisher and author, books generally and inevitably end up being labelled and defined by the more general ones: fiction or non-fiction or even vague sub headings such as horror. Nothing underlines the discrepancies and oddities of this peculiar phenomenon more than ”The Wolf Tattoo” by Kenneth Fore which got categorised under ”Action and Adventure”. Such vague labels do no justice applied to such a truly original and mesmerising piece of work, five years in the making.

Describing this book as action or adventure might win itself a prize for most deceiving and indecent trade description but you certainly can't blame the writer for this as there couldn’t be a harder book to categorise than ”The Wolf Tattoo”. Encompassing fantasy, nature, paranormal and horror, the book starts off a bit like an Alaskan version of Rambo, as we follow Clayton on his trek across the Alaskan wilderness. This is quickly followed up by a bit of the 60’s Bonanza cowboy TV show as the grizzlies and wolves enter the fray and, as Clayton manages to adapt and survive, we suddenly find ourselves in the film ”Born Free”, only not in Kenya but Alaska!

But it's the second half of the book that defies expectation as a weird mix of what can only be described as ”Lord of the Rings" meets "Avatar" meets "The Thing”, as the story goes in completely unexpected directions and encompasses secret forests, a new species called Mueumonds, tropical jungles and miracle medicines. And yet, despite all this, the themes of the book remain simple: the fragility of nature, the evil of humans, human temptation and love.

Despite the danger of so many different themes diluting the experience of reading it, fear not, The Wolf Tattoo is beautifully written - fresh as a cold Alaskan snowball hitting your face, a wakeup call and an entertaining, delightfully mesmerising read. It's a book that's hard to put down as you are taken on a ride through the Alaskan wilderness, all deftly described with great dialogue and haunting scenery. It can be peculiarly bizarre and confusing at times but it's also exhilarating and entertaining as, what starts off as a getaway, ends up as a battle to survive.

Kenneth Fore is certainly the right man to tell this tale. Stationed in rural Alaska during his military service, his knowledge of the area is vast and he skilfully uses his memories to create Clayton Spears, a war veteran, carrier of huge physical and mental scars from war, a man determined to never give up because he believes it's not we who choose the path, but rather, the path that chooses us, to teach us something valuable we would have otherwise not accepted.

Alas, no book is perfect. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but beauty can also be overrated and a double sided coin. Despite its sheer scope and ambition, Clayton seems to end up as a superhuman James bond, irritating in his ability to escape and sometimes kill grizzlies and wolves. You rather get the idea that he is like a Canadian James bond who somehow manages to miraculously survive every bullet aimed at him along the way. By the time the Mueumonds arrive, mythical relentless killing creatures that can smell human blood from miles away, we don't seem to fear them as much as we should because Clayton is such a clever chap, so naturally gifted that perhaps he could beat God up with just his fingernails. Undoubtedly, a bit of the suspense and horror is drained away by stretching the sticky tape of reality a little too much.

Another setback detracting from its perfection was the first part of the book. Possessing such a beautiful talent for writing, Kenneth Fore makes the error of attempting to be too clever with his words, trying too hard to illustrate Clayton's state of mind as the Vietnam veteran who is constantly on the lookout for snipers and other hidden dangers that lurk in the Alaskan wild. These pages are drenched with too much action and not enough contrast.

However, I digress. We all want different things from our entertainment... We all have our trivial hates and idiosyncrasies but without a doubt, this truly is a special and original book that deserves immense praise for its originality, passion and ambition. Books like this don't come along very often and when they do, and you are privileged enough to read it , then you also owe it to yourself , despite those otherwise niggling doubts, to pinch yourself hard in the arm and say ”reading a book is about being entertained, that's what matters in the end.”

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