Today, Entertainment Weekly posted an excerpt of the first few chapters of Ryan Graudin’s BLOOD FOR BLOOD, the sequel to the awesome WOLF BY WOLF. So I thought the time might finally be right to talk about the first book and discuss the cliffhanger ending.
Spoilers are below.
First of all, let me just say that I loved WOLF BY WOLF. For anyone who missed it, this an alternative history narrative (sort of The Man In the High Castle for the YA set) that follows a young Jewish girl named Yael through WWI-era Nazi Germany. After being subjected to Mengele-type bio experimentation, Yael becomes a shapeshifter able to walk out of her concentration camp by assuming the form of the commandant’s daughter. She’s taken in by the underground resistance who realize they can use Yael’s gift to complete their ultimate mission – the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Their plan involves getting Yael to assume the form of Adele Wolf, a famed motorcycle rider, and win the Axis Tour, a race from Berlin to Cairo.
WOLF BY WOLF is so thrilling and the pacing is excellent. It takes off and pauses for just a few minutes here and there to let the let the reader catch a breath. I am such a huge fan of alternative history books anyway but here it is especially well-done. There is exactly the right amount of accuracy and imagination. Plus, the characterizations of both Yael and Adele, whom we experience through Yael’s lens, are great and are both fierce females.
TOTAL SPOILER ALERT. If you have not read Ryan Graudin’s awesome book (and you should totally, totally read it), please go no further!
So, as we learn, the real agenda here is for Yael to win the race and attend the winners ball where she will stab Hitler after he asks her to dance. But being Adele Wolf is harder than expected for Yael, especially because Adele’s brother, Felix, and her ex-boyfriend, Luka, are also on the tour. Yael faces all kinds of trials as she crosses the continents. She prevails and enters the final leg of the race in the lead, only to be betrayed by Luka who rides onto victory. Luka does love Adele, or Yael as Adele anyway, and asks her to the ball. In this way, Yael is able to dance with the Füher as planned. The book ends as she stabs him and escapes, leaving what became of Luka, the real Adele and the resistance largely unexplained. In short, a cliffhanger ending.
Sigh. I loved this book so much, but wasn’t thrilled by ending. For several reasons. First, it had that “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal” feel to it. But more than that, Yael is such a total buttkicker that I wanted her to get to that ball on her own merit and not as someone’s date. I know. I know what you’re going to say. A writer can’t let the heroine win too easily. Things are only interesting if main characters face significant obstacles and learn from them. But still, I feel like my Yael would have beaten Luka.
The unfinished feel to it is interesting and I’d be really curious to know if this was Graudin’s original ending. It seems like writers these days are under increasing amounts of pressure to set the stage for the sale of future books (which I get, book sales are important). But this seems to manifest itself in endings that increasingly sway toward being cliffhangers. I’ve always been of the mindset that a writer should deliver a satisfying ending to the reader, which I would define as closing major plot loops and finishing established arcs for prominent characters. But maybe, in today’s increasingly competitive book marketplace, that idea is becoming old fashioned.
What do you think? Did you love or hate the WOLF BY WOLF ending? Do writers owe readers a satisfying ending? Or are cliffhangers okay?