“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.”
Read in October 2019
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Wolf by Wolf is the story of “ifs”, it can be labelled as a historical fiction taking place in an alternative history. France has been badly and directly touched by the Holocaust, some even collaborated with the Nazis, including the government. And with the current political situation here (far-right parties gaining more and more support) I often ask myself that question; ‘what if Hitler won World War II?’ The first time I thought about that was when I’ve watched an episode of the TV Show Misfits in which someone went back in time to kill Hitler, but he was stopped and lost his mobile phone, allowing Hitler to have enough information and technology to win the war. Well, here I am again, diving in a similar story, where historically basically nothing changed other than that the Axis power of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan won WWII. And it was spine-chilling.
Yael was deported at the Auschwitz death camp with her family as well as thousands of Jews, some were killed right away, others were sent to labour but Yael was selected to be experimented on as a human guinea pig. The doctor wanted to find a way to erase their physical attributes, attempting to alter their genes and making them look like Aryans, so he injected them products to make their skin, eyes and hair lighter. The experiment is even more successful than expected since Yael develops the ability to shape-shift and change her appearance to resemble any girl/woman (existing or not) she wants. One day she glimpses at the picture of a SS’s daughter and takes advantage of the situation, posing as her, to escape the camp.
“‘They’ll all be together again someday.’ Miriam’s voice crumbled. It was a promise both of them knew would never hold.”
When she escapes the camp, Yael is awfully young (around 7 years old if I remember correctly), and she has to fend for herself in the streets. The shape-shifting is useful, however not perfect, since she is not able to alter her gender, any wounds or the camp tattoos still carved into her forearm. She is sheltered by the resistance, covers her tattoos with five wolves representing her loved ones, and trains hard to finally be useful to the cause that saved her life, to fight against those who have taken everything from her. After ten years, finally, there is an opportunity and Yael has to be ready because she’ll have a key role in the resistance plan to end Hitler’s reign of terror.
But they have a major problem, after so many assassination attempts, the last one in date, from which he miraculously healed, was made by the resistance, Hitler is almost never present at public events anymore. Even when he is, those events are pre-recorded and they would not air on international TV if anything wrong happens. The resistance wants to be sure that if they manage to kill him, every single soul would know, starting a revolution from the people all over Germania. A quiet murder would not have the expected effect since it could be muffled or even worth, another Nazi could just take over. And one day, the perfect opportunity is presented to them.
“There would be no dressing up as a maid. No cyanide slipped into his crystal glass of mineral water. The Fuhrer’s death was to be a loud, screaming thing. A broadcast of blood over the Reichssender.”
Every year since the end of the war, to honour and commemorate the Great Victory, Adolph Hitler and Emperor Hirohito organize a motorcycle race held for teenagers. The Axis Tour is a three-week race link Germania and Japan and the winner brings glory to themselves as well as their country but also be allowed to attend the Victor’s ball in Tokyo, one of the only even still going live on TVs. And last year, Hitler even danced with the winner and only female racer, Adele Wolfe. Now Yael has to impersonate Adele for this year’s race and she must win, it’s her only chance to put a bullet through Hitler’s heart. Yael trains for one full year, she meticulously studies Adele’s life, she exercises in extreme conditions to master motorcycle and she is also trained ultimately to kill. However, Yael’s biggest challenge will not be to best the twenty other contestants and her deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele’s twin brother enters the race to protect her. Also, Luka who has a mysterious past linked to Adele from the previous race is watching her every move.
Even if the blurb was promising, I was kind of worried that the motorcycle race parts would bore me. I have honestly no interest in bikes or cars or engine races whatsoever. I actually found it kind of badass and I was constantly on the edge of my seat for the full three weeks of the race. The first place is lusted after and the competitors were so ruthless and bloodthirsty they made the race so much more dangerous for Yael, even more so because she impersonates a former victor. The book was fast-paced, the rhythm absolutely spot-on, and the writing was beautiful and poetic. The back and forth between ‘now’ and ‘then’ flowed seamlessly and it helped the pace.
“Yael had many faces. Many names. Many sets of papers. Because the chemicals the Angel of Death had crammed into Yael’s veins had changed her.”
Yael is strong and smart, she really thinks things through and doesn’t act irrationally like most YA heroines do, however, she struggles with her identity, sometimes she doesn’t even recognize herself. The fact that she can change her face and body at will and that she hasn’t impersonated herself since she escaped the death camp made her forget who she really is. After a year of training to be Adele, learning to reproduce her body language, the way she speaks, and so on. She fears she is losing herself and her humanity and her inner-struggles with it felt real and she grows so much throughout the book it was interesting to read. And even with all the atrocities, she has been through she manages to keep a heart and she is surprisingly soft.
“Adele didn’t beg. Her eyes were ice and slit. She stared past the gun, straight at Yael. ‘Who are you?’
Not What do you want? or What are you doing here?
Who are you? Who? Who? Who?
Why, of all questions, this one?”
I have a small complaint about the side characters, I quite couldn’t connect with Felix, Luka stayed kind of mysterious even though I can feel he have potential to be a great character, and the closer we got to the ending, the fonder I grew of him, and all the other side characters were not developed enough to have an actual personality and that’s a shame. I’ve seen better shorter contemporaries with better developed side characters and honestly, it made the book lack depth. Moreover, I’m still quite hesitant about the slow burn ‘romance’, it felt kind of weird to see Yael falling for a Nazi hero while pretending to be someone else, and I’m curious how it will be handled in the next instalment. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the fact that Yael could be better at the motorcycle in only 9 months of training than those who spend their whole life biking.
“‘She-wolf. An interesting choice.’
‘I didn’t choose it,’ she told him. ‘It chose me.’”
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?