Twelve-year-old orphans Anders and Rayna don’t know who their parents are, and they have always relied on each other to get through each day. The pair know all of the back streets of Vallen and they know to avoid the Wolf Guard as much as possible. When Anders is almost caught stealing, the twins join a group of twelve-year-olds who are in line to discover if they are elementals—humans that can transform into wolves.
When Anders takes the form of a wolf and his sister Rayna takes the form of a dragon, Anders wonders if they are related at all. Everyone knows that a wolf and a dragon cannot come from the same family. Even worse, after Rayna transforms two dragons appear and claim her as one of them. The only thing that Anders knows for certain is that Ice Wolves and Scorch Dragons are enemies. But despite the feud between the wolves and dragons, Anders is determined to find his sister.
To rescue Rayna, Anders must find the dragon’s hidden capital city. The only way to get the information he needs is to enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves. Anders only wants to find the dragons and save his sister; he wasn’t expecting to find friends. Will Anders have to betray his new friends in order to save his sister? And what will Anders do if he finds his sister only to discover that Rayna has become just like the cruel dragons that took her?
Ice Wolves begins with a heart-stopping surprise and plenty of action, but the story starts to drag when the main character enters Ulfar Academy to learn about Ice Wolves. Because Anders doesn’t understand the elementals or the Ice Wolves, the reader gets to learn along with him. However, when the story ends there are still many unanswered questions that will nag readers.
Anders is not a unique character, but middle school readers may relate to his insecurities and his desire to find a place to fit in. As the story progresses, Ander not only builds confidence in his abilities, he also begins to understand what it means to have friends “who’d back you up without needing to know the reason why.” Even though Anders clearly cares for his pack, he never loses sight of his ultimate goal to find his sister.
Amie Kaufman has created a world with multicultural, diverse people who live in peace—people who fear the Scorch Dragons, but the reason for this fear is never explained. Although the threat of dragons brings suspense, the dragons only appear at the very beginning and end of the book. Kaufman includes many diverse characters in the story, however, at times it felt as if she was trying too hard to incorporate every type of person. One character is referred to using the pronoun “they.” The use of the pronoun is never explained, which may cause readers some confusion. One positive aspect of the story is Lisbeth, a strong female who isn’t content with following orders. Lisbeth spends much of her time engrossed in books, and it is through her that Anders begins to understand friendship. Lisbeth is curious, loyal, and determined to do the right thing no matter what.
Fans of fantasy will enjoy Ice Wolves even though the plot is not fast-paced. Even though the characters are not unique, the story of friendship and family will entertain strong readers. The conclusion contains a surprise, a battle, and a cliffhanger that sets up the second book in the series—Scorch Dragons. Readers will love how Anders learns that bravery is “doing what you must” even when you are afraid. Readers interested in Ice Wolves will also want to read the Simon Thorn series, which also has shape-shifting characters, but has much more action.
- While telling Anders about a female professor, a girl says that the professor has a wife.
- Lisbeth’s father “was a mercher from Baseyda who was back on a ship before I was born. I’m not sure he even knows I exist.”
- During a celebration, a dragon appears in Holbard. The dragon “had breathed fire as it circled above the city, then vanished into the darkness. An hour later, a set of stables in the north of the city was ablaze with the ferocious, white-and-gold dragonfire that was almost impossible to put out. . .” No one was injured.
- When Rayna turns into a dragon, the Wolf Guard attacks her. An ice wolf “reared onto its hind legs, then crashed back down to earth. As its front paws hit the cobblestone, two long spears of ice burst from the ground, sharp and jagged, flying straight at the dragon’s gleaming side. They were like huge, deadly icicles with razor-sharp points. . . When they struck Rayna, her scales instantly turned gray with cold. She screamed, spreading her wings, and more wolves brought down their front paws on the ground, launching ice spears at her. . .” When Anders tries to help her, he grabs the staff and turns into a wolf.
- Rayna again turns into a dragon and “when she thrashed her tail, a shop front flew to pieces like a house of cards.” Ice wolves run towards Rayna, while “everyone else in the street was turning to run now.” When the wolves attack Rayna, two other dragons appear and lead her out of the city. The scene takes place over three pages.
- The wolves believe that the dragons take children and “sacrifice them on the day of the equinox.”
- A fire begins in the city and the Wolf Guard helps put out the fire. “With a great hissing the spears immediately began to melt, sending up steam, creating billows of white smoke against the night sky as golden sparks rained down on the cobblestone of the square. . . Many people have to escape through windows and some of the street children are trapped on a roof. A scream came from above as the flames licked higher, clouds of smoke enveloping the children.” Anders helps the children and everyone escapes unharmed. The fire scene takes place over three pages.
- When Lisbeth and Anders go to the dragons’ city, the wolves follow them and attack. “Those dragons in human form were fighting however they could, swinging chairs, a few brandishing knives—they had overturned the huge table, which must have been the crash he heard, and some were fighting from behind it. The wolves were fighting with teeth and ice spears, his classmates acting with trained precision.” Several dragons and wolves are injured. Ander’s friend pauses, and “it was all the chance the human he was fighting needed—she swung the pastry pole hard at him, connecting with his head and shoulders and sending him flying backward.” Ander’s sister is hit with an ice spear that “caught her shoulder, knocking her back into the crowd, and she hit the ground.” The wolves eventually retreat. No one is seriously injured. The battle scene takes place over ten pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- One of the characters explains how elementals change. “Essence is the magic that’s found all around us. In nature, in the earth itself. When we transform from human to wolf, we channel it instinctively so we can make the change. Wherever they’re from in the wolf, elementals always have gifts linked to nature, because nature is where we find the essence that gives us our power.”
- When elementals touch the Staff of Hadda, they turn into wolves or dragons. When Rayna touched the staff, “Rayna rolled onto her back, arms out flung. Her face darkened to a deep, unnatural burgundy, then shifted to shades of bright crimson, as if all her skin was bleeding at once. . . her arms and legs seemed to stretch impossibly long, and the arms of her coat stretched and slit. . . The fabric shredded and vanished in seconds as Rayna’s body grew, doubling in size, then tripling, her neck lengthening, her mouth open in a hoarse, unending scream.” Rayna turns into a fifteen-foot-long dragon and flies away.
- The first time Anders transforms into a wolf, his clothes are shredded. The Ice Wolves use an amulet that keep makes the clothes transform with them. The amulet “helps your shirt stay where it belongs when you change. Helps you control when you change at all.”
- In the past, dragons and wolves crafted magical objects with runes. Many of the objects are magical and the “runes are what channeled the essence—the power that came from nature, from the earth itself—into artifacts.” For example, “high above the entrance to the port were the huge, metal arches of the wind guards, the biggest artifacts in all of Vallen. . . The arches were marked with runes forged all along their length—the runes were the sign of an artifact—and were big enough for even the largest ship to pass under it.” The arches keep out the wind, making the harbor always peaceful.
- While picking pockets, Anders almost “reached for a thiefcatcher. If he’d laid his hands on the zips to open her pockets, the charms would have started blaring a quick, high alarm, turning every face in the square toward him.”
- One of the wolves has a mirror that “allows two-way communication.”
- Anders discovers that he can create icefire—blue-and-silver fire. When he uses the fire, “the white fire and the ice spear both vanished into nothing as they connected with his blue-and-silver flames.”