Brotherhood of the Wheel: is dark, intense and … WHEW.

Brotherhood of the wheel book review

What is this about?: The Knights Templar still exist — sort of.  There’s one branch that travel the roads in the US, protecting them from the darkness that still exists in the world.

What else is this about?: If you want to enjoy some seriously fantastic worldbuilding and urban fantasy, this is it. It’s the first in the series, and it shows at times, but there’s much to enjoy in this.

Blurb

A unique new urban fantasy by the author of The Six-Gun Tarot, exploring the haunted byways and truck stops of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

In 1119 A.D., a group of nine crusaders became known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon–a militant monastic order charged with protecting pilgrims and caravans traveling on the roads to and from the Holy Land. In time, the Knights Templar would grow in power and, ultimately, be laid low. But a small offshoot of the Templars endure and have returned to the order’s original mission: to defend the roads of the world and guard those who travel on them.

Theirs is a secret line of knights: truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers, RV gypsies–any of the folks who live and work on the asphalt arteries of America. They call themselves the Brotherhood of the Wheel.

Jimmy Aussapile is one such knight. He’s driving a big rig down South when a promise to a ghostly hitchhiker sets him on a quest to find out the terrible truth behind a string of children gone missing all across the country. The road leads him to Lovina Hewitt, a skeptical Louisiana State Police investigator working the same case and, eventually, to a forgotten town that’s not on any map–and to the secret behind the eerie Black-Eyed Kids said to prowl the highways.

I listened to the audiobook of Brotherhood of the Wheel, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, and I think I would listen to him narrate a telephone book. His voice is deep, soothing and it is a perfect fit for the darkness that abounds in this. 

There is a large cast of characters in this, but RS Belcher takes his time building their backgrounds and their present circumstances to give readers a detailed picture of the history that he has transposed to contemporary times. I found myself fascinated by the Knights Templar, who are now truckers — or at least one group of them is, and they protect the roads as best they can.

Jimmy is our knight who happens to drive a big rig, is wonderfully, absolutely in love with his wife and daughter and worries about making mortgage payments as much as anyone else does. He struggles with balancing his responsibilities as a knight and that of being a father, and a husband, which actually makes him all the more relatable. 

He is the one that begins an investigation into missing children across the country, that grows bigger and more complex. Heck, his squire is a vet, suffering from PTSD with issues with …. fire — comes along for the ride. Along the way they join forces with Lovina, a police investigator, and Max, a researcher from the Knights to find out just what is hunting children.

Heck, I would say, is the only character after Jimmy that gets  a background, and time devoted to what makes him the character readers see in this book. I’m not saying that Lovina is left out at all, but as Knights go Jimmy and Heck are the focus of this book. Heck is also harbouring his secrets, and needs to figure out who he is –– literally — because there’s more than a touch of something different to him. (I also need to mention that Lovina needs a book dedicated entirely to her and what she discovers at the end of this book)

Splitting the narrative 

In and among all this goodness though is the decision to devote much to Four Houses and the people there. This is a town that does not exist on any map, and anyone who stumbles into it never leaves. They can’t because this is where the (supernatural) serial killer Jimmy is hunting is based, and planning something dark and evil like only Belcher can think of (I’ve come to realise). 

However, enduring the college kids stumble into town, before some get captured, some are killed, and one manages to escape to safety within the town, are less interesting than the actual goings on of the town and the people who have lived there for far too long. The split robbed the urgency from Jimmy’s quest as well, and I did find myself wishing I could get back to that part of the story faster.

I will saw though, that despite these pacing issues, Belcher continues with his detailed worldbuilding in these sections. I know, I know it’s weird that this part I enjoyed but at the same time the split was a bit distracting — I just genuinely enjoyed Jimmy and his group far better as characters. 

Brotherhood of the Wheel is a fascinating beginning to what promises to be a equally fascinating urban fantasy series. The second in this series is out in December this year.

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