Today’s review is about WRATH BECOMES HER by Aden Polydoros. It’s a Jewish historical horror novel set in 1943 Lithuania during Nazi occupation. The main character Vera is a golem, an artificial human made from clay and magic, created in the image of someone’s daughter. Her creator instilled in her a main purpose: kill his daughter’s murderers.
Author: Aden Polydoros
Age Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publish Date: October 10, 2023
Print Length: 336
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Frankenstein meets Inglourious Basterds in this stunning Jewish historical horror novel from the award-winning author of The City Beautiful.
Vera was made for vengeance.
Lithuania, 1943. A father drowns in the all-consuming grief of a daughter killed by the Nazis. He can’t bring Chaya back from the dead, but he can use kishuf — an ancient and profane magic — to create a golem in her image. A Nazi killer, to avenge her death.
When Vera awakens, she can feel her violent purpose thrumming within her. But she can also feel glimpses of a human life lived, of stolen kisses amidst the tragedy, and of a grisly death. And when she meets Akiva, she recognizes the boy with soft lips that gave warm kisses. But these memories aren’t hers, and Vera doesn’t know if she gets–or deserves–to have a life beyond what she was made for.
Vera’s strength feels limitless–until she learns that there are others who would channel kishuf for means far less noble than avenging a daughter’s death. As she confronts the very basest of humanity, Vera will need more than what her creator gave her: Not just a reason to fight, but a reason to live.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
WRATH BECOMES HER takes place during WWII in 1943 Lithuania. During this time Nazi Germany occupied the country and the Soviets, who had invaded the three Baltic countries prior, turned their attention toward fighting the Nazis. Civilians, including Jews, turned to resistance fighting, with the obvious inherent risk of dying at the hands of a Nazi. This is how we meet Vera, a golem created by Ezra whose daughter was murdered by a Nazi officer.
Courtesy of the glossary in the book, in Jewish folklore a golem is a human-made artifical human crafted from clay and given life through magic. Ezra used kishuf, or sorcery, to make Vera in the image of his daughter, Chaya. He gave Vera a purpose: to avenge Chaya’s death. With snippets of Chaya’s memories, Vera sets off to fulfill her goal and along the way runs into Akiva, Chaya’s friend and lover. This encounter and their journey together causes Vera to question her very nature. Is she just a monster bidden to do only one thing or can she choose her own purpose? But they discover others are using kishuf for less virtuous pursuits.
First, I have to comment on the title of the book, WRATH BECOMES HER. It seems this is a play on words as it means two different things. It literally means wrath becomes her, or she is wrath and vengeance. “Become” also means it suits someone, or wrath looks good on Vera. Ezra create Vera out of wrath and vengeance, it is her purpose, and it looks good on her because her body is strong and capable of fulfilling it. I thought it was a brilliant title.
However, a title like this sets the reader up for an expectation of more representation of wrath, specifically the loud, physical kind. Instead most of the depicted wrath is subdued, cautious, exhausted, and calculated. There is Nazi-killing wrath in this book, but the reader should not expect a full-blown Inglourious Basterds comparison. The likening to the movie is apt, but the gore and wrath are turned down.
As one might expect from a story that has an artificial human, Vera self reflects on who she is and how her unique situation affects her interactions with humans. Because she has access to some of Chaya’s memories, she has a complicated dynamic with Akiva. They both have the same goal, to kill Nazis, but Vera feels the tension between them because of her resemblance to Chaya. To Akiva’s credit, he recognizes Vera’s autonomy despite her uncanny visage.
The set up of WRATH BECOMES HER provides plenty of opportunity to explore one’s nature, golem or human; how atrocities change people; the definition of life; and the appropriation of aspects of a culture when it suits the aggressor. While this book includes reflections on this, I felt as if they didn’t go deep enough. Vera thinks a lot about these topics. However, there really is no discussion about it with any of the other characters. I think this is why it felt more superficial–because there is little engagement with others about these philosophies. It is as if she and Akiva were afraid to talk about it, which I understand. But I felt that to discuss it out loud would have made the story and characters stronger. For the amount of time spent not killing Nazis, I would have preferred some natural conversation progression on these themes.
Moreover, the reader knows Vera’s backstory, but learns very little about Akiva despite Vera spending most of her time with him. One could chalk this up to war hardening or protecting oneself by pushing that part of one’s identity below the surface. But it made Akiva feel like a less-developed character relative to Vera.
Overall, though, this is a well-written young adult, historical fiction that incorporates Jewish folklore and mysticism as a means to question purpose and will. WRATH BECOMES HER depicts the atrocities committed in the name of vengeance or hate. But it also ultimately shows the importance of the preservation of life and culture as a way to fight back.
Content warnings: antisemitism, blood, gore, death, murder
Reading format: Kindle e-book
About the Author
From Aden Polydoros’s website:
Aden Polydoros is an award-winning author and aspiring screenwriter who transitioned from female-to-male when he was 14. After going ‘stealth’ for over 10 years, he came out as transgender in order to support trans youth. His YA gothic fantasy novel, The City Beautiful, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the Cybils Award, the South Carolina Book Award, and the 2022 World Fantasy Award. The novel was also selected for the 2021 Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot, and was declared a Best YA Book of 2021 by New York Public Library, BookPage, Buzzfeed, and Tor.com.