“Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a dark and stormy girl.”
Firstly I Think this book should be being talked or thought about as a book for sharing in our classrooms. It is an absolutely thrilling piece that at turns plays with and shocks the reader and ultimately becomes the fairytale that the opening sentence alludes to.
The story is set against the background of the yet to happen Russian Revolution and the seeds and shoots of rebellion weave their way through the book ultimately driving the narrative. The fact that children are very much the agents of change in this story ensures it has at it’s core an innocence. The picture drawn is of a society very much of have and have nots, with the have nots beaten down and oppressed. Feodora Petrovich and her mother Marina live in the Russian wilderness, not too far from St Petersburg. Though they’re the only humans for miles, they’re hardly alone – not exactly. The Petrovich family has been “wilding wolves” for centuries – since the days of Peter the Great, in fact.
Wolf wilding is the exactly that : training tamed wolves (though evidently that is not truly possible) to survive in the wild, without any human interference. Feo and Marina take in wolves who were kidnapped as pups, sold as pets, and subsequently became “dangerous” or “nuisance” animals as they aged. Many of “their” wolves left with a piece of their former owners, literally: fingers, ears, noses.
This life is broken by General Rakov who as the antagonist very much acts as the catalyst for the rest of the story. He imprisons Marina and is hellbent on killing the wolves. The story then settles into becoming a quest as our heroine aided and abetted by motley band in the form of Black, White, and Gray, her adopted wolf family, Ilya, an unwilling child soldier gone AWOL and Alexei , a fifteen-year-old agitator from a nearby village set about freeing Marina from prison before she is executed.
The real strength of the book is down to Feodora. Feo is a fantastic character – feisty and determined like all the best heroines. She’s part wild herself, and more than a bit wolf. She is more than a little rough around the edges, not at all sure how she should talk to people – but she wins others over through courage, loyalty and her unwavering moral compass. This is a girl who just does not give up. Her relationship with Ilya is the core of the book and the growing fraternal love between them becomes the rock on which the story is built.
What really works for me is Rundell’s wonderful use of language (words are not ever wasted) and her ability to tip the story between harsh brutal reality and wild fantasy fairy tale without the story ever missing a beat. The entrance to St Petersburg made me want to stand up and cheer, whilst the language of Ilya’s dancing was truly balletic.
There are moments of pure wonder in this book, bits that made my hair stand on end and bits that had me reaching for the tissues.
The Wolf Wilder is a powerful, magical, heartfelt fairy tale. Combining break-neck action with wonderful literary description, the writing grabs like a wolf might and never let’s go.
As a final note the illustrations by Gelrev Ongbico are phenomenal and really add to the text.
There are moments of brutality and violence which for me would place it firmly for Year 5/6 pupils.
Themes:- right and wrong, freedom, family, strength, bravery, sacrifice, rebellion and rewilding
I have included Bloomsbury’s teacher notes here