Written by: Ryan Graudin
Published by: Little, Brown
Release date: October 20th 2015
Genres: Alternate History, Paranormal, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball.
Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has 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 victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin's brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?
To put it mildly, I reeeeeally haven’t clicked with Ryan Graudin’s books so far. However, people I trust kept telling me Wolf by Wolf was amazing, so I decided to give it a shot. And… I’m actually pretty glad I did.
Yael is the main character, and Wolf by Wolf does an amazing job at telling her story. She’s a very compelling character (who cannot shapeshift into a wolf like I thought she could; whoops, my bad! lol). She can shift her appearance to look like other people, however; and Yael’s mission in this book is to take the place of one Adele Wolfe. The book jumps back and forth between two time periods: the present, where Yael, as Adele, is racing to assassinate Hitler (literally, she’s competing in a race which she needs to win because Hitler will be at the Victor’s ball); and flashbacks to Yael’s time in, and escape from, a death camp, and her time in the resistance.
The events chronicled in Yael’s past are truly horrific, as is the state of the present world in general, in this book. But I thought Graudin handled those weighty subjects very well. The world in this book is pretty disturbing — understandable, given that the premise of this alternate-history is that Hitler won World War II. But the worldbuilding is undeniably well-done.
As for the plot itself… It felt a little drawn-out to me at times, because the race has a somewhat repetitive pattern to it. (And pacing-wise, the flashbacks did help to break up the repetition.) But overall I thought it was pretty good. Objectively, it was exciting — though the rules of the race state that racers aren’t allowed to sabotage or otherwise seek to slow each other down, they don’t exactly follow the rules… And the confrontation at the end was built up and executed very well. But during the bulk of the book, Yael’s quieter, more character-driven moments are what I found most compelling, personally.
The other characters in Wolf by Wolf — most notably Luka and Adele Wolfe’s brother, Felix — are okay in their own rights, but they didn’t interest me too terribly much. Yael really is the driving force of Wolf by Wolf, and that’s not a bad thing; but it would’ve been nice if I could’ve felt more connection with Luca and Felix. I think I was expecting there to be some romance between Luka and Yael (as she’s impersonating Adele, Luka’s former love interest), but there isn’t any real romance — which, in the end, I was glad for. That would’ve been… a bit complicated. And the race really isn’t the place for that kind of thing.
Finally, I want to touch on the writing a bit, because that was a big turn-off for me with other books of Graudin’s. In the past, I’ve gotten frustrated with the writing mostly due to abundant metaphors and turns of phrase that consistently struck me as odd and jarring. This is a personal-preference thing — those aspects of her writing just did not click with me. But, while the writing in Wolf by Wolf sometimes did jar me out of the story, it wasn’t nearly as much of an issue as it’s been in previous books. The far-reaching metaphors were few and far between, which made me super happy. There were still some odd phrasing quirks that, once I saw a pattern, I couldn’t stop being annoyed every time that pattern repeated itself; but it obviously wasn’t enough to make me stop reading. ;)
So, third time’s… almost a charm? There was still something that stopped me from connecting fully with Wolf by Wolf and with its characters, despite an exciting plot and compelling story. But I’m definitely planning to give the sequel a try when it comes out, because I enjoyed this book miles more than others by this author. Here’s hoping the positive trend continues!