Review: ‘Ice Wolves’ by Amie Kaufman

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.

I read a lot of YA, but not a lot of middle grade fiction, which Ice Wolves is an example of. Still, I’m a fan of Amie Kaufman’s YA collaborations, so I decided to give this a go. And it was a lot of fun — I can see that it’s the sort of book I’d have loved when I was a teen. I mean, it has shape-changing dragons. And wolves. And a school where a boy learns to be a wolf (though he’s not that good at parts of it).

Of the twins, Anders is the follower. He’s clearly the introvert to Rayna’s extrovert, and after she is taken away from him, he struggles without her to take the lead and have his back. Watching him come out of his shell and make other friends is a delight. Still, he never forgets his devotion to his sister (in fact, his focus is a little single-minded at times). Rayna, on the other hand, isn’t in the story much; I had my doubts about her, but she won me over by the end of the book.

Bookworm loner Lisabet rapidly becomes Anders’s closest friend at the Ulfar Academy; she, Anders, and two other first years are put into a dorm together, in a way that is presumably designed to forge a bond between them and enable them to become a pack (in this context, a basic ice wolf military unit). Over time, he becomes friends with them all, as well as with a few other minor characters who we don’t see much of.

One of those minor characters, Jai, deserves a special mention. Jai is non-binary, and the book refers to them with a gender neutral pronoun without making a fuss. I loved that — I have a non-binary tween friend, and I squeed on their behalf, not gonna lie. I just wish Jai had been in the story more.

Another big diversity tick for the book is that Vallen is a trade town with a hugely multicultural population: Anders and Rayna are black, and I think Lisabet was white (honestly, I could only see her as Hermione, so I may be wrong there!). As with Jai, this was all accepted by the characters without a fuss. It was refreshing. (Also, check out the cover — hooray for the lack of whitewashing.)

That’s not to say that there’s no bigotry in the world of Ice Wolves — but instead of being based around skin colour or gender, it’s around the ice wolves vs scorch dragons dynamic. The ice wolves can’t see the dragons as other than selfish pyromaniac murderers, and Anders really struggles with this prejudice, even after his sister becomes one of them.

The story is easy to read and well-written; it has slower parts (a chunk of it is set in a school, meaning there are classes and research to deal with), but the pace does pick up towards the end.

Ice Wolves is a solid four stars for me, and I’ll be picking up the sequel when it comes out.

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2 Comments on “Review: ‘Ice Wolves’ by Amie Kaufman”

  1. […] voices from the past, speculative fiction is a great form for exploring other modes of being. Amie Kaufman’s Ice Wolves, reviewed by Cassandra, has a non-binary character, and the book ‘refers to them with a gender neutral pronoun without […]


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