“Wolf by Wolf” by Ryan Graudin

Apologies if this review isn’t the most coherent — I’m not feeling at all well this morning, and I’m having to hunt longer than usual for the right words.

wolf by wolf

I picked up Wolf By Wolf based on nothing but its blurb, because I had a book token and it looked interesting. However, the blurb on the back of the book gives very little away, and unlike the one on Goodreads (which I didn’t see until I was already halfway through the book) doesn’t tell you much about the book.

Which is why this was completely not what I was expecting. From the blurb, I was expecting an alternate history about a world where Hitler won World War II, and a mission to try and bring him down. It sounded like it was going to be a fairly straightforward historical-style novel, exploring a ‘what if’. I had no inkling, when I began reading it, that there was going to be a motorcycle race dominating half the book, nor that there was any fantastical element, naemly Yael’s skinshifting. She can change her appearance at will because of experiments that were done on her — something I wasn’t expecting at all.

As a result, it took me quite a while to get into the novel, because I was thrown off balance by what seemed like a genre shift. Once I’d got past that, I found myself enjoying it and its characters, as well as the various questions raised by the plot: Yael’s search for a sense of self and identity when she no longer remembers what her own face looks like is fascinating.

However… well, I just wasn’t particularly won over by the race itself, even if it’s presented as a means to an end (if she wins the race, Yael will have the chance to get close enough to Hitler to kill him). I’m not big on competitions and the like — I don’t find them particularly engaging, and there are a lot of them in YA fiction these days. This one didn’t have anything much to capture my attention, because I’m not really into motorbikes or travelling or whatever. I found the scenes where they stopped at checkpoints more interesting than the racing itself, and was a lot more interested in the flashbacks to Yael’s past than what was happening in the present.

The characters’ motivations were complex enough for me to care what happened even while not being particularly invested in the race at face value, but it was an element to the book that was both unexpected, due to the blurb, and not entirely suited to me and my interests.

I did enjoy the book: it was well-written, with an interesting cast of characters, and it presented a fresh take on an idea that’s been explored plenty before (both the alt history idea, and the ‘kill Hitler’ idea). But it wasn’t the book I was expecting to read when I picked it up, and I still sort of wish it had been.

I’m torn about what to rate it (which is why I left the rating blank on Goodreads). I’m feeling generous, so I’ll give it four stars, but it nearly got three. I would blame the blurb for that: I think if I’d known what I was getting into, I would have found it a more enjoyable read, rather than confusing for the first half of the book.

Rating: ****

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