Title: Wolf by Wolf
Author: Ryan Graudin
Published: January 19, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy/YA
Her story begins on a train.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.
But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?
I was so, so excited to read this book because it had one of the most fascinating premises of any book I’ve ever read – a historical fiction novel exploring what a Hitler-controlled world would look like? Simultaneously terrifying and intriguing.
I actually walked into this book without knowing much about it – I didn’t even re-read the synopsis before beginning it, and seeing that I had first heard about this book months ago, there were some details that I had completely forgotten. Such as the fact that Yael was able to skinshift. I think this actually provided for an overall better reading experience for me, since I was constantly being surprised.
The packaging for Wolf By Wolf isn’t my favorite, but I still really like it – I think it’s very well done, and representative of the book itself. And honestly, judging the packaging of a book does very little to affect the rating it gets!
Ryan Graudin is an extremely lyrical, yet dynamic, writer. Her writing is absolutely gorgeous, and she utilizes tools like changing up typefaces and the font size of her words – however, it’s not done in a way that I found obnoxious (Shatter Me, I’m looking at you). However, it’s completely dynamic in the way that it grabbed my attention, and concisely weaved a nuanced, dangerous, and thrilling journey.
However, even though the book was technically fast paced, it didn’t always feel that way – which is both a good and bad thing. Graudin would spend time developing certain scenes, but since the rest of her book was so dynamic, it almost would frustrate me to have a ‘rest stop’ along the journey. However, this wasn’t a big deal for me, and I ended up loving a few of the slower scenes, too <spoiler> anything with Luka or Felix was sure to make me both frustrated and confused, though, HAHAH – I just need to know what Adele did <spoiler>.
Now, you all know how much I love complicated, well-written characters. And Wolf by Wolf definitely didn’t disappoint.
Starting off with Yael, I absolutely loved her character. I found her to be extremely smart and calculating (I really love it when characters actually think with their heads), as well as strong – the fact that she took all of her pain and channeled it into fighting for a cause was extremely admirable. During the flashbacks that occurred throughout Wolf by Wolf, my heart almost broke on her behalf – I really, really commend Graudin for, despite the fantasy elements in this book, painting such an accurate, dark picture of the Holocaust. Also, there’s the fact that she can literally skinshift. I thought that was the most fascinating thing to read about – especially since Graudin wrote it in such a plausible way (it didn’t sound ridiculous or too fictitious at all).
I also loved the fact that, although I, as a reader, was confused about the relationships Adele Wolfe had with Luka and her brother, Felix, Yael was just as confused – her files gave her no information on Adele’s past relationship with Luka, or the unfinished business she had with her brother, Felix. As a reader, I was able to navigate the waters along with Yael, and join her as she attempted to decipher Adele’s relationships with both boys.
More on Luka – I still have so many questions about him. Including, but not limited to: what really happened between him and Adele? What is he here for? Who even is he? I think it’s safe to say that, with the exception of Adele, I’m most intrigued by his character – I still haven’t quite made up my mind about him.
As for Felix, I loved the fact that he was the ‘wild card’ of the entire book, and that Yael wasn’t able to figure him out until she realized that he was just willing to do anything for her (aka Adele). Felix wasn’t a simple character, either – there was a lot of depth to his emotions, and his backstory (and, as a result, Yael’s backstory) that’s slowly revealed over time really gives us a lot of reasoning for his motives and for his actions.
There’s so much I still want to know about all the characters – especially Adele. So far, I’ve only heard other characters discussing her, and I want to be able to really get to know her myself.
From the moment I read Wolf by Wolf’s synopsis, I was hooked on its plot. An alternate history novel set in the World War II era, accompanied with some themes of fantasy, sounded completely up my alley. I’m not familiar with reading alternate history at all, but this book has set the bar for the genre extremely high.
At the beginning of this book, we’re left confused and with a lot of questions – how did Yael get the ability to skinshift? How did Hitler win World War II? How did the Axis Tour come about? But as the book progresses, the story slowly begins to come together through flashbacks and conversations about the past – there are rarely information dumps in Wolf by Wolf, but rather, the story slowly begins to piece itself together.
Wolf by Wolf’s plot was captivating and dynamic – similar to the Axis Tour itself, it was filled with twists and turns, surprises behind every corner, and heavy feelings of suspense and mystery.
I only really have a few criticisms:
- Do I really buy that Yael, (who admittedly is not like any other human being, but still not one with a skill set as specific as Adele Wolfe), would be able to match Adele’s ability as a racer, and not immediately fall behind all the world-class champions? Not really, honestly – I guess my point is that sometimes, things felt too easy.
- I wish that the conclusion had been a bit more fleshed out – I understand that it was fast-place to mimic how it would feel had I actually been there, but it was almost enough to confuse me.
- <spoiler> The scene where the racers got kidnapped by the Soviets didn’t really do much for me – I honestly didn’t see much of a point in it, unless it was meant to highlight how a certain racer managed to get ahead </spoiler>.
Overall, Wolf by Wolf is definitely one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year – I was lucky enough to receive Blood for Blood, its sequel, for my birthday, and I really can’t wait to read it.