Wolf by Wolf #1 by Ryan Graudin (Orion)

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.Her story begins on a train.

Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 18-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.

But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it.

Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael’s mission won’t be easy. .

Wolf by Wolf has been a novel that I’ve heard a lot about since its release last November and when I finally had the chance to read it, I was quickly taken aback by just how good and original it is. It’s an alternate history young adult novel that can be described as a mix between The Man in the High Castle, Inglourious Basterds and oddly, Mad Max: Fury Road, with the main action sequences taking place over the course of one long race. The book is set in a dark future where Hitler, the Germans and the Japanese won World War 2 and it’s been over 10 years since it ended. Yael, who has gained the ability to change her appearance at will in the aftermath of dark twisted experiments at Auschwitz, finds herself with one goal in mind, killing Hitler.

However, killing the leader of the Third Reich is never an easy challenge but she might have a shot at doing so, by completing the legendary Axis Tour, a long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo that weeds out the strongest and the smartest from the weak and the poor. The winner gets an audience at close quarters with the Fuhrer, and if he gets killed on screen whilst the whole world is watching, then history could change forever. To make things more complicated, Yael has to undergo a transformation into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and previous winner of the Axis Tour, and with her character comes problems of her own.

There was so much to love about Wolf by Wolf. It’s rare that you see alternate history tackled in young adult fiction and even rarely as good as Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf. The premise is the biggest draw and it delivers admirably, plunging readers into a very quick novel that doesn’t hold anything back in regards to the pace, it’s virtually nonstop. And it’s not just the action that Graudin excels at, it’s the character development and storytelling. Yael is an extremely well developed character and her complexity is fully realised in this novel, instantly striking a cord as a memorable protagonist who has to deal with her own problems when she’s trying to fit into Adele Wolfe’s life. What happens when her brother asks her questions about events that she should remember but because she’s not Adele she doesn’t? The suspense is there throughout the book, and whilst due to the subject matter may be difficult to read in places, is effective enough to work.

Wolf by Wolf is one of the most original things to come out of the young adult genre in ages and I haven’t read anything else like it in a while, and only really The Man In The High Castle and Inglourious Basterds (both of which are seriously worth watching – I haven’t read TMITHC novel – by the way, if you haven’t already) come anywhere close in the subject matter. Sure, there’s probably more out there like this but I haven’t stumbled across it yet. The fast pace, the fascinating uniqueness of the insane premise, Wolf by Wolf is a novel that makes me regret making my best of 2015 list so soon because this would have been on there for sure.

As far as I’m concerned, this book alone makes Ryan Graudin a must read author for me and Wolf by Wolf is pretty much essential reading in the young adult genre. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is indeed a sequel to this novel, and you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be reading it as soon as it comes out, or as close to the release date as possible.

VERDICT: 9.5/10

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