“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.
Her story begins on a train.”
I’d always considered myself not such a fan of alternate history. Something always made my stomach a bit nervous when people toyed with real people in a book just like they would a fictional character straight from their mind. That being said, Wolf by Wolf actually made me a fan of an alternate history story. There was just enough fantasy slipped in to ease my mind out of established history and into Graudin’s new world.
I received Wolf by Wolf as part of my very first subscription box with Uppercase. (I also am receiving my first Owlcrate this month as well, so keep checking the blog for a side by side comparison.) I’m so thrilled that it was picked for this month’s book because, otherwise, the thought of reading an alternate history might have lessened my chances of picking it up on my own… Then, I really would have missed out. It also came at just the right time – day four of being stuck in bed, sick, with nothing to do. I devoured this book in under six hours.
This story is set in 1956, in a world where the Axis Powers actually won WWII. Each year, to celebrate their victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour – a treacherous motorcycle race from Berlin (now Germania) to Tokyo – with the victor receiving a ball in their honor attended by both Hirohito and Hitler.
Yael is a survivor of the death camps, one who hides the numbers on her wrist with a fresh tattoo of five wolves, four for the memories of people she has lost and one as a reminder. As a small child, she was the subject of an experiment that granted her the ability to skinshift, transform her appearance into that of any other female. It is with this skill that she becomes the resistance’s best hope. Yael uses her ability to skinshift into the Axis Tour’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe, in order to win the race, dance with Hitler, and be the one who murders him on live television.
The story switches between Yael’s present day fight to succeed and her struggle-filled past that tells the story of each wolf permanently etched on her arm. Keeping up appearances gets complicated for Yael as she races alongside Adele’s twin brother and her former fling, Luka. No amount of research has prepared her to slip into these relationships without arousing some suspicion. She has to balance her lies with certain degrees of truth if she hopes to make it to the finish line first.
Things I enjoyed:
Yael – She’s strong, resilient, and a true heroine. The stories from her past are what truly shape this character and how she thinks, feels, and acts. It was very easy to get lost in her mind and race right alongside her.
It’s not a love story – Too often good stories with strong female leads get side tracked by a love interest. This one does not. It reminds me more of the first Hunger Games book in the sense that “yes, male character, you’re charming and all, but there’s quite a bit of death and destruction happening right now, and a relationship doesn’t really take priority over my mission”.
Graudin’s writing style: Simply beautiful wording and imagery. It makes me want to scrap all of my current projects and start over, in hopes that one day I will be able to write with that level of showing-not-telling skill.
Things I didn’t enjoy:
There wasn’t anything I outright didn’t like about this book. It was well paced and interesting. I even enjoyed the alternate history, something I was originally wary of. I suppose if I have to pick something, it’s that I didn’t look at the back cover closely enough to realize this would be a series. At least it’s one that I will gladly wait for though.
This story is compelling, and it’s rare in my busy schedule anymore that I get to make my way through a book entirely in one sitting. While my review of the Uppercase box is forthcoming, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Uppercase bonus feature post its, as they really drove me forward to reach the next one as I read. The moment I finished, I started recommending it to friends. It’s definitely worth a read, and it has been one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve read recently.