The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
"There are few sounds at night on the frozen sea besides the roar of the wind. No plants to rustle, no waves to crash upon the shore, no birds to caw. The white owl flies on hushed wings. The white fox walks with silent tread. Even Inuit move as softly as spirits, the snow too hard to yield and crunch beneath our boots. We hear little, but what we do hear is vital: the exploding breath of a surfacing seal, the shift and crack of drifting ice. But in the forest there is always sound. The trees, even in their shrouds of snow, are alive, and their voices--groans, creaks, screams--never cease."
I am so happy this was my first read of the new year! It is absolutely stunning. Oof.
The Wolf in the Whale is based around the recorded events of the Norse explorer Leif Erikson and how around the same time, the Inuit people were heading on their own expedition.
Our main focus is on Omat, an Inuit shaman who is fighting for the survival of her people. Even though she is a powerful angakkuq (shaman) who can take the forms of her animal spirit guides, it is not enough to feed her tribe.
Chaos ensues. Bad shit happens.
Along the way, Omat crosses paths with Brandr, a Viking warrior. Their cultures may clash, but they soon learn that to survive, they will need to work together.
The setting is beautiful and absolutely brutal. It takes place in a frozen tundra in 1000 AD at the edge of the world, which we now know as Arctic Canada. Jordanna Max Brodsky is a brilliant storyteller. The world-building shown here is captivating with the juxtaposition of history, magic and culture. The prose is lovely and engaging. The imagery is detailed and just so striking. You can feel the icy cold air on your face, your fleeting breath twirling in misty clouds, the crunch of the hard-packed snow as you walk, you cannot help but become absorbed into this atmospheric tale that is draped in melancholy.
"They say that from the moment I took my first breath, I have lived between many worlds--between Sun and Moon, man and woman, Inuk and animal."
Brodsky explores the idea of sexuality, gender and identity in such a fluid way through Omat's story. It's a beautiful examination on how not everything has to fit into one narrow box placed in front of you. You can instead create your own box.
Omat was born in a female's body, but her family believes that she inherited her dead father's soul, so she lives as a boy. As you can imagine, the gender roles were even more strict back then and so, this becomes a major issue when another band that may be able to help her struggling tribe tries to force her to live as a woman.
This is not an easy read. It slowly builds and then you find yourself clawed at, something ravaging your emotions. There are.. there are incredibly difficult scenes throughout this. Rape, animals dying, physical violence, but it never, ever feels gratuitous. The climate is harsh and so is the life lived.
The Wolf in the Whale is a journey. One filled with magic, mythology and adventure. I fell wicked hard for Omat! She is such a formidable character. Her personal trajectory is truly something special to behold. It's about finding fulfillment in your life and ultimately, what it means to be our authentic selves.
This book more than proves that Brodsky was not only deeply inspired by the Inuit and rich Norse mythology, but that she put in an immense amount of effort and research. The respect and care with which she told this is breathtaking. This is such a gorgeous story filled with violence and heartache and hope. I sobbed when this ended. Sobbed.
This epic, sprawling standalone fantasy novel should not be missed. It will be one that stays with me for quite some time, certain scenes will continue to haunt me long after that.
(Big thanks to Redhook & Orbit Books for sending me a copy!)
**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**
This The Wolf in the Whale book review was written by Holly Grimdragon
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