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Her story begins on a train.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their combined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move.
But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?Series: Wolf by Wolf (Book 1)
Genre: YA Alternative History
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (October 4, 2016)
Page Count: 416 pages
I'd seen this book scattered across the internet for years, but never got around to reading it until I won it at a giveaway on Sara Letourneau's blog! Now this has become one of my favorite YA books. ^ ^
The Plot: When I started reading this book, I immediately thought of the Man in the High Castle, which is also another alternate history centering around World War II, but I really like this YA take on that "What if?" with a little sci-fi twist. It's really fun that the book switches between two different time periods. You get Yael's backstory smoothly throughout the story. I love how the author put the flashbacks when it was most appropriate for the current story. The plot held me to the end and had a very unexpected ending. I was left surprised and hungry for more.
The Characters: I really really love Yael as a main character. She has to be one of my favorite female protagonists now. She has such a fascinating background and I love her uncompromising ideals. She's strong and determined and she's definitely a young woman girls can look up to. I love that she can speak so many different languages and her shifting power is so cool. I love that the author made sure to remind us that the shifted body she was in wasn't hers. It was so artfully done.
I liked the side characters as well like Felix, Henryka, Luka, and Reiniger. Each of them were so complex and I bonded with each of them. Also one of the antagonists Doctor Geyer is a freak. I'll leave it at that.
The Setting: The setting is the world under Axis control. Because of the motorcycle race the characters travel all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. It's really fun to see all of the different settings and all of them are described so vividly. I love mentioning all of the different meals in the countries. They made me even taste the settings like mentioning chickpeas in Iraq, curry in India, and udon in Japan. We're also reminded of the time period through the old technology. One of my favorite parts is when Yael goes through India during the Holi celebration with colored powder, then watches it on the television later and the black and white screen makes the holi dust look like ash.
Epic Things: There are so many epic things! Skinshifting, a ball with kimonos, valkyries, wolf symbolism, origami, yummy food, and matryoshka dolls are just a peek. ^ ^
The Theme: There are so many good themes in this story like the matryoshka dolls symbolizing a person within a person, how people are not just one layer, especially not what they are on the outside all the time. Another one is that all lives matter. Yael really believes that firmlyand I love that about her. Another big one is facing her fears. Reiniger has Yael stare at her concentration camp so she can face what fear cripples her the most. I found that really deep.
"Because I woke up one morning and realized I'd become a man who wouldn't walk into rooms with mirrors. Who wouldn't use polished spoons or look through windows at night, when I might see myself staring back. By pretending the pain was not there, I had let it root. I'd given it power over me. I decided I couldn't be afraid of my own life. My own reflection. So every morning I may myself look in a mirror five minutes. Face it all." ~ Reiniger from Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Content Cautions: The content is refreshingly light in this book compared to the other ones I've been reading lately. There is some profanity with three uses of ba****d (in reference to Hitler which I think he deserves personally), two usages of d***, one usage of bullsh**, one of a**, and one of bi***. Any other swears are in German including scheisse and verdammt. There is some violence, but nothing too graphic and mention of a possible sexual relationship.
What We Can Take Away For Our Writing:
1.) Flashbacks - I really enjoyed how Graudin wrote the flashbacks in this story. She positioned them throughout in a way that flowed with the story instead of jolting the reader out for a long period then jerking them back in. If you want to know how to do a good flashback then this is great story to look at.
How this can be applied to writing: Flashbacks can be a great literary tool, sometimes a scene needs more than just a small mentioning. It needs a full immersion. Well-placed flashbacks can really emotionally attach a reader to a character.
2.) Using Omniscience - At the end of the story, the writer uses the omniscient point of view to show the spread of hope throughout countries. Normally I'm not a fan of the omniscient point of view, but it gave a nice ending movie-like effect.
How this can be applied to writing: Have you thought of using omniscient point of view briefly in your story?
3.) Using Bold - Graudin highlight's Yael's instinct in bold and caps which gives an interesting effect. I've never seen an author do this before, but it did make fight scenes especially intriguing.
How this can be applied to writing: Have you considered giving your characters' instinct a voice?
Conclusion: I really enjoyed this story and I'll definitely be reading the other half of this duology. Five stars!
Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, South Carolina, with a severe case of wanderlust. When she’s not traveling, she’s busy writing and spending time with her husband and wolf dog. She is the author of Invictus, the Wolf By Wolf duology, The Walled City, and the All That Glows Series.