Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

“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.”
Wolf by Wolf takes place in 1956 and is a book set in an alternative history in which Hitler won the war. The story follows Yael, a girl with the unique gift, she can shape shift as a result of being experimented on in a death camp as a young child. She accepts a mission to compete in the annual Axis Tour: a motorcycle race across the continents but in order to do so, she must impersonate Adele Wolfe, last year’s only female winner. Armed with her ability and a mind filled with revenge, she sets out to win the race and ultimately, kill Hitler.

I was immediately drawn to this book as I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, however, I’ve never really read any alternative history. The premise was amazing, what would have happened if Hitler and the Nazis had won the war? What would become of the world and its people? Yael for me is one of my favourite characters. She is strong and clever and uses her tragic past and her reminding ability to achieve good. She doesn’t let anything get in the way of her goal, not even Adele’s twin brother, Felix and fellow competitor and former love interest, Luka.

The story switches between ‘then’ and ‘now.’ We learn of Yael’s past and all the people she lost along the way who are symbolised by the wolf tattoos on her arm, the only part of her appearance she can’t change.

The race itself has you on the edge of your seat. It is filled with obstacles and plot twists and moments that make you stare and whisper, “shit.” I love that Yael constantly has to be on guard and she isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done in order to win. The ending had me shocked but ten times more excited for the sequel.

Overall, I loved this book. My only criticism is that I wish the ending hadn’t of been so quick but it did make it all the more sudden. Read this book if you are a fan of historical fiction, especially with a twist and a love for action-packed journeys. If neither of those things grab your attention, read it for Yael.

I loved this book so much that I started and finished it in just a couple of hours. As soon as I was recommended it, I knew it was just my sort of thing – a WWII era setting but with a twist on what we know actually happened after the war and an amazing, badass girl for a protagonist with an interesting back story. 

The book begins with Yael’s experiences as a young girl, which allows you to be plunged into her world straight away. Graudin takes Josef Mengele, Hitler’s infamous Angel of Death, and creates from him the nightmare that will both haunt Yael’s dreams and will change her into the weapon for the resistance that she becomes. Obviously, there are so many books and films that portray the awful things that happened inside Auschwitz and other death and labour camps during WWII. However, I’ve never read or seen anything that focuses on a character inspired by one of Mengele’s victims, and although Yael’s story is fictional, it really did bring to mind the horrifying reality that real people actually went through the things that Yael experiences, to an extent. The “Then” chapters of the book, which focus on Yael’s past and her path to where she is in 1956, really are chilling and at times left me on the edge of my seat. 

I think many people who didn’t experience WWII first hand have been told the stories of how our lives could have been today if Hitler had won the war, and Wolf by Wolf plunges you straight into those imagined horrors. What I really love about this premise, besides how unique and fascinating it is, is how the horrors really are hidden at times. Yael, the main character, will be walking down the street and be stopped by some German officers. All seems fairly average, until they make some throwaway comments that truly set the scene:

“Stray bitches make good target practice. Almost as much as commies and Jews.” The soldier laughed and slapped the butt of his Mauser.

It was, in a way, parts like this that really topped the book off for me. 

Wolf by Wolf was definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year so far – everything about it from beginning to end was action packed and completely drew me in. The ending took a huge, unexpected twist, leaving everything in the balance. 

I honestly can’t think of anything I disliked about this book – the one “problem” I had with it was that I wished it could have been longer, and although there was a lot of back story in there, I definitely wouldn’t have complained if there had been more!