Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Genre: Fiction, young adult, action, alternate history, why didn’t I read this perfection sooner!?!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: What if Hitler had won WWII and the Third Reich had taken over the world? This is exactly the question posed in Wolf by Wolf, all while following a Jewish skinshifter/Nazi experiment named Yael on her mission to win the annual Axis Tour — a motorcycle race from Germany to Japan. If she’s successful, Yael will earn an invite to the coveted Victor’s Ball where the resistance expects her to kill Adolf Hitler. Or you know, die trying. Same old, same old.
In all honesty, I didn’t think I would like Wolf by Wolf and I was hesitant to buy it until the praise started rolling in, because a book about a motorcycle race just didn’t seem like my thing. Oh how very wrong I was. I loved every second of this superbly written alternate history tale about a shapeshifter on a mission to kill Hitler.
Wolf by Wolf follows Yael, a former concentration camp survivor who through a series of Nazi experiments meant to make her more Aryan gains the ability to “skinshift.” Alongside members of the resistance, Yael plans to use this ability to take down the very regime who made her what she is. Unlike 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife, this situation is actually very ironic.
Taking place in an alternate version of 1956 in which Hitler was never defeated, readers follow the story’s heroine on a thrilling cross-continental motorcycle race known as the Axis Tour, an annual televised race for members of the Hitler Youth and the Great Japan Sincerity Association.
Her mission is simple: infiltrate the race as the only female victor Adele Wolfe, get an invite to the Victor’s Ball after winning the race and kill the reclusive Adolf Hitler, setting in motion an uprising code named Operation Valkyrie. Fun fact: Operation Valkyrie? Real thing.
So why does Yael need a Victor’s Ball invite to get close to the Führer? Due to 49 assassination attempts, Hitler has become a hermit, making a rare appearance at the party each year. That’s right, the genocidal dictator who in this alternate timeline won WWII, signed non aggression pacts with the Americas and occupies Europe, Africa and half of Asia (the other half was given to Germany’s for now ally Japan) is paranoid and living in constant fear of assassination. Shocking, I know.
Anyway, as if winning the race weren’t hard enough, Yael has to deal with the machinations of other racers, including former German victor Luka (who either wants to kiss her or kill her) and Japanese victor Tsuda (who definitely wants to kill her). Not to mention Adele’s brother Felix who may blow Yael’s cover, and most importantly, Yael’s own struggle to find herself. As you may imagine, it’s hard to find your own identity when you’re always pretending to be other people and you don’t remember your original face.
In addition to our main bad ass female protagonist, we also get a brief glimpse of the actual Adele Wolfe, a tough as nails lady who won last year’s Axis Tour by impersonating her twin brother. Adele is trying to win a second race in order to earn more acclaim and escape being placed into the Lebensborn, a breeding program where she would be forced to have extramarital relations with men to create more Aryan babies. Also a real SS-created initiative.
While we see more of Yael as Adele than actual Adele, I’d love to get more of the female Wolfe in the next and last book.
SIDE NOTE: I don’t know about everyone else, but I am loving this duology trend.
Aside from her strong characters and action-packed story full of all alternate history lessons, Graudin’s book is beautifully written, with the occasional flashes into Yael’s past being especially heartbreaking. To further immerse readers, she even peppers her dialogue with German curses — read: the most fun cursing. I’m especially partial to verdammt, scheisse, and dummkopf.
It’s been a while since I read a book that I couldn’t put down, but this is definitely one of those “stay up all night so you can find out what happens next” books. And given the implications of that absolutely insane twist ending the sequel will be much more of the same. Gewinnt!
- Interesting and fully realized alternate history tale
- Simultaneously exciting and heartbreaking
- Amazing characters each with their own fleshed out back stories
- Beautifully written, immensely quotable
- The implications of that twist!
- How can I possibly wait until November 1st? That twist was game changing! Game. Changing.
- “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.”
- “Red: the color of battle wounds and the Third Reich. Bitter, bright death.”
- “She was going to kill the Führer and spark the death of the Third Reich. She was going to cross the world and change it. Or die trying.”
- “His voice turned words into living, breathing things that snaked under skins, lit fires inside even the dullest minds. Many years ago … Before the war stretched its long shadow across the world – he’d spoken everywhere. …Letting his bright red words wash over a whole nation.”
- “The girl without a people. Without a face. The girl who was no one. Who could be everyone.”
- “Yael was fire and ice. Together. An impossible thing.”
- “Did it matter? One life. A drop in a vast, vast ocean of hundreds, thousands, millions. Yes, pounded the hollow of her heart. Yes, cried her wolves. It mattered. All of them mattered.”
- “This is how empires crumble. This is how tyrants fall. Like everyone else.”
Unfortunately, we have to wait until November to get the second half of the duology, Blood for Blood. For now though, there’s a prequel novella all about Adele and Luka titled Iron to Iron which came out at the beginning of the month. Thank you literary gods!