Ryan Graudin's Blood for Blood cover and excerpt
Last fall, we were fascinated by Ryan Graudin’s Man in the High Castle-esque thought experiment, Wolf by Wolf, which imagines a world where Axis Powers won World War II. But that’s not even the most interesting part: The book, and its sequel, Blood for Blood, due out in November, follow a shapeshifting girl named Yael who’s determined to win an annual motorcycle race that grants the winner an audience with Hitler himself. If you haven’t read Wolf by Wolf, check it out now (we won’t reveal the book’s shocking cliffhanger and spoil it).
But for those of you who have, EW is thrilled to reveal the cover for Blood for Blood, and an exclusive excerpt from the book, below:
April 2, 1956
Luka Löwe’s evening had started out on a promising note. The most powerful men in the world were throwing him a party at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Champagne toasts prickled the air, Luka’s name braided with praise from the lips of the Third Reich’s highest officials. The Führer himself had offered Luka a job and called him a “fine specimen of the Aryan ideal.”
The compliment was not undeserved. He’d conquered the Axis Tour—a cross-continental motorcycle race from Germania to Tokyo—not once but twice. A 20,780-kilometer journey of sandstorms, sabotage, and secrets. Two first-class Iron Crosses draped around Luka’s neck, signifying that he was a double victor. The best of the best twice over.
So why was he standing outside his own party, staring through the towering windows, feeling like Scheisse on a shingle?
It had to do with a pang in his chest, near that cardiac muscle most people called a heart. It had to do with the fräulein in the scarlet-branch-patterned kimono, the one who’d been dancing in his arms moments before. The one who’d stared straight into his eyes and said, “I do not love you. And I never will.”
Adele Wolfe. A fräulein like no other. There weren’t many of the female persuasion who’d use her twin brother’s identity to sneak her way into an all-male race. There were fewer fräuleins still who’d slid their way into Luka’s heart so effectively. Not once, but twice.
He’d been such a verdammt fool. He should have learned his lesson after Osaka. After she’d chewed up his heart, bloodied his head, and won his race. To Luka’s (very small) credit, he hadn’t meant to fall in love with Adele again. He’d plunged into the 1956 Axis Tour bent on a single thing—revenge.
His plan was this: Watch Adele Wolfe like a hawk. Pretend he still loved her. Gain her trust, her alliance, her heart, and cement it with a kiss (which happened to be laced with a soporific that would knock her out for hours and give him a solid lead, another victory).
The plan played out well at first. He watched her through the curtain of rain at Germania’s Olympiastadion. He watched her sitting in front of the fire at the Prague checkpoint. He watched her eating spaghetti at the Rome checkpoint. He watched all these things and came to a single conclusion.
Adele Wolfe had changed.
On the outside Adele was exactly the same: hair as light as snowdrifts, eyes a lonely, winter-sky blue. But there seemed to be a new depth to the fräulein. She cared about things she hadn’t before. Asking about Hiraku’s wreck. Going all bleeding-heart over Katsuo’s accidental death. She’d even saved his own gottverdammt life.
It was all very, very confusing.
The more Luka watched, the more he realized there was a problem with his plan.…He couldn’t pretend he still loved Adele Wolfe because he did. (The truth did not make a very good lie. Did it?)
He wasn’t even sure when it happened. On the road outside Germania, when he’d flirted with burning rubber and death, and she’d stared unflinchingly ahead? In the middle of the desert, when she’d called his cigarettes “Scheisse” but smoked them anyway? In the guerrillas’ camp, when she’d saved him from becoming Soviet target practice? On the train, when the kiss Luka meant only as bait became all too real?
As sappy as it sounded, Luka decided it was the kiss that clenched it. When their lips met, he knew for certain that he was in love with this fräulein again. He loved her. Scheisse, he loved her. It was a painful, razor feeling. An emotion that rose up in him like a phoenix—made of ashes and burning, so much stronger than it had ever been before.
He’d even considered, for a moment, letting the race be a fair one: just him and Adele and the gnash of their Zündapps. But Luka’s pride was just an ounce too inflated, a degree too wounded to leave a second victory to chance. Yes, Adele had stolen his heart, but she’d stolen his victory, too. Only when they were even—a heart for a heart, a victory for a victory—could they be together. So Luka placed a soporific on his lips and kissed her a second time. He meant every moment of it. (Turns out, truths make the best lies.)
Luka Löwe won the race, but Adele had still managed to beat him.
Adele Wolfe. Who did not love Luka. Who never would.
So now he was here, standing outside his own verdammt party. The leather of his jacket was battered. Gone soft. The steel of his father’s dog tag felt tinny and light, almost unnoticeable against everything else going on inside his chest.
Luka could still see Adele, through the ballroom window. It was a special form of torture, watching her dance with the Führer. A strange, hungry look shimmered in Adele’s eyes as she let the most powerful man in the world waltz her closer to the glass. A pure, concentrated feeling. Like love…
Luka wasn’t sure he could tell the difference between these emotions anymore.
He tore his eyes away from the window, digging through his jacket pockets for a spare cigarette and an almost-empty matchbook. Luka jammed the tar-stick between his lips, plucked out the final match. The first strike came to nothing. So did the second. His third attempt sent the matchstick flying into the gravel of the Imperial Palace’s garden path.
He was just leaning down when he heard pieces of Adele’s voice through the glass. “I am (something). I am (something, something, something). I am (something) death.”
Death? What was she going on about? Probably confessing to the Führer that she loved him to death. Like every other lemming soul in this—
Luka looked up and saw the Führer falling. His chest looked as if it had been turned inside out. Standing over the body—left hand stretched out, still holding the gun—was Adele.
She gathered up the hem of her kimono and turned, aiming her Walther P38 at the window. The pistol’s muzzle flared; glass exploded in a hundred different angles. Luka flattened himself against the ground.
Adele flew past. A flash of teal-and-crimson fabric, pale hair, glinting pistol. Leaving gunshots, screams, broken glass, a shattered body in her wake.
Adele Wolfe had just shot the Führer.
It was all happening again. Just like the rally at the Grosser Platz, in front of the old Reichstag. Screams and blood and Adolf Hitler on his back…But this time, Luka realized, it was his fault. The only reason Adele Wolfe had been at the Victor’s Ball in the first place was because Luka had been dummkopf enough to invite her. When the SS started putting the pieces of the evening together, his name would be at the top of their interrogation list. They would accuse him of collaborating, treason…charges not even Luka’s Double Cross could shield him from.
Although there’d be no tears shed for the Führer on Luka’s part, drowning in his own blood after days of torture was a fate he preferred to avoid. Only one person could clear Luka’s name, and she was currently sprinting away from him. Running as if the very hounds of hell were at her heels.
They weren’t, just yet. A glance back into the ballroom showed Luka that the SS and Imperial Guards were still floundering in broken glass and bloody floor tiles. All of them were another few seconds from reaching the window.
The hunt was all his.
Luka lunged to his feet. His medals clashed as he burst across gravel, rounding the clump of cypress trees in time to see the fräulein drop her kimono at the base of a lamppost and double back. Milky limbs, undergarments, and electric movement. She took four determined strides down the path before leaping over a hedge.
The kimono lay rumpled under the lamplight. Luka left it for the SS. Let them get distracted, waste valuable seconds fussing over a false trail. He needed to catch Adele before they did.
The lampless part of the garden was a wasteland of shadow figures: bell-curve boulders, frenzied foliage, a silken nymph of a girl. When Luka spotted her, he slowed, crouching until the hedges were eye-level. Adele’s pistol still had six bullets left by his count. No need to go blazing in and get himself shot.
The fräulein was bent over a stretch of bushes, tugging a knapsack out of the leaves. She was breathing hard, pulling dark clothes from the bag and twisting them on. Luka held his own breath, edged closer. As his eyesight sharpened, he began to notice things he hadn’t before.
There was a bandage on the lower half of her left arm. Its gauze must have caught on the window’s jagged edge, for it had begun unraveling at the elbow, falling away faster and faster in Adele’s haste to get dressed. The flesh beneath was wreathed in black. At first Luka thought it was dried blood, but the longer he stared at the darkness the more he realized it had form. Its lines ebbed and flowed in distinct shapes. Tails, paws, fangs…
They were wolves. Tattooed on her arm. Ink Adele most definitely did not have last year. These disappeared as Adele shouldered on a jacket and bent over to lace up her boots.
The SS should be finding the kimono now, fanning men and guns into all parts of the garden. Luka had to make his move soon. He was certainly close enough. It would only take him a second to leap out and blitzkrieg Adele.
Luka was just tensing his muscles, getting ready to launch, when the unbelievable happened.
Adele Wolfe became…not-Adele.
Her corn-silk hair changed color from the roots out, until it was all black. The blue in her eyes vanished, irises growing so dark they blended with the pupil. Even the shape of her face shifted—from Adele’s long oval features into those of a Japanese girl.
If Luka hadn’t witnessed the change with his own eyes, he would’ve said it was impossible. Even now that he had seen it, he wasn’t quite sure he believed it. Maybe he fell and hit his head when he went looking for the lost matchstick. This was all some strange revenge fantasy, playing out while Luka sprawled unconscious on the garden path and Adele danced happily in the Führer’s arms.
That would make much more sense.
But no. It was all too real. Loud German commands rose just meters away. The fräulein who was not-Adele shouldered her pack and took off in the opposite direction.
Operation Save His Skin and Clear His Name had taken a drastic turn.
What exactly was he supposed to do now? Run down this Japanese fräulein and tell the SS guards she’d swapped out her body? Stay here and hope they believed his delusional story without trying to torture a more plausible truth out of him? Luka might as well just pull out his Luger now. Save them a bullet. Save himself a world of pain.
The cries of the Führer’s bodyguards grated on his ears as they drew closer. The double victor—poster boy of the Aryan race, hero of the Third Reich—stood, his stare honing in on the fading form of not-Adele. He kept his eyes fixed on the vanishing darkness and started running.
For the second time in a month, Felix Wolfe woke up with a headache. Not the dull kind sometimes acquired by sleeping too long, but the splitting type that afflicted people after their twin sister pistol-whipped them upside the head. One Felix was becoming much too acquainted with.
He found himself staring at box springs—the underside of a bed. Rolling over was a difficult task, since Adele had bound his wrists behind his back twisted bedsheets. She’d done the same with his legs, clearly trying to prevent him from wriggling free and ruining her evening.
Felix’s feet thrashed the bedframe as he turned onto his side. Something silver dropped to the floor—Martin’s pocket watch—laying open, cracked-face first. Beyond it, the Imperial Palace guest quarters were bathed in the light of the flickering television screen, empty. His sister was gone. Off to the Victor’s Ball to complete her mission for the resistance: assassinate the most powerful man in the world.
Adele had always been a rule-pusher: pinching sugar from the Wolfe family’s rations, reading issues of Motor Schau with a flashlight hours after lights-out, entering male-only motorcycle races under Felix’s name. Growing up, Felix had kept a multitude of his sister’s secrets, both big and small. They were—after all—a team. It didn’t matter that they weren’t identical: male versus female, homebody versus wanderer. They were Wolfes. There was iron in their blood, and it bound them together.
But this time his sister had wandered too far. This time the secret was too vast. One does not murder the Führer of the Third Reich and walk away from it. If Adele went through with her plan, she and the entire Wolfe family would pay the price.
It was ten past six, according to the spindly hands of Martin’s pocket watch. The Victor’s Ball had only just started. There was still time for Felix to stop this madness.
Guttural half curses pressed against Felix’s gag as he rolled his body another ninety degrees, flailing his bound hands at the metal mattress springs above. There were nearly a dozen sharp points. Something had to catch…
It didn’t. The mattress springs’ hooked ends were small, demanding precision, which Felix—nose-first on the floor, with skull-splitting pain—did not possess. He kept trying. Thrashing his numb wrists at the bed’s underside again and again.
His dead brother’s watch kept ticking. It was five past eight when Felix managed to slip the cotton over the pointed loop of the mattress spring. It was ten past eight when the first bit of bedsheet began fraying. At twelve past, the tie broke. Felix’s arms flopped to his side, wrists braceleted in deep purple.
First order of business? Getting rid of this stupid gag. Felix’s tongue was a vast, cracked wasteland. It felt too big for his mouth as he dragged himself out from under the bed.
Black, white, gray images of the Victor’s Ball cast their spell through the darkened room. There on the screen was his sister, her teeth bared in a smile as she accepted the Führer’s invitation to dance.
Their bodies started to whirl to some tempo Felix couldn’t hear (the television’s volume knob had been twisted into silence). He kept an eye on the screen as he sat up and started unknotting the three separate bindings on his legs.
Felix used to think he could read his twin’s thoughts—her emotions hummed in his, and he often knew the words she’d say before they were spoken. But if their bond was so strong, then why hadn’t he known until just over a week ago that Adele felt the world was wrong? That—at the risk of everything they held dear—she’d joined the resistance to right it?
Don’t do it, Ad. Don’t. Please don’t. Felix hoped there was still some semblance of a connection between them. That these pleas weren’t just beating useless against the curved glass screen.
Adele went rigid in Hitler’s arms. Her mouth was moving, her features wrenched with an expression Felix had never seen before: a loathing so vast and deep it poisoned all facets of her face.
He’d witnessed his sister’s anger—felt it buzz through his own veins—many times over. In the third year of primary school, when the Schuler boy tried to kiss her, Adele punched him in the stomach so hard he decorated the school yard with his lunch. After Martin’s motorcycle accident, when their parents forbade the twins to race, Adele’s face flushed redder than a Reich flag.
But this…this emotion was something else. A fury Felix could not understand, much less feel. It wasn’t just in Adele’s face. It raged through her whole being: Her arm, as it ducked into her obi. Her hand, as it drew out a pistol and pointed it at the Führer’s chest. Her finger, as it squeezed the trigger.
Martin’s pocket watch kept counting the seconds, its gears grinding through the room’s stillness. Tick, tick, tick as the Führer collapsed to the floor. Tick, tick, tick as blood spread across Hitler’s chest, oozing through the fabric and onto the television’s pixels.
The screen cut to static.
Felix’s fingers fell away from the knotted sheet on his knees. He retrieved Martin’s pocket watch and snapped its warped casing shut without checking the hour. It didn’t matter what time it was because he was too late.
There was nothing to stop.
The ballroom was a whole copper-roofed building away from Adele’s quarters, but Felix could still hear gunshots as he slipped the watch into the breast pocket of his Hitler Youth uniform. Screams followed, punctuated by more bullets.
Felix tried not to think what each of them meant. He tried not to imagine his twin sister’s body crumpled next to Hitler’s, blood blending purple into her kimono. He tried not to imagine her gravestone next to Martin’s, lonely lumps of granite over mounds of earth.
What was he thinking? Adele wouldn’t be given a gravestone. Not after what she’d just done. None of the Wolfes would. From this moment forward the Wolfe family’s fate was this: to be wiped off the face of the earth. All records that they ever existed would be burned by the SS. Forgotten forever and ever. Amen.
And there was nothing, nothing, Felix could do to save them.
He couldn’t stay here. This room would be the first place the SS searched. If they found him…
Felix scratched at his leg bindings, but the harder he tried to undo the knot, the more it seemed to grow—double, triple, tenfold. So he edged his way back to the sharp mattress springs, looped the first twisted sheet over the metal, and began to saw.
One strip down.
The gunshots were gone. The screen was still a mess of electronic noise.
Two strips down.
Were those footsteps he heard or the thud of his own heart?
The third strip had just fallen from Felix’s legs when the door slid open.
Footsteps, then. A trio of men stood in the doorway. All three wore the sharp black dress uniforms of the SS. All three had their Luger barrels pointed at Felix’s face.
Felix lifted his hands above his head. He felt his own emotions well enough: Fear, piss-warm against his crotch. Shock, shaking under his fingernails.
The leader of the group frowned. His eyes raked through the room, trying to make sense of shredded bedsheets, the fuzzing television, the boy in the middle of it all.
“Secure him!” he barked to the soldier on his left, then turned to the other. “Search the room.”
The first man hauled Felix to his feet, binding his arms once more behind his back. The second—a beefy, yellow-haired soldier with a bulbous nose—kept his Luger out as he checked the quarters’ more obvious hidey-holes: beneath the bed, behind the curtain.
They’re still looking for Adele. Relief…Felix should not have felt it rushing down his throat, cutting new paths through his heart. But the emotion was there, reassuring him that somehow—in the midst of all those gunshots and screams—his sister had escaped.
“She’s not here, Standartenführer Baasch,” the second soldier announced from the washroom once he finished scouring it.
Baasch didn’t look particularly surprised or displeased at the news. He pulled a spotless white kerchief from his pocket and coughed into it. A single, dry wheeze.
“No.” He folded the kerchief back into his pocket. “She wouldn’t be. You saw how she moved through that window. She’s had training.”
Bulbous Nose stepped back into the bedroom, itemizing everything he saw. “Ripped sheets, clothes, a rotary phone, makeup brushes…It doesn’t look like she left anything of use behind.”
“Oh.” Baasch turned. The screen’s light caught the silver Totenkopf on the officer’s hat: cracked skull, crossed bones, leering grin. The eyes beneath the cap were the same mixture of dead and shining as they settled on Felix. “I wouldn’t be too certain about that.”