There would be blood.
Blood for Blood.
Blood to Pay.
An entire world of it.
The war may be over, but the fight has just begun. For the resistance in post-war Germany, blood must be paid with blood. For seventeen-year-old Yael and her unlikely comrades, there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.
But dark secrets reveal dark truths and one question hands over them all – how far can you go for the ones you love?
Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf duology completely blew me away. I know that Graudin isn’t the first to attempt an alternate history such as this, but for me, this series is like nothing I have ever experienced before in my reading life.
Graudin can really fucking write.
I know that’s a weird way to put it. But, even with my literature degree in hand, I find it difficult to describe exactly what it is about the way that Graudin constructs sentences that creeps so easily under my skin.
Because it really, really did.
I think part of it was that Graudin wrote trauma in a way that felt true to me. So often trauma, as with disability, is one of those things authors pick up and place aside as it’s convenient to them, as if PTSD is something a person can turn off when they want to be doing something pleasant, like going on a date with a hot guy. What was different, I think, with Graudin’s writing, is that she didn’t try and write Yael in a way that would feel comfortable to the reader. She didn’t shy away from the pain and destruction. Yael is a result of what she has been through, her trauma is permanently etched on her physical self. She’s a shapeshifter, created by Hitler’s regime, who has changed faces so many times she can no longer remember the face she was born with – she has literally lost herself. Her own face – which in fact is not her own – is a representation of what the Nazis have stolen from her.
Yael Reider is one of the most compelling characters I have ever read. Graudin writes her with such unflinching honesty, love and anger I had to take a short reading break after Blood for Blood because other characters just fell kind of flat for me after Yael.
If the first book was about Hitler’s regime and the complete devastation of the Jewish people, then in many ways, Blood for Blood was about everyone else. It is a book concerned with ignorance, and the horrors people will look away from in the name of their own convenience.
‘There was a part of Luka – one that grew larger with age – that knew these answers weren’t right… They were too glossy. Too simple. They did not fill the emptiness of the sand-scoured Saharan towns. They did not speak to the tangled skeletons of the Muscovy territories. They did not still the winds that sometimes slunk through the streets of Luka’s childhood, filling Hamburg with a smell that singed his insides, a smell his mother and teachers and neighbours all went out of their way to ignore.
Ignorance was not quite bliss, but it was easy.’
Graudin explores this through Luka Lowe and Felix Wolfe, who represent the spectrum of ignorance. Neither of them are evil as such, but they have lived lives of wilful ignorance, as afraid of putting themselves in danger as they are of confronting the truth. When it is finally revealed to them one, Luka, is changed forever. The other, Felix, covers his eyes and tells himself that it can’t be real.
Reading Felix Wolfe is a painful experience. There is a rich literary history of reading characters who exist in a moral chasm – from Lolita to books like The Walls Around Us – those people who are inexcusable but their authors will not allow us to dismiss. Though their every thought and action is wrong and leads to devastation, there are enough extenuating circumstances that we can’t give ourselves permission to view them as simply evil. There are plenty of characters like that in this book (it is about Nazis), but Felix is not one of them. In the character of Felix, Graudin asks us to confront those privileges that we wrap around ourselves as both comfort blanket and armour, both against others and against the truths we don’t want to see.
Blood for Blood is a book that asks you to feel everything. It forces you to question your assumptions and own ignorance as its characters do. It is a vital read.