Book: The Wolf Wilder
Author: Katherine Rundell
Genre: Junior Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy (?)
Published: 2015, Simon & Schuster Books
Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.
Let me start this review off by saying that I realize I’m not the target audience for this book – trust me, I know; I borrowed it from my library and had to venture into the junior section (semi-self-consciously) to pluck it off the shelf.
So if you’re looking for a (perhaps more fair) review of this book from the perspective of a 13 year old, you’ll want to stop here.
If you are, in fact, interested in hearing my 20 year old self talk about a book written primarily for humans about half my age, then read on friends.
With all these disclaimers flying around, you might be asking yourself, “Why did she read it in the first place?” – well, I don’t have an intricate answer for you.
The cover is pretty, okay?
Scratch that – both covers (US/UK) are pretty. And I’m not about to claim that I don’t judge books by their covers (I’m only human, after all).
Also, the concept is brilliant! Untaming wolves? Eccentric characters? Russia? Excess amounts of snow? Mother/daughter relationships? Wolves? Yes please! And there were sentences in this book that I would gladly write on my walls in permanent marker.
“People say we can’t do anything about the way the world is; they say it’s set in stone. I say it looks like stone, but it’s mostly paint and cardboard.”
The thing is though, a book ought to be more than a pretty cover, a few sentences, and a great concept. And that’s where my criticism begins.
It wasn’t well executed. *dodges tomatoes* The writing and plot was good every once in a while, but most of the time it was outright boring. The dialogue was written awkwardly. Plot holes abound. More than once, I closed the book and had to take a deep breath before continuing (at that point, I was too far in to DNF).
And the pacing was very weird – for the first 50 pages, nothing seemed to happen, and then most of the action takes place in a span of two chapters, and then it slows again. The end didn’t seem like it was going to actually happen. I had to check multiple times whether it was part of a series because I kept thinking it was going to end in a cliffhanger. Then it resolved itself in the last four pages??? I was so confused.
There was basically no character development. There were sparks of it in the beginning, but those were snuffed out as soon as the writing needed to focus on the plot. It was like you could only have one at a time – plot or character development, that is.
The antagonist was a cliché children’s book antagonist. Flat. Predictable. Seemingly single-minded in their mission to destroy the protagonist’s life. Blah, blah, blah.
As you can imagine, my expectations were greatly shattered. I felt like I had been baited by the blurb, and it simply failed to deliver.
But there were some redeeming qualities, which made me content enough to give this book three stars rather than two.
Ilya, while not well introduced nor well developed throughout the novel, was a beacon of light in a stock character-ridden book. Feo was portrayed as somewhat of a feral child, and Alexei was the picture of a young revolutionary. But Ilya was unexpected, and I really appreciated that.
I loved the treatment of the wolves, and Feo’s relationships with each of them. It was endearing, and not once did I feel like she was compromising their ‘wildness’ by befriending them (okay, maybe when they rode them…). It was nice to see human-animal relationships that were founded on mutual respect and a sense of equality.
Watching Feo learn to navigate the world was also very endearing, and the book had genuinely good themes overall. If I were 13, the lessons I’d take away from this book would be that children can create change as much as adults can; that being scared is natural, and bravery is a choice; that love earns loyalty where inciting fear will not; that people will surprise in you the best ways if you let them.
“You don’t have to do the things fear tells you to do; you just have to lend it an ear, lapushka. Don’t despise fear. The world is more complicated than that.”
So I’ll end this on a good note. Basically, this is a book wherein the ideas are good, the writing has potential, but it seems to give up on those things in favour of cliché (in the end, it tries to sell itself as a fairy tale).
I genuinely believe that if it had been given more love, it could have been a truly great book. As it is, it’s got moments of brilliant clarity, but those are mostly overwhelmed by the muddied bits that occur in between.
I also wanted to include this passage (it’s not really spoilery, but it does occur later in the book, so the implications of it could be considered spoilery I guess), just because I feel like it shows the potential that I feel the author could have nurtured into a better book:
“The girl would have been extraordinary whatever the weather. A blood-red cloak, freshly washed, flapped behind her. Her forearms, from elbow joint to wrist, were covered in scratches and bruises, but her eyes were gold. The set of her chin suggested she might have slain a dragon before breakfast. The look in her eyes suggested she might, in fact, have eaten it.
The boy sitting on the sled, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, had a look of determination you see not in habitual adventurers, but in people who have only recently discovered that they are brave. The young man stumping behind, wrapped in green velvet and fur, had covered most of his face. But the mouth could be seen below the hood, laughing.”
So what do you think about reading children’s books as an adult? And can anyone tell me what ‘lapushka’ really means? (I’ve googled it, but I don’t trust the websites I found)
Thanks for reading!