Friday, 1 January 2016

'The Wolf Wilder', by Katherine Rundell

Title: The Wolf Wilder
Author(s): Katherine Rundell,
Release Date: 9th September 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Middle Grade
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

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I usually don't read Middle Grade books but have been meaning to give them a try for quite some time now. This has been receiving such great reviews since its release that I thought it would make for a great entry point into the genre.

The first thing that caught my attention about it was the setting. It was immediately appealing that this book takes place in Soviet Russia. Now, my memories of history throughout this period is a bit murky since my high-school days, but I believe this is set close to the Russian Revolution, as there are mentions to Lenin's exile and Marx's works. I can't remember having read even a YA placed in this time period, so going into a MG that approached it was very curious.

The plot itself presented an original concept. Our main character, Feo, is a Wolf Wilder, like her mother. The aristocrats living in the city keep wolves as pets and to show their social standing, as having a wild beast in their homes performing tricks and eating off the palms of their hands is proof of their power and wealth. There is a whole business surrounding this practice, with hunters snatching away cubs from the woods, and the animals never get to know the wilderness. However, the wild is not taken away from them completely, and once they eventually turn on their masters, they are abandoned and given to the Wolf Wilders, who make them ready to return to a life of freedom.

This aspect of society is explained in the beginning of the book, and I thought it was brilliant. The idea of it seemed like a good starting point for almost a dystopic setting, but it was barely ever mentioned again. I craved to know more about this world and what had started this whole practice, but no more information is given. The story shifts away to Feo and her mother, and while I enjoyed reading about them, it ended up feeling like the idea of the aristocrats keeping wolves and growing tired of them was only put into the story to justify Feo having wolves that are somewhat tame and therefore able to help her through several problems in her journey.

As I read on, even if I was still disappointed over the lack of development of this aspect, seeing this historical period through the eyes of children was immensely interesting. The simplicity of a child's mind can be the best looking glass into the world in front of us, and there were several passages in this book that really present a perspective that an adult would most likely never have. Considering the target age group of this book, I believe it will give them plenty of important lessons, like the value of family, love, and of fighting for what you believe in.

If you are considering giving this book to your child or another younger family member/acquaintance, I would recommend giving it a read first to decide if it will be appropriate for them (it is a very quick read, so it would not take you long). There are quite a few violent/bloody moments in it, and since it also deals with death, it would come down to the maturity level of the child if they will be okay with reading it.

I can't finish this review without mentioning the beautiful illustrations. They are all in black in white but the amount of detail to them is astounding. There is always a scene of each chapter shown at the header of its first page, and there are quite a lot of small drawings along the edges throughout the book, like snowflakes or paw prints. This really helped with setting the mood for the story, and I felt like a child again every time I turned a page and I had a little treat waiting for me to see.

This is a beautiful story about the love between a child and her mother, and how not even a country in turmoil can come between them. Even though I expected more of the original concept to be developed, this is still a cozy, sit-by-the-fire Winter read!

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