“Iron called to iron, and there was always something more.”
Once upon a different time, there was a boy who raced through a kingdom of death. He wore a brown jacket where all others were black, and it was said that his face could snare the hearts of ten thousand German maidens at first sight. His own heart? Hidden behind layers of leather and sneer and steel. Untouchable.
Until it wasn’t.
— 4.5 stars —
Set a year before the events of Wolf By Wolf, this novella takes us back to the infamous 1955 Axis Tour: when a sixteen-year-old fräulein named Adele Wolfe, masquerading as her twin brother Felix, materialized from seemingly nowhere to take the Iron Cross. To do so, she not only beat out top contenders Luka Löwe and Tsuda Katsuo – who won the cross in 1953 and 1954, respectively – but circumvented the Führer’s ban on female competitors. The risk paid off: Hitler was so smitten with his newest Victor that he requested a dance with her at the Victor’s Ball. (This proximity, of course, inspired the resistance’s plan to steal Adele’s identity and enter its own racer/assassin in her place in 1956. But I digress.)
To win a grueling, 20,780 kilometer, cross-continent race, a girl’s got to break a few hearts. Iron to Iron follows the competition from Luka’s perspective, from his temporary alliance with the silent and secretive Wolfe boy to his burgeoning romance with Adele Wolfe – and his eventual, inevitable betrayal on the final leg of the tour.
Graudin does an excellent job of adding depth to Luka’s character, softening his harder edges, and establishing his mindset (REVENGE!) when we meet him in Wolf By Wolf. Perhaps more importantly, she satisfies our curiosity about What Happened Between Luka and Adele in the previous year’s race. The betrayal is marginally worse than I expected – a little more violent and sudden – and, while my heart ached for Luka, I couldn’t help but side with Adele.
After all, Luka said it himself: “He didn’t need to win. Not the way this girl did.” Impress your abusive, impossible-to-please father – or escape a life spent popping out babies to feed to Hitler’s empire? It’s kind of a no-brainer. And yet, instead of handing the Iron Cross over to his new love, Luka offered to help her win…next year.
Asking women to sublimate or defer their goals for the good of men? How very 1955. Luka didn’t give her any choice, really.
Comments (May contain spoilers!)
Diversity: Roughly half of the twenty racers competing in the 1955 Axis Tour are Japanese. Of these, Tsuda Katsuo – who beat Luka the year before and is his main competitor this time around – receives the most face time.
Luka’s father Kurt Löwe lost an arm in WWII. He’s emotionally and physically abusive to his wife and children.
Adele Wolfe is the first and only woman to compete in the race; undercover, using her twin brother Felix’s papers, as women are not (yet) allowed. Her goal isn’t just fame and glory, but rather to escape the fate that awaits all German women: namely, making babies for Hitler’s empire. Adele’s brother Martin died four years ago in a racing accident.
Animal-friendly elements: n/a