Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf was written by Ryan Graudin and first published in 2015. It’s an alternative history novel with science fiction elements, set in a world in which Germany and Japan won World War II. The book is the first part of a planned duology, although at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Yael has spent a full year of training to fulfill one simple goal: Kill Hitler. Imprisoned in a concentration camp as a child, she soon found herself subjected to the torturous experiments of Dr Geyer – a man determined to find a way to turn a dark featured person into an Aryan. His experiment had one unforeseen side effect. It gave Yael the ability to skinshift – to change her physical appearance to resemble that of any human female. Using her newfound ability to escape, she found a home for herself within the resistance.

Now, she bares a tattoo of five wolves to hide her identification brand and help her to remember the five people that she has lost to get that far. Her skinshifting has brought new hope to the Resistance who plan to use it as a way to get close enough to assassinate the reclusive Fuhrer. Her one chance to do so comes in the form of the Axis Tour – a grueling motorcycle race between Germania and Tokyo.

Posing as Adele Wolfe – the only female victor of the race – Yael enters. She has no choice but to win, it’s her only hope to come close enough to Hitler to kill him on camera. However, her victory is not assured. The Axis Tour is notoriously dangerous and the other challengers will stop at nothing to disable their competition. Additional obstacles in the form of Adele’s former lover and her overprotective brother also add unexpected complications to Yael’s mission. She knows that she cannot afford to be discovered. The fate of the world rests on her victory…

To save you the trouble of skimming to the end of this review, I’m just going to say it now. This novel is amazing. As a general rule of thumb, alternative histories aren’t really my thing but Wolf by Wolf just had so much going for it. It was a thriller, it was dystopian, it had science fiction elements, it had an adrenalin-pumping motorcycle race, it had its factual basis in World War II, it had a light romance story. Really, there was something in this book to appeal to every taste. While the story was rather dark and had violent moments, it was never overly gory. It managed to express the horror of the Nazi regime without being too heavy for a young audience.

The story opened with Yael’s childhood journey to the concentration camp, evoking the claustrophobia and appalling conditions of the long train ride through the eyes of a child who had no understanding of what was going on. By looking through the filter of Yael’s innocence, somehow events seemed all the more horrifying – the fact that Yael was woefully ignorant of the genocide occurring around her while the reader is all too aware. From this point on, the novel just grew increasingly tense. With each passing chapter, the sense of urgency grows. Wolf by Wolf is a very effective “what if” story. It allows the reader to imagine how truly horrible the Nazi world would have been and thus really hammers home how urgent Yael’s mission truly is.

The story revolves around the motif of Yael’s tattoo; five wolves representing five important people in her life. As the tale unfolds, the reader is gradually told these stories and thus learns how Yael has been shaped by her circumstances. She is, at her core, a blank slate. Dr Geyer took away her identity and left her as an empty shell – capable of changing her features but unable to remember what she actually looked like to begin with. As her backstory is told, it becomes increasingly clear that Yael has been reborn through her experiences, building herself into the person she wants to be through the spirits of those that she’s loved and lost. It’s a very powerful metaphor that also serves to highlight the sheer absurdity of the Nazi “Übermensch”. In their attempt to make Yael Aryan they inadvertently give her the ability to assume the characteristics of any race, yet on the inside she is always the same.

There is very little that I can really criticise about this novel. Although I wasn’t initially sure that I would enjoy a four hundred page novel about a motorcycle race, I was really pleasantly surprised. It’s never really about the race itself, this device only really serves to progress the story and maintain the story’s tension. Really, it’s always focused on its end goal. The importance of Yael’s victory is always foremost in the story. It’s never about the race, only the impending assassination.

I suppose the only real point of contention for me was the style of the prose. This is purely down to personal taste but I just found it to be a little purple. While the dialogue could be beautiful (sometimes breath-taking), it just felt a little too flowery. There was a lot of repetition, a lot of long descriptive passages to describe things that were relatively straightforward. For me, the excessive use of metaphor sometimes had the reverse effect, making things that should have been dramatic just feel a little hammy.

I also feel as though I should take a little about the ending. I’ve said many times before that I don’t like cliffhangers (again, another personal gripe that I have). While the end of this story wasn’t as jarring as some of the others that I’ve reviewed, it still did not offer a great deal of resolution. Lots of plot threads, including the position of many major cast members, were left entirely up in the air. I really hope that these will be neatly tied off in the concluding volume.

Yet the characterisation within the story was excellent. I’ve already touched upon Yael’s personal development. She really was a superb character – so strong and driven. While she did sometimes make stupid mistakes, I really did get behind her and wanted her to succeed (and survive) her mission. Some of the best parts of the story were those that focused on her backstory, showing how she grew from a frightened girl in a concentration camp to a vital soldier in the resistance.

The secondary cast were also amazing. I spent a lot of the story trying to decide which potential love interest was best for Yael: Luka or Felix. Although there was no real love triangle in the story (Felix always believed that Yael was his sister and both boys always believed that she was really Adele), there was still a really strong connection between the three of them. Felix’s desperation to protect his family always shines through and Luka starts off the novel as an arrogant jerk but gains depth as his former relationship with Adele is revealed.

Even some of the minor racers show some fascinating development. While Yael initially judges them all based on the intelligence gathered by the resistance, she soon starts to discover that there are sides of people that are rarely observed by others. As the cracks in Katsuo’s bravado begin to show and Ryoko proves to be unexpectedly kind, the novel makes clear that you can’t sum up people in a sentence. Everyone has secrets and have the capacity to act in ways that initially seem out of characters.

Well, I think that just about covers everything. Despite the occasionally flower prose, Wolf by Wolf is an excellent novel and is one that I’d certainly recommend. Its plot is enthralling and its characters are well-rounded and thoroughly likable. The story made me want to read more of Graudin’s work and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this series concludes in the next book.

Wolf by Wolf can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. SarahClare
    Dec 10, 2015 @ 06:51:53

    I want to read this book so baaaad! Great post 🙂


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