Book review

Review: The Wolf in the Whale – Jordanna Max Brodsky

576 pages| Orbit| Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Historical/Myth

CW: rape, violence, death.

I received an eARC of this book from the publishers via NetGalley. I subsequently purchased an audiobook version (using my own money).

 

The digest: A thought-provoking myth-retelling which I encourage you all to pick up. If you like how meticulous Gaiman’s research and writing is, then you will be right at home here!

 

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“A sweeping tale of clashing cultures, warring gods, and forbidden love: In 1000 AD, a young Inuit shaman and a Viking warrior become unwilling allies as war breaks out between their peoples and their gods-one that will determine the fate of them all.

“There is a very old story, rarely told, of a wolf that runs into the ocean and becomes a whale.”

Born with the soul of a hunter and the spirit of the Wolf, Omat is destined to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps-invoking the spirits of the land, sea, and sky to protect her people.

But the gods have stopped listening and Omat’s family is starving. Alone at the edge of the world, hope is all they have left.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys across the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world…or save it.”

 

What was less than great?

  • The pacing is inconsistent, and it harms the book’s chances of people reading it, in my opinion. The ‘real’ plot doesn’t start until around the 35-40% mark, and for some readers (like myself) that can be a bit of a deal breaker. 40% of this novel equates to about 230 pages. Those 230 pages are slow. Very slow. We learn about the Inuit customs and relationship with religions, and some in-depth character exploration goes on (these are good things, see below!) but I have some books on my shelf way under 230 pages, and in all honesty, I might have preferred those 230 pages a lot more than these.
    • The ending is as fast as the beginning is slow. After several hundred-pages of buildup, everything seems to happen at once, and I do think that the author missed a trick by not focusing more on the amazing content held in the last 10% or so.
    • Whilst the pacing of the plot is factual, how much you will like it is entirely subjective. If you like novels that start slow (I think the ‘real’ plot only kicks in at around the 35-40% mark), then you will probably enjoy this novel much more than I did.
      • I switched over to the audiobook version at the 10% mark or so as I knew that if I tried to force myself to read the supplied ebook then I’d probably never actually finish it. Again, the content of the first 230 pages is by no means bad, I’m just not sure it can justify taking up so many pages.
  • The promise of Norse mythology on the book’s Goodreads page had me excited and probably raised my expectations too high. Whilst this mythology does appear in the novel, it plays a much lesser part than that of the Inuit peoples. I would have preferred more interaction with the Norse worship than we have here, especially as Brodksy does such a good job of writing about it!

 

What was great?

  • The narration of the audiobook (read by Brodsky herself) is rather well done.
  • The worldbuilding is definitely in the top tier of fantasy novels. BUT it suffers from the slow pacing and odd structuring of the novel. The introduction to, and expansion of, Inuit mythology was excellent – as was the whole idea of transformation, divine intervention, and the true sense of shifting climate.
    • I don’t want to ruin any surprises for those of you who might pick up the novel, so let me just say that you won’t be disappointed. And yes, the book title is more than a thought-provoking eye-catcher.
    • Brodsky has clearly spent many, many hours researching both the mythologies of the two main groups, as well as the history and general anthropology of the peoples involved. A very good job indeed. Brodksy’swork reminds me of Gaiman’s in the mythologies’ details.
    • The mythology of the Inuit is entirely new to me, and can say that the author’s style of storytelling (mixing human life with that of the deities) was very fun to follow. It’s good to see intentional interaction between the human and divine, and I hope Brodsky writes another book in the same style – I’d definitely pick that up!
  • There are a number of difficult topics covered, constantly furnished with aspirations of a better time and life. As stated above, sexual assault plays a significant role in this novel (though I never felt too grossed out – the scenes were about as well handled as you might hope), but the wider position of women in society, as well as social hierarchies.
    • Other important issues covered are gender fluidity, the drive for survival at any cost (or indeed, the lack thereof), hope for a better life, loyalty to yourself, your family, and your gods. Honestly, the list could go on, and out of nearly 600-pages worth of text, I have only one bugbear, the acceptance of identity relies too heavily on traditional norms for such a thought-provoking story. The character development is excellent, too. Omat especially.
    • Perhaps the most interesting (to me) concept is that of interaction with other groups of people. Omat’s family have been so isolated for years that when they eventually do come across a new group, they aren’t too sure how to react. Where the novel goes from there was unexpected (to me), but I’m glad that Brodksy didn’t just categorically paint one side against another. There are good and bad people throughout this novel, and it’s never quite clear where that line is drawn. Instead of being frustrating, this just adds another layer of depth, and constantly forced me to consider all possible angles of the narrative.
  • The relationships (both platonic and romantic) are explored in great depth, and we can follow our protagonist Omat as she struggles with her identity in relation to those around her. Ancient laws say women can’t hunt, or perform other such important tasks which she has grown up doing. I think Brodksy did an excellent job of detailing mentorship, natural maturation, and reliance on other people.
    • None are terribly cliched, but neither is the wheel reinvented.
  • The action scenes in The Wolf in the Whale are exquisite. They are all easy to follow, with fight scenes focusing on the true horrors of war and chase/sports scenes (if that’s what they’re called – apologies if not) are equally engaging. Highly enjoyable.

 

Conclusion: 4/5. I very much enjoyed my time with The Wolf in the Whale, and if you enjoy mythology-based stories, or just fantasy in general, and are after something a bit different from all the rest, I think you’d like it too. Unfortunately, I cannot rate the book any higher as the slow start almost put me off completely – again this is personal preference but it’s also fair criticism. Perhaps another edit would have fixed this, but we’ll never know. I look forward to reading what Brodsky puts out next, I’ll definitely be giving it a read!

2 thoughts on “Review: The Wolf in the Whale – Jordanna Max Brodsky

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