Blood for Blood


Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Wolf by Wolf. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Blood for Blood was written by Ryan Graudin and first published in 2016. It is an alternate history story with science-fiction elements, set in a world where the Nazis won the Second World War and have spread out across most of Europe, Russia and Africa. The novel is the sequel to the excellent Wolf by Wolf (2015) and carries on exactly where this novel left off, so you really need to read them in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Yael’s mission failed in the worst possible way. The man she killed was not Hitler, but another skinshifter just like herself. Yet to the viewers watching the broadcast, it appeared that everything had gone to plan. The resistance began their battle against their oppressors, believing that the Nazi war machine had lost its head. Yet the National Socialists were as strong as ever and now hungry for revenge.

Barely escaping Tokyo with her life, Yael finds herself stranded in the wilds of Russia with Luka and Felix. Once allies, the three find their relationship strained. Felix is unable to trust Yael, not entirely believing that his sister is still alive and that the Resistance are not his enemy. Luka’s feelings are more conflicted. It is hard to accept that the racer he fell in love with was not Adele Wolfe, and harder still to accept that he might truly be in love with Yael.

Yael’s mission to topple Hitler from power seems to be doomed to fail, yet when she receives help from a very unexpected source she realises that they may have the tiniest chance. If they could only get the people of Germania to accept that their leaders are responsible for atrocities, perhaps they could gain enough support to fight back against the SS. However, to get evidence to prove this she will need to return to the place where her nightmare began…

Wolf by Wolf was one of my favourite novels of 2015. It was a powerful story that illustrated the horrors of the Nazi regime without ever being too gruesome or inappropriate for younger readers. Its story was dark and engaging, building a sense of urgency with each chapter until its devastating cliff-hanger. Because my feelings towards the first novel are so strong, I was a little disappointed by this sequel. It’s not that it’s a bad book (quite the opposite), but it’s just lacking something fundamental.

While Wolf by Wolf’s story was never really about the race, this theme did give it’s plot a strong focus. It moved Yael swiftly from location to location, tension increasing as more racers were disqualified and the promise of the Victor’s Ball grew ever closer. This is what Blood for Blood is lacking. Without the race to keep the plot going, it felt as though it took Graudin a lot longer to find her feet. The novel is still fast paced and exciting but it took around a hundred pages for the plot to really feel as though it was underway.

It was almost as though there wasn’t quite enough of Yael’s story remaining to fill a novel that just falls shy of 500 pages in length. The escape from Tokyo takes far longer than I would have expected, given that Yael seemed to have gotten away in the climax of Wolf by Wolf and after their thrilling escape from Hitler’s private plane, the story kind of stalls until they come into contact with the Russians. It’s not that the story is boring in this time – it still certainly had the power to keep my attention – but it wasn’t as compelling as Wolf by Wolf.

Yet Blood for Blood still carried the same themes and tone as Wolf by Wolf. As Yael travels, she sees towns strewn with the corpses of less worthy people, cleared for Lebensraum. The horror of the regime isn’t restricted to the concentration camps but is everywhere, just far enough away from the general populous to allow them to turn a blind eye to it. One of the novel’s most powerful moment comes as Luka realises this – that every National Socialist was vaguely aware of what was happening to the people that were not “pure”, but made the unconscious decision to blot it out so that they could live without guilt. It’s a terrifying commentary on human nature, made all the worse by the fact that it was true. Behind the rallies and propaganda, Hitler’s regime was built on the bones of those that he believed unworthy to be part of it.

The story last time around focused exclusively on Yael. It delved deeply into her past, showing her history as a Jewish child in a concentration camp while explaining the meaning behind each of her tattoos. As Yael’s back story has been virtually exhausted, this time around the third person narrative was split evenly between Yael, Luka and Felix. While I initially found this to be a little disorientating, as the story progressed, this allowed Graudin to explore the way that the National Socialists effected three people from very different walks of life.

This was handled most effectively in small “Portraits”, spaced throughout the novel, which showed how each of the protagonists spent a different event. Christmas Eve 1945 was a happy memory for Felix who spent it with his family – a homely time that commemorated their father’s return from the War. For Luka, it served as a memory of his father’s brutality – a maimed solider who believed that “coddling” his son wouldn’t make him into one of the Übermensch. For Yael, it was a time spent homeless and freezing, stealing food from farmers as she fled the horrors of the camp. This neatly represents the social divide in Germania between those who benefit from the regime to those who are deemed expendable.

While characterisation in this series was already very strong, this split viewpoint helped to further flesh out Felix and Luka’s characters. While it didn’t necessarily make me like them more (I spent most of the book cursing Felix’s name), it did help me to understand them better and question if I wouldn’t make the same choices if I was in their situation. Personally, this is my favourite type of characterisation. I don’t need to agree with a character’s motivation but I do need to understand why they behave the way they do. I think that this is Graudin’s biggest strength as a writer.

Blood for Blood ultimately does end on a powerful note, finishing the story in a way that wraps up all of its loose ends. It’s far neater than I was expecting, given that I was unsure how Yael could ever stand a chance at completing her mission, but I was certainly satisfied by it as a conclusion to the series. While I won’t spoil it for you here as it had some pretty neat twists, I will just warn that it’s not the happiest of endings. Graudin never portrays war in a positive light and not all of the main characters make it through the series unscathed, whether their injuries are physical or psychological. While I personally prefer this as it always feels more realistic, if you prefer your stories to have “happily ever afters” you might want to give this series a miss.

All in all, Blood for Blood was not as strong a story as Wolf by Wolf but it was still a satisfying conclusion for the series. It took a while to get moving, but contained some very strong characterisation and a dramatic climax. I will certainly read more of Graudin’s work in the future and look forward to seeing what she will turn her talents to next.

Blood for Blood can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from

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