A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Borrows from and adds to shapeshifter and dragon lore. Also, explores how wolves communicate through their body language and smell.
Shows how division and prejudice can lead to violence. Speaking up against prejudice and seeking understanding are ways toward peace.
Positive Role Models
When Anders is separated from his sister, Rayna, he's forced to forge his own path. He works up the confidence to be a leader instead of a follower. He also must learn to trust others and accept help when he needs it. On the minus side, Anders steals regularly as a kid on the streets, but only food. At the wolf school, he sneaks around adults regularly, picking locks and eavesdropping.
Violence & Scariness
Dragons set fires to buildings and kids need rescuing from a top floor. Ice Wolves fight dragons with ice spears, which don't seem to kill, but weaken and incapacitate for a time. In a battle, kids are knocked unconscious and burned. A boy nearly drowns crossing a turbulent river. Talk of kids kidnapped by dragons to be sacrificed, a farmer's family killed in a dragon-set fire, and a war fought years before that orphaned the main characters.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Elementals: Ice Wolves is the start of a fantasy series from Aime Kaufman, author of the Illuminae Files series for mature teens. This story of shapeshifting wolves and dragons is for middle grade readers. Dragons fight with fire and cause injury, with talk of a farmer's family dying in a house fire and kidnappings. Wolves fight with ice spears, which drain energy. No one dies in the climactic action, and some fight for peace and understanding between dragons and wolves. Anders, the main character, strives to be brave and independent as he sets out to save his sister from the dragons.
Is It Any Good?
This tale of shapeshifting twins torn apart has a lot of potential, but the fantasy world and the supporting characters often feel one-dimensional. This is especially true when Anders reaches the wolf academy. We're led through this new world quickly. Uniform -- check. A couple of classes -- check. Surly profs -- check. A few new friends -- check. Perhaps it would help if the reader could get much closer to Anders during this jarring transition. There are mentions of his poor reading and surprise at being well-fed, but what about that first real bath? How about this sudden adherence to schedules and more complex social norms? Author Aime Kaufman, who normally writes for mature teens, may have kept things more on the surface for younger readers, and at a cost. Readers may feel less invested in the story as a whole.
There are scenes in the school leading up to the climactic action that also disappoint: a lot of repetition about what Anders wants the rescue plan to be, a lot of fumbling around with little success. This should slowly build here. Instead it builds only in the last few dozen pages. Here's where readers will see the potential of this series. Some clever secrets come out, and we're left hanging in a very exciting place. Let's just hope Book 2 gets much closer to its characters and this world. Then it's definitely a series worth following.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.