Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Publishing Date: August 25
Genre: middle grade, historical fiction
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.
Feo and her mother are frequently given domesticated wolves from elite Russian households, wolves that dissatisfy the rich and need to be sent back to the wild. But one particular officer in the Imperial Army has a better idea: shoot them all, and shoot the wilders while he’s at it. Feo’s mother is taken captive, and it takes Feo, her three wilded but loyal wolves, an ex-Imperial Army soldier, and village children to storm into St. Petersburg in the middle of a terrible Russian blizzard to free Feo’s mother.
I was under the impression this would be a more solitary kind of novel — just Feo and her wolves, fending for themselves in snowy Russia. A rescue mission would be included, too, of course, but to be honest I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen. Rundell surprised me: Feo is not alone. Feo is never alone. She’s a fiercely independent character, wild in her own way, but she does need help of “civilized” people in order to storm into a prison in St. Petersburg. The people she meets understand her on a completely different level, and it truly does have something to do with her wolves. Rundell has a way of expressing the deep emotional connections humans have with animals — be they wild or domesticated — and it shows throughout the novel.
One of the helpers is Ilya, an incredibly young boy in the Imperial Army who’s assigned to watch Feo and her mother before the capture. At first I couldn’t help but notice just how wrong it was that he was a soldier. First, he’s too young, and second, he seemed like a dreamer. As if he didn’t pay attention in training, or something. He didn’t even have the most basic survival skills — making a compass, for one thing — on hand, and relied on Feo and her wolves. But after he gushed about ballet, I knew. And it made my heart soar. So happy to see a young boy in a middle grade book desire to become a ballet dancer!
Finally, the wolves are more than animals in the book. Black, White, and Gray had very distinct personalities. They’re characters too. And when you get to that scene — you’ll know which one — holla atcho gurl and we can commiserate together.
There were moments when the novel started to read a bit more like a Russian Winter Wilderness Survival Guide, which knocked it down half a star. But apart from that, it was incredibly enjoyable. I’ve said before I wanted to read stories set in Russia, and this certainly fit the bill. Rundell once again delivers a fantastic read.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from SSBFYR for review!