Katherine Rundell restored my faith in middle grade whimsy with her much-lauded Rooftoppers, so I was very excited to check out this wintry tale of a girl who helps the pet wolves of Russian aristocracy adjust to a wild, wolfish life.
Feo and her mother are wolf wilders, humans who take in pet wolves abandoned by their wealthy owners for being too wolfish and reintroduce them to the wild. But not everyone approves of their lifestyle, including sadistic General Rakov, who burns their house and takes her mother prisoner. Suddenly Feo, who prefers the company of wolves to people, must learn to trust strangers and make new friends in order to save her mother and the wolves she loves.
This is a great story to cozy up with on a wintry day. It opens and closes with very fairytale-like language, but is set in recognizably Tsarist Russia. There are mentions of the army, communism, but the historical detail is hazy and more suggestive of time and place than fact. The fairytale feel is heightened by Rundell’s unexpected and lovely turns of phrase, one of the things that drew me to her first novel, Rooftoppers.
Rundell subverts stereotypes, creating a aggressive, fierce, action-oriented heroine in Feo and a gentle, kindhearted soldier who’s secret dream is to be a ballet dancer in her unlikely companion, Ilya. This is very much a child empowerment story, where the revolution is stalled until a group of scrappy but savvy children take up matters into their own hands. The group dynamic is sometimes overwhelming with too many voices, but ultimately their zeal is charming and their triumph is satisfying.
Wolf Wilder is available now from Simon & Schuster Books for Your Readers.