The Wolf Wilder
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.
Katherine Rundell's newest novel, The Wolf Wilder, is simply stunning. It has the feel of a classic, but at the same time is fresh and completely original. The concept of wolf wilding in a children's book is so fantastic it is hard to believe that no one has attempted it before, but even if they had, it is safe to say only Rundell could execute the idea with such skill. If the book's tone was a temperature, it alternates between cold and warm, the love between Feo, the heroine, and her abducted mother is especially wonderful and heart-warming, but the fierce Russian army captain and even fiercer winter weather will chill the reader to the bone. When Feo describes the five types of cold, it is hard not to shiver along with her.
The book is full of wonderful and memorable characters, but none so much as Feo herself, and the wolves that she loves so deeply. With Feo, and her wolves, Rundell captures the wildness of childhood, and the bravery required to get through it.
This is both Rundell's darkest book yet, but paradoxically also her most hopeful, and, at least to this reviewer, her greatest achievement so far. The Wolf Wilder will greatly appeal to fans of her previous works, but also to fans of Phillip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson. This is a gift of a novel, one that can be opened and enjoyed again and again.