Blurb: Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds in this fast-paced novel from the author of The Walled City.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.
Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?
I was cautious when I first started the book, aware that sometimes authors or TV shows (Grimm, I’m looking at you) take the responsibility of evil in our human history and give humans a reason – in the TV show Grimm for instance, Hitler is a Wesen, a supernatural “evil” creature. It’s a dangerous path to take. Thankfully, despite the addition of skinshifting, Ryan Graudin stays well away from that.
Instead, she works infamous people of WW2 into the story, keeping true to who they were and changing things only around the needs of her core story. I was optimistic and amazed at the power of her writing in the first page of the book when she describes Yael’s journey to a concentration camp – filled with horror, but still sensitive and compassionate writing.
That is where we meet Yael and her mother – in a train car, with other prisoners. She is young, afraid and determined not to show it to the guards that terrorise the prisoners. That is a character trait that remains constant through the book – Yael will always hide behind a mask, and it may not always be because she’s skinshifted to someone else’s face. It’s Dr Mengele that selects her for his experiments to create the perfect Aryan. But, she hides from him the other ability the experiments give her – the ability to change her face.
The chapters of the book alternate between the past and present, while Yael is on the Axis Tour, racing towards victory and a chance to kill Hitler. We learn of her escape from the camp, her meeting with the resistance and the five people – and their deaths — that have shaped who she is. Those chapters take us up to the point she is selected for the mission to impersonate Adele Wolfe, a former winner of the race, that I think would have been friends with Yael in another life. She is headstrong, defiant of the social norms, and safely secreted away with the resistance while Yael races – I do hope we see her again.
On the race, Yael find herself surrounded by parts of Adele’s past that for all her research, she didn’t see coming – Felix, Adele’s twin who bribed someone to compete in the race to protect Adele. His fears of losing her to the race after the loss of their brother have overtaken him, while Adele, we learn, is the opposite – she lives life at full throttle, daring it to kill her almost. Luka is the quintessential bad boy that engenders some emotion in Yael she thought long buried. I have to admit, I am less interested in Luka and more in Felix – he is a far more complicated character, I think, than Luka and to be honest, this is one of those tropes I’d like to see avoided in the next book in this series.
The author writes Yael in almost a stream of consciousness style, which makes her … broken, almost. Fragile on the inside while her mask to the world is of someone else entirely. Don’t get me wrong, she hates Hitler, she’s angry and she wants vengeance… but there’s more to her than that, though I don’t think she realises that herself just yet. I guess that’s what the next book is for!
Yes, there is a cliffhanger, and it’s a good one! Nothing is as simple as just killing Hitler and for once, I ended a book with a cliffhanger satisfied. I will happily wait for the next one in the series.
Have you read this? What do you think of it?