THE WOLF MILE
Book One of The Pantheon
C. F. Barrington (cfbarrington.com)
Ad Astra / Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)
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Tyler Maitland has been searching for his sister, Morgan, since she disappeared – seemingly into thin air – a year earlier. Lana Cameron has been searching for meaning since her daughter, Amelia, succumbed to leukemia. They have now both been drafted into the Pantheon, a secretive game that plays out across the world beyond the reach of any law, seemingly a diversion created by a group of rich friends which pits groups of ordinary people against each other in life-like battles. Tyler and Lana have been conscripted by the Valhalla Horde, a group who live in the shadows of the world under Edinburgh’s Old Town, and follow the ways of the ancient Vikings. As Blood Season approaches, Tyler and Lana quickly discover that they have more to worry about than the Horde’s enemy, the Sky-Gods, as there are elements within the Horde who would see them dead by any means necessary.
The Wolf Mile is the first book in a series that introduces us to the mysterious world of the Pantheon. It feels very much like a first book in a series, with plenty of information about this mysterious game for new recruits and readers alike. Barrington attempts to get as much information as he can in, so that all involved have a solid foundation on which he can build. Sometimes, unfortunately, this comes at the expense of pace, leaving the story to drag through the initial training process. I’ll be perfectly honest: there were points where I almost gave up, where I lost interest in our key players amidst the glut of information. I’m very glad I stuck with it though, and would urge anyone in the same position to do the same. The payoff is well worth the effort, and the setup for the second book in the series has left me gasping for more!
There are some holes in the Pantheon’s potted history. There are six Palatinates, corresponding to some of history’s most famous conquering armies, everyone from the Greeks to the Huns, the Romans to the Turks. It’s an excellent concept, and allows Barrington to build a fantasy world that coexists with our own reality, and gives plenty of scope for the series to grow over an extended series of books. My biggest gripe, and one that hasn’t – for me – been satisfactorily explained, is Barrington’s choice of setting. We have a Roman Army based in Rome, Turks based in Istanbul, and Vikings based in… Edinburgh? Why not Oslo, or Stockholm? And why is the Greek army based in the same city? It feels overly-contrived and takes away from what the author has tried to do elsewhere.
That gripe aside – and I’m hoping we’ll get some sort of explanation as the series progresses – The Wolf Mile is a good, fun novel that tries to find the perfect balance between action and exposition. Throw in a dash of mystery – what, exactly, happened to Morgan Maitland? – and you’ve got a winning formula. Once the extended training montage is done, Barrington finds his rhythm and the story really comes into its own. Politics and intrigue, murder and double-cross, set against a competition that could lead to untold riches or to painful death. It’s a simple and elegant conceit: a game whose players take on the identity of ancient warriors and exist outside of society. But from it springs a fully-formed world, peopled with characters who seem equally at home in modern-day Edinburgh, or as ancient Vikings. Striving for as much realism as possible, Barrington touches on how such an endeavour might exist in the modern world: big-stakes gambling, hastily-shot videos uploaded to YouTube, and an entire subculture following the games in the same way that most people follow football.
One of the key reasons why The Wolf Mile works so well – and the main reason I didn’t abandon it early on – is the fascinating characters that we follow. Tyler Maitland is a broken man who suddenly finds a reason to get out of bed in the morning, while Lana Cameron is obviously going through something that the Pantheon takes her mind off. There are others equally as intriguing: the trainers, Halvar and Freyja; King Sveinn; and the Caelestia, who may be the money behind the Pantheon. There’s plenty of scope for exploring this brilliant new world and I, for one, am excited to see where Barrington takes it.
Slow to start, The Wolf Mile really finds its stride around the halfway point. From there, it’s an intense, action-packed ride that you will want to keep reading. There is no neat finale here, only a setup for the next book in the series, which you’ll want to read as soon as possible. This is a thundering debut that should appeal to readers of fantasy, historical and crime fiction equally. Barrington is one to watch. My advice: read this excellent, cinematic novel before Hollywood gets its hands on it.