Wolf by Wolf #1. Author: Ryan Graudin.
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, 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 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 twin’s 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 bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission? (Goodreads summary)
Wolf by Wolf is an action-packed yet thoughtful alternate history, starring a Jewish girl now become a (metaphoric) Valkyrie as she rides across the country on a wolf of steel and memory bringing Hitler’s death.
I loved every minute.
Characters: Yael struggles to hold onto her identity, to accept her broken past and channel her constant fury and pain into her mission. She’s bitter, scarred, seen too much death from too young an age – but she still pulls back from killing, will even turn back to help an opponent in the most important race of her life. I think she’s the best example of a real ‘strong heroine’ I’ve seen in a while. / Most of the book is strict third person POV on Yael, but even the characters we don’t see much of are fleshed out in a few strokes of the pen, backstory and hidden depths hinted at even in a few pages.
Plot: Talk about fast paced and action packed in every sense of the word. Yael spends most of the book in a country-spanning motorcycle race, often at quite literal high speeds, and she has only the barest time to rest. But the motorcycle is the easy part. She’s trained for that. She can ride a bike, she can push her endurance, she can take a fall. The hard part is holding to her false identity in the face of her false brother’s suspicions. The hard part is bluffing past a boy she’s never seen before, but who’s seen her stolen face before, and had a tense past with. Yael spends the book pushing herself to physical limits even as she struggles to simultaneously hold on to who she really is and present a completely different face to her competitors.
Prose: The writing style is always important to me, because it affects the reading experience so much. And I know it’s a highly personal aspect – many people don’t like ‘purple prose’, or more poetical styles of writing. But I delight in well-turned metaphors and rich writing, and this book was gorgeous.
Sexual Content: Two kisses.
Language: 3 derogatory terms, 3 hell, 2 d*** // There was a good bit of swearing in other languages, no translation provided: the most common were verdammt (8) and scheisse (15)
Violence: Two girls fight hand-to-hand, then one is knocked out by a blow to the head. Character sees woman die of starvation. One boy punches another. Woman dies of illness. Girl attacks three men (kicking, punching) and knocks one out. Rider deliberately causes a motorcycle crash, leaving one rider on the ground (later finds out he’s badly injured but alive). Young character sees the bloody body of a child, with a doctor standing over it with a scapel. Character has a motorcycle crash; she’s bruised and scraped up. Character knocks a boy out with a pistol-blow to the temple. Gun fighting – some soldiers may have been hit. Bad motorcycle crash (partly intentional) that kills one character. Character point-blank shoots and kills a man.