Book Review: “Wolf By Wolf” by Ryan Graudin

Accio Book!

Published by Little, Brown and Indigo

How do you confront human monstrosity? Could you look your enemy in the eye? Wolf By Wolf is a howling, powerful must read for 2015. This incredible alternate World War II history is a heart-stopping, world changing, truly unmissable second novel from The Walled City author, Ryan Graudin.

Meet 18-year-old Yael; Jew, child prisoner of war, experiment, escapee, young woman, shapeshifter, spy. She has stormed her way to the front of the pack to become one of my favourite protagonists of all time. In Germania, 1956, ten years after the Nazis won the war; she fights tooth and nail for survival against the most horrendous odds in a selfless, tireless bid to put a stop to tyranny. Graudin’s writing twists the outcome of historical events to create a devastating ‘what if?’ as Yael claws her way into the lead with one mission; to kill Hitler.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm… A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

Having survived experimentation during her incarceration at a concentration camp, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains the same is the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she’ll be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

Graudin is the Queen of immediate, powerful filmic writing. She throws you into the scene with a gamut of surround sound and sensation, opening with the racket of the train’s engines shrinking an already claustrophobic space into a nightmare of noise. Then there’s the rattle of your teeth and full body vibrations on a motorbikes seat, struggling onwards as desert storms whipping at your face. Add to this the antiseptic smell of human monstrosity jarred with the too close bodies that make up Yael’s childhood memories and Wolf By Wolf will steal your breath with each brilliant new scene.

The plot hurtles along with fury. However this doesn’t detract from the care and detail that goes into the setting, storytelling, and character building. Wolf By Wolf is a fierce furious battle cry of a book, with all the hardships, triumphs, loves and losses that come with it.

In a series of very effective flashbacks throughout the novel, we meet in turn each of the loves and losses of Yael’s young life. We meet her family, fellow POWs at the camp, and those that would train her to become an assassin, to her fellow racers. The scenes flow naturally and don’t stop the momentum of the story, but instead add to the sense of knowing Yael through the journey of her life. She emerges as a fully formed character, with her quirks and dislikes, flaws and skills. You will fall for her even as she questions herself and root for her to succeed.

Yael as Adele must also fool those closest to her along the way. Adele’s brother, Felix, and Luka, the poster child and former winner of the Reich. Luka has some connection to Adele that was not picked up in all of Yael’s research and the mystery of their past will have you hooked.

I was swept away by the subtle intricacies that hook each relationship together. The distrust-laced attraction that Luka holds for Adele, the fascination Yael has for him in return at the same time balancing finely with Felix’s care and concern. All along never forgetting her ultimate aim of tearing down the very man they race for.

Although this story could be straight alternate historical fiction, the shape shifting element is vital to the plot, and you are easily able to suspend disbelief as Graudin takes care to place in world reasons for her supernatural abilities. Graudin writes with a surgical blade the very horrors of experimentation and the scientific fascination that lacked any sense of humanity. But she doesn’t excuse the human failings which led to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Yael’s dawning shivering terrified fear as a young child is painful. And her own sense of self disgust at what she is forced to become is overwhelming.

But ultimately Wolf by Wolf is a story of fierce and determined hope. Hope to survive, hope to win, hope to make a better world. It is a triumph of writing and a must read for 2015. If you loved X Men First Class, Orphan Black, The Big Lie and The Book Thief, this is the book for you. 5 Lightning bolts for this incredible book.