Published by Tor on March 1st 2016
Genres: Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
Our reviews of this author: Nightwise
Format: Finished hardcover
Urban Fantasy is such an exciting genre right now because of books like The Brotherhood of the Wheel. While mythological creatures and vigilantes have long been a mainstay, R.S. Belcher has shaken up these conventions and breathed new life into UF by looking at a slice of American culture that arguably hasn’t gotten a lot of attention: Truckers. Motorcycle clubs. The U.S. Interstate Highway System.
Meet Jimmie Aussapile, an independent truck driver who lives a double life as a knight of an ancient order, protecting the country’s roads and its travelers from monsters—both the supernatural and the human kind. He and others like him are part of a brethren who call themselves the Brotherhood of the Wheel.
One night, Jimmie picks up a ghostly hitchhiker and follows her message to a number of unsolved missing person cases. Along with his new squire Heck Sinclair, the two men uncover a terrifying situation involving a supernatural serial killer known as the Pagan who has been using the highway system to prey on children since the mid-1900s. Meanwhile, Louisiana cop Lovina Marcou has been conducting her own investigations into a group of missing teenagers, leading her to creepy internet stories about abductions by the inhuman Black-Eyed Kids or BEKs. She eventually crosses paths with Jimmie and Heck, setting in motion a string of events that would pit them against a great evil that has been preparing to make its return into the world.
This is the third book I’ve read by R.S. Belcher, and damn, his storytelling just gets better and better. I found myself really digging the combination of urban fantasy and horror, and I think The Brotherhood of the Wheel would be perfect for readers who love the gritty stylings of Chuck Wendig, or the creepy and otherworldly stories of Joe Hill. I also love the blending of the modern and the ancient. On the one hand, we’re reaching back into history and referencing the Knights Templar to explain the origins of the Brethren, and on the other we’re pulling in elements influenced by internet memes and other online myths that go viral. This fantastic mashup comes together to create a very special kind of magic, bringing a rough and terrible kind of beauty to the places we wouldn’t typically associate with the spiritual or magical—like tunnels, trailer parks, or truck stops.
The characters, especially Jimmie, are really what makes this book stand out. This is the first volume of a new series, but it does take place in the same world as the author’s novel Nightwise, in which Jimmie actually makes his first appearance as a truck driver who gives protagonist Laytham Ballard hitch a ride in his rig. It was a small scene, but for those who have read the book, that intriguing introduction to Jimmie and the Brethren might have made a strong impression. I know it did for me, which was why I was really looking forward The Brotherhood of the Wheel, a novel that would explore his story and his order’s background. Just in case you’re wondering, both books can be indeed be read as standalones, as they’re the openers to two different and separate series, but I still thought it was really neat to read both and catch all the easter eggs and references they make to each other.
Anyway, as it turns out, Jimmie is quite a remarkable man. He’s a reminder that a hero can come in many shapes and sizes, even in the form of a gruff truck driver with a potbelly and bad, tobacco-stained teeth, wearing a hideous Squidbillies mesh baseball cap. By day, he’s a humble worker and a loving husband and father to his wife, daughter, and another baby on the way. Off the books, he’s chasing down murderers, sexual predators, and paranormal beasties that go bump in the night, often putting his job in jeopardy when he misses delivery schedules or deadlines. Unlike Laytham Ballard of Nightwise—who wasn’t an entirely likeable guy—Jimmie Aussapile is a completely different kind of protagonist, almost like a Peter Parker-like character who immediately appeals to the reader because he is willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. I also loved Heck, Lovina, and Max the Builder researcher who later joins the team, and together the four of them kick some seriously major ass. It’s impossible not to root for them, especially when they’re fighting against a most twisted and depraved antagonist.
This is probably my favorite book by the author so far and I’m intensely excited about the future of this series. It’s clear he has put a lot of careful planning into this world populated by all kinds of heroes and anti-heroes united as one to protect innocents from the malevolent forces of the occult. By combining modern technology, contemporary urban myths, and age-old folkloric legends, Belcher made me see “road magic” in a whole new light, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The wheel turns, baby!
This review originally appeared on The BiblioSanctum.