Mixing fantasy elements into an alternative, what-if-Hitler-won historical setting, Graudin delivers a wildly oscillating tale.
It’s 1956: Germany and Japan have split the world (the isolationist U.S. is still sitting it out). An annual motorcycle race, a sort of peaceful war, with contestants from each of their empires is the biggest media moment of the year. For Yael, a Jewish camp escapee and survivor of horrific medical experimentation, the race is a chance to strike a blow for the resistance that has raised her. Her ability to “skinshift” means she can assume any female form, including that of Adele Wolfe, perfect Aryan and the only girl to previously compete. Graudin’s strange sentence constructions, clearly deliberate but grammatically idiosyncratic (“Smelled the stick of his blood”; “clinging to life and bright”), will distract some readers; others will overlook the cluttered writing and weak character development, particularly Yael’s, for those moments when pulse-pounding action takes over and propels the narrative forward with a rush. Lofty ideas about race and identity (helpfully detailed in the author’s note) and deep-seated personal anguish and self-examination compete with action-adventure tropes and even a bit of star-crossed romantic tension. This unevenness makes this novel less than the sum of its parts, although it’s still an intriguing read.
For those who stay in it through the finish, there is a promise of more to come; here’s hoping it’s better balanced. (Historical fiction/fantasy. 12-16)