Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.
When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.
My 9yo daughter is now a fluent reader but we still enjoying sharing a good book together at bedtime and with her favourite animal being a wolf we were both looking forward to The Wolf Wilder. We weren't disappointed, this is a book that deserves to become a classic. It is exciting, beautifully descriptive, witty and never patronises its young audience. Feo is a wonderful protagonist, socially awkward, self deprecating yet honourable, brave and able to inspire revolution. The villain, General Rakov isn't a pantomime baddie, he is a sadistic and a genuinely chilling character. Katherine Rundell doesn't shy away from describing brutality nor death but never becomes gratuitous instead creating a tense, often dark but ultimately a very hopeful tale. The wolves themselves are of course the real heart of the story, they are neither the fairytale big bad wolves nor anthropomorphic pets. Although they have a strong relationship with Feo, and to a lesser extent with her friend, Ilya, the reader is left in no doubt that she is a part of their pack rather than their owner.
Towards the end of the book Feo makes a stirring speech that in these troubled times feels more vital than ever, perhaps particularly so for children;
"But he's always been blind: he doesn't see the facts. The fact that there are more of us than there are of him. The fact that fire in your soul beats fire on the ground. The fact that love always beats fear."
I loved The Wolf Wilder but more importantly so did my daughter, in fact she has elevated it to the heady heights of her "best book ever!" I asked her what she particularly liked about it,
"I liked that the main character was a girl who was strong and brave, and even though she needed help from friends she wasn't weak. Her friends were amazed by what she could do. I don't want to read stories with girls always having to be the ones rescued but I don't want the boys being weak either. I like adventures where they work together. I also liked that the wolves were loyal but couldn't be controlled and were still wild. Also even though Rakov was really evil and did terrible things he inspired bravery in others. I think that's a really good message."
The Wolf Wilder is published in the UK by Bloomsbury