The Wolf WilderThe Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
My rating: 5/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Her wolves, Feo thought, were a bunch of the most beautiful criminals.

yes yes a thousand times yes. THIS is the book i was waiting for as a chaser to Rooftoppers.

this is all just wild speculation, but Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms just feels like it was written before Rooftoppers and maybe only saw the light of day to tide rabid fans like me over while rundell was writing her next masterpiece. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a fine book, it just doesn’t read like it’s from the same creative period as the two bookending it. it doesn’t have the same sparkle of language or story; it feels … dusty. which made me nervous that Rooftoppers was one of those one-hit-wonder flashes of genius the author is never able to replicate. but then this book.

this book is even better than Rooftoppers.

i know.

bold statement.

Rooftoppers was all charm – a magical book with beautifully light prose, unforgettable characters, and a plot like a symphony – all rise and fall and elegance. but wolf wilder has bite. (chortle, chortle) it has the same kind of unconventional and bold heroine as Rooftoppers, the same killer prose, but it has much more depth. it’s dark and stark and sleek and less charming than fierce.

twelve-year-old feodora petrovna and her mother marina live in a secluded forest just outside of st. petersburg in 1917.* feo is a half-wild child who hasn’t seen many humans in her life. she and her mother work as wolf wilders – people who remind wolves how to be wolves when the aristocrats who have raised them from cubs to be pets grow tired of them, or when the wolves, crazed by captivity, became too dangerous to remain in the households.

Aristocrats in Russia believe that the killing of a wolf brings a unique kind of bad luck. It is not the glamorous kind of bad luck, not runaway trains and lost fortunes, but something dark and insidious. If you kill a wolf, they say, your life begins to disappear. Your child will come of age on the morning that war is declared. Your toenails will grow inward, and your teeth outward, and your gums will bleed in the night and stain your pillow red. So the wolf must not be shot, nor starved; instead, it is packed up like a parcel by nervous butlers and sent away to the wolf wilder.

feo and her mother are scarred from their dealings with wolves, as all wild, unpampered things in nature are scarred. they have the same kind of intense and enviable relationship as charles and sophie in Rooftoppers – one made up of mutual respect, loyalty and love, awe and appreciation.

Humans, on the whole, Feo could take or leave; there was only one person she loved properly, with the sort of fierce pride that gets people into trouble, or prison, or history books.

while marina is the very embodiment of protective maternal love

“…you will keep your hands off my daughter if you value their current position at the ends of your arms.”

Rakov snorted. “That is somewhat unfeminine.”

“Not at all. It seems profoundly feminine to me.”

besides the people who bring them discarded wolves, the wolves themselves make up the extent of their social circle. these are not pets, but companions, as “…wolves cannot be owned.” they can be tamed for a while and taught to do things that go against their wolf natures, but the wild will always come out eventually. there are three wolves feo considers to be special friends, named black, white, and gray. together, they constitute an unconventional pack – a sort-of family of wild equals who hunt and run together, but are not necessarily obedient. feo never treats them like pets – she always respects them as the wild and unpredictable creatures they are.

Feo did not go close – it is wisest not to interrupt wolves when they are eating, even if they are your best friends

when their home is burned and her mother imprisoned by general rakov, head of the tsar’s imperial army, feo and her wolves escape into the bitter cold where feo plots her mother’s rescue. over the course of the book, feo will meet more people than she has in her entire life; she will find friendship and community and experience all the benefits and hindrances of a human pack. however, she never compromises her fearless, wild, independent self, being all too familiar with what can happen to a noble creature in captivity.

“Society” wolves could always beg, hold out a paw, lie still. Often – it made Feo want to cry – they could dance on their hind legs, their faces blank.

there’s so much to this tiny little book, i can’t even begin to make a dent in the bucket of praise i have for it.

you can turn to any page in this book and encounter a piece of perfect prose, a startling description, a delicate turn of phrase. let’s test this hypothesis:

*Marina’s shoulders and back and hips were wide; she had muscles that were more commonly seen on men, or rather, Feo thought, on wolves. But her face, a visitor had once said, was built on the blueprint used for snow leopards, and for saints. “The look,” he had said, “is ‘goddess, modified.'” Feo had pretended, at the time, not to be proud.

* …any knocking at all was unusual. Nobody knocked: It was just her and her mother and the wolves. Wolves do not knock. If they want to come in, they come in through the window, whether is it open or not.

*“I sleep with a dictionary under my pillow, sometimes. Just to remind me that there are more words in the world than ‘Come here, boy.'”

that’s how a hypothesis grows up to be a fact.

the only thing i didn’t love with all my heart was rakov, who was just a little TOO villainy for me. it’s not that i require a whole lot of nuance in my antagonists when i’m reading middle grade, but for a book that was so admirably restrained and subtle in so many other ways, having a cackly mustache-twirling villain didn’t blend well, tonally.

but it’s one of those “imperfections,” like the scars on marina’s face, that makes everything around it even more beautiful. the characters are remarkable, the story original, the setting beautifully and very visually described, and there’s some really fine subtext going on here that makes my heart sing. there are also some solid life lessons, but they’re gracefully woven into the plot instead of jazzhanded at you.

i really loved this book. i read it in two giant gulps, completely immersed in its world and characters. for those of you with feelings – parts of this book might require kleenex, but it’s not a bleak story overall.

just stunning. i’m nothing but swoon.

* book just says a hundred years ago, but i’m timing this by the february revolution, so.


i’ll write a real review as soon as i can, but right now i just want to celebrate the fact that this book is just as good as (possibly better) than Rooftoppers, and that the mediocre Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms was a fluke and katherine rundell is the real deal.

also, this book is physically gorgeous.


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full review to come.

read my reviews on goodreads

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