Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Knights of the Road are back with a vengeance in ‘Brotherhood of the Wheel’

There was a time when it wasn't uncommon for truckers to be referred to as “Knights on the Road.” But what if they were actual knights who protected travelers not just from bandits and highwaymen, but from monsters and demons?

That’s the premise of The Brotherhood of the Wheel, a new urban fantasy novel from acclaimed author R.S. Belcher. In the novel, an offshoot of the Knights Templar – made up of truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers and RV gypsies – still guards the roads. They call themselves “The Brotherhood of the Wheel.”

The book, which is went on sale March 1 from science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor, focuses on independent trucker Jesse James “Jimmy” Aussapile, a member of the Brethren, a branch of the Brotherhood tasked with guarding the roads and the people who travel them.

In a phone interview with Land Line, Belcher talked about his inspiration for the novel and his childhood fascination with trucking.

A former newspaper and magazine editor and reporter from Roanoke, Va., Belcher said that truckers were a big part of his childhood in the 1970s.

“In the ’70s truckers became heroes for a while, so when I was going to school, we would alternate between playing Cowboys and Indians, Star Trek, and pretending to be truck drivers,” he said. “I idolized cowboys, and I idolized truckers. And in a lot of ways they were very similar. Cowboys had very lonely jobs. They were very self-reliant, independent people. And I think truckers in a lot of ways are the same. For me, the trucker is an American iconic figure just like the cowboy.”

Belcher’s previous works include two fantasy novels set in the Old West (The Six-Gun Tarot, and The Shotgun Arcana) and one other urban fantasy novel (Nightwise), which is actually where the character of Jimmy the Trucker first appeared in a minor role. Belcher said his editor enjoyed the character so much she wanted to see Jimmy get his own story.

Urban fantasy is a popular subgenre in fiction, usually defined by taking science fiction or fantasy elements and setting them in contemporary times and places. While the stories might have fantastical elements, they are meant to be grounded in a world the reader can relate to.   

The Knights Templar aren’t the only staple of urban legend to show up in the book. The so-called “White Lady” hitchhiker sets off a chain of events that draws Jimmy, an outlaw biker and a Louisiana state cop together into a mystery involving missing and murdered children, ritual sacrifices, and an ancient evil spirit preying on travelers.

One of the contemporary legends Belcher weaves into the narrative is the so-called “Black Eyed Kids,” sort of the Millennial version of the “Black Dog” legend – a sighting that often precedes suffering, woe and death.

In Brotherhood, the central conceit is that “civilization is only as good as the quality of its roads.” The Brotherhood protect the roads and the people who travel them from all threats.

“One of the signs the (Roman) empire was in decline is the roads started to break down and the roads became more dangerous …” he said. “And that was kind of the beginning of the end for civilization. And I think there’s something to that. … I also really like the idea that there’s someone in the back keeping an eye on that so we don’t lose that. And the brotherhood are the good guys.”

In addition to hardcover and e-books, Brotherhood of the Wheel and Nightwise are also available on