ice wolves

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 |
I have, for the past several years, considered myself a dragon person. Not that I am personally a dragon (though I admit to entertaining thoughts about books as a hoard in place of gold), but that I will read practically any book that contains dragons. So along came this middle grade fantasy Ice Wolves by an author I already admired (Amie Kaufman), combining both shapeshifting dragons and wolves, and I knew it would be just my sort of comfort reading. And it was, along with fun, readable, and a solid start to a series with an interesting premise.

ice wolves by amie kaufman book cover
Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

Anders and Rayna are twins surviving on the streets of Holbard, the biggest city in Vallen. Holbard’s harbor is famous for being protected by magic, and so it has a diverse populace from all over the (fictional) world. Anders and Rayna steal to eat, run across the city’s rooftop meadows, and rely solely on one another – the only way of life they’ve ever known. As orphans of a dragon fire fight that destroyed part of the city when they were very young, they must make it on their own – coexisting with other street kids, but never joining them. When the city’s typical trial for twelve year olds to see if they can manage a wolf transformation upends their lives, Anders will have to step out of his more independent sister’s shadow, make his own way, make new friends, and concoct a daring rescue/escape plan.

Ice Wolves is an action-packed adventure with plucky orphans, a wolf school, mysteriously failing magics, secretive enemies, kidnappings, ice and fire fights, and scorch dragons and ice wolves. It’s definitely an electric mix, and the plot is fast-moving to match the subject matter. Anders is the focal point, and his frustrations and explorations introduce the reader to a world full of contradictions.

Anders himself is the typical unlikely hero who discovers something remarkable about himself, but cannot capitalize on it (and is the weakest link in his new environment). Meanwhile he’s trying, for the first time in his life, to be the twin with initiative and rescue his savvier sister. It’s a fairly standard setup for the middle grade fantasy genre, and I would not say it is groundbreaking…

EXCEPT, Kaufman’s writing is solid and the concept (dragon- and wolf-shifters at war!) is terrific. Ice Wolves will introduce young fans to a cool fantasy world based a bit on Norse history (marked by Holbard’s turf roofs, runic magic, and location far enough north that there’s plenty of snow). Kaufman also has Anders mull the moral quandaries of stealing to eat, saving and acknowledging society’s most vulnerable, his city’s class hierarchy, the divide between magical and regular humans, and misinformation campaigns spread by those in power. In addition, Anders and Rayna are brown, which challenges the white-as-default stereotype I read as a young fantasy fan (and which still pervades today). All while keeping the plot moving and including plot twists!

In all, Kaufman’s execution, world-building and attention to detail in Ice Wolves generate something out of the ordinary. The Elementals series is sure to make new fans of fantasy, dragons, and werewolves, and delight current ones.

Recommended for: fans of dragon books, those who like middle grade fantasy and science fiction along the lines of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy or the How to Train Your Dragon films, and anyone with a soft spot for shapeshifting and adventurous orphans.


Emma @ Miss Print said...

Oh these are fun comps. I'm going to make a note to keep this one in my back pocket to recommend to kids and tweens.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Aw, this sounds fun! I wasn't able to get into the other Amie Kaufman book I tried -- Illuminae? -- so I've been wanting to try her other stuff. (I am very Team Dragon btw.)

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