Book: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
I am going to continue to catch up on books that I have read further back and failed to review yet, so this is another of my normal book club books that we did a few months back and I haven’t written up.
The setting for this book definitely caught my interest, it’s set I think in Greenland, or if not there exactly certainly some area of Canada where the Inuit are from. The time period is around 1000AD and deals with both a clash of cultures between the Inuit and a group of Vikings in the area, but also between the clash of the old gods and the new Christian ones to some extent.
Our lead character is Omat, who is training to talk to the spirits of the land for their tribe, as well as being one of their warriors. The tribe are in difficult times and risk starvation unless they find better hunting or more people. Into this arena come both a group of new Inuit with somewhat different ideas as well as a group of Vikings. Both of which will change the course of Omat’s life.
Right, properly talking about this book is going to be pretty impossible without spoilers so I am going to put everything after this point under a cut. One of the things I am avoiding talking about is often spoilered on the back of the book, but just in case people haven’t seen that (I hadn’t and I felt much better off for it) I shall keep it under a cut for their sakes.
So the thing that is often spoilered on the back is that Omat carries the soul of their father and as such is considered by their tribe to be a man but carries the typical physical characteristics of a woman. I am not sure if the intention here was to depict someone who is two-spirit, I am not even sure if the Inuit would use the same concept as that and I am not remotely qualified to talk on the matter. The writer is not from that culture though did do extensive research, but again I have no idea whether or not their portrayal of the gender roles and mythologies of the culture are good or not.
I am somewhat reluctant to use female pronouns for the character though as whilst the book does at points, I am very unsure as to whether that works or not.
But anyway, on to discuss the book. It does have something of a slow start, we follow Omat on their training with the spirits and as a hunter, as well as exploring more of the relationships between the tight-knit Inuit community of the setting. I am not sure of the exact order of events here, so please bear with me. One of the main reasons that Omat is continued to be thought of as a male is because they have not started their periods. At some point Omat makes a rather foolish choice to take their spirit form to the Moon Man, who is responsible for the curse and so they then start their period and must learn to act as a woman for the tribe.
Not long after this a group of new Inuit arrives, hunters with their wives, who seek to hunt the whale and rope the locals into it. Omat dislikes them and tries to turn the rest of the tribe against them to no avail. In the end they are forced to marry the lead hunter who rapes them rather brutally and have to travel with that group on a whale hunt.
The hunt itself is going well when a group of Vikings show up and murder almost everyone on the hunt bar Omat and their best friend, who is captured by the Vikings. This results in Omat going after the Vikings on foot and meeting a Viking outcast and teaming up with him to go against his own people in order to help avenge his own troubled past.
Then things get a bit weird as we meet Loki, discover that the Norse gods (or parts of them) are kicking around and wanting to start Ragnarock (as the Inuit spirits are the Frost Giants in this scenario).
So yeah, that’s a fairly good synopsis of the plot I think, though I likely have missed off some important details due to the passage of time since I actually read it. If it sounds like quite a lot then you are right. Honestly one of my main complaints about this book is that it didn’t quite seem to know what it wanted to be at times and things changed where the plot was apparently going so often that it felt dizzying at times.
Despite that there is a lot to like about the book and I honestly did enjoy it quite a lot. The exploration of gender roles in society is very interesting and spans both the Inuit and Viking cultures. I did like the nuance of that and the comparisions between the female Viking leader and Omat’s own struggles.
There are a number of twists and turns in the plots, but some genuinely good surprises in there and overall I found the ending to be pretty pleasing. I will say that I could have done without the rape scene, or any need for that to exist in the book. On the other end I did appreciate that Omat was the one trying to rescue their friend, more of this sort of thing please!
The book also doesn’t shy away from showing some characters in a bad light, I really didn’t like Omat’s friend due to the way he treated them for most of the story, especially some things that happened towards the latter end of the book. The worldbuilding was also excellent and it certainly felt like it was bringing the mythology to life. I wish I could say whether that mythology was accurate but I have never found a book of Inuit mythology to read so I know next to nothing about it unfortunately.
I do appreciate a fantasy set in our world but painting the mythology and beliefs of old as more fact than we would like to assume they are. I also do get tired of books set in the medieval period and in Europe and this story does neither of those things either. I do also like that neither culture is shown as perfect or wondrous and the misunderstandings and culture clash between the Vikings and the Inuit felt pretty well done to me.
It’s definitely worth a read, it is perhaps a little long though and yeah, please take the rape warning to heart, that was an unpleasant surprise I could definitely have done without.