10:00 am EST, October 20, 2015

‘Wolf by Wolf’ book review: An adventurous alternate history

What would have happened if Hitler and Nazi Germany had won World War II? Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin, author of The Walled City, explores just that.

Wolf by Wolf cover

In an alternate timeline, it’s 1956 and Hitler’s Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. In celebration of the Axis powers’ victory over the Allies (mainly Great Britain) and Russia (who the Axis powers turned against), Hitler and the Emperor of Japan put on an annual motorcycle race from Germany to Japan. This race is a symbol for the new order’s strength and right to rule the world. The victor has an extravagant ball thrown in their honor with both leaders in attendance.

Yael has experienced more than her share of loss. She has a tattoo of wolves on her arm to prove it: one wolf for every important person in her life who has died. It’s her losses and moral compass that motivate her to enter the race so she can win and kill Hitler.

When she was younger, Yael survived painful experiments in a death camp. Experiments that gave her the power to skinshift and become anyone. Using her special ability, Yael must enter the race by impersonating last year’s victor, Adele Wolf. The fate of the world rests on Yael’s shoulders and her ability to complete her mission.

‘Wolf by Wolf’ book review

Wolf by Wolf is easily one of the best books of 2015. A little bit Code Name Verity, a little bit Inglorious Basterds, and a little bit Hunger Games (with a dash of Captain America: The First Avenger thrown in for the “weird science during historical events” aspect), this novel is hard to resist.

The setting itself is enough to intrigue any reader. World War II could have so easily been won by the Axis powers, making this novel an interesting look into one of the most fascinating “what if?” situations. The circumstances around the Third Reich ruling the world feel so organic rather than outlandish or inconceivable. Graudin’s skillful writing makes every part of this alternate universe plausible. The only pitfall to Graudin’s new universe is that the book doesn’t spend nearly enough time exploring it and its many complications and intricacies.

Though the world itself is intriguing, Yael is even more so. Her character is fascinating in that she’s a physical embodiment of the idea of the Third Reich’s goal of stripping the Jewish community of their identity. Because she’s forced into a death camp and into these experimental procedures at such a young age, she’s barely able to cling to any sort of cultural identity or traditions as a grown woman. They’ve all been taken away from her in the process of making her (literally) an everywoman. Yael can become whoever she wants and yet struggles with her true identity.

The one major drawback of having Yael be such a blank canvas is that there’s very little Jewish culture within this novel. There are moments within flashbacks that make the novel culturally rich, but, for the most part, the emphasis is on the culture of the victimizers rather than the victims. While fascinating, it would’ve been nice to have seen a little more of Yael exploring her culture as she struggles with who she is.

The context of the race is reminiscent of The Hunger Games in that there are racers from across the empire (Germans and Japanese) competing for the top honor and the glory that goes along with it. While they aren’t forced to race like in The Hunger Games, there’s this air of, “We do this to enforce the power of the Reich.” However, it’s not the race itself that’s interesting (as they’re all racing through abandoned areas); it’s the racers and their relationships with one another.

Graudin perfectly captures the struggle between doing what you believe is right and doing what you believe will help you win. The majority of the characters reflect this dichotomy at some point or another and their choices are what color their personalities and developments. All of the characters, main and secondary, are so wonderfully nuanced that it’s impossible not to want to know more about them.

Speaking of wanting more, I had no idea that Wolf by Wolf was the first novel of a new series until I had almost finished it. While I won’t give anything away about Wolf by Wolf or any indication on if the sequel will be about the same characters, I will say that you’ll want the sequel immediately upon finishing this one.

Fans of action, adventure, historical fiction, alternate histories, and strong female protagonists will love Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf. It’s an engrossing read that will have you hooked from beginning to end and is a must-read for any YA fiction fan.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin is available today from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Oh, and don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

Will you be picking up a copy of ‘Wolf by Wolf’?

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