Friends! I am SO EXCITED to share this review with you today. This is the book I feel like I have been waiting for since this terrible reading slump hit back in October. I really just needed something to sweep me away- to make me care, to give me a reason to stay curled up on the couch all day and read. It has been a really long time since I read a 500+ page book in a 24 hour period. It was impossible to put down.
This is the story of Omat, an Inuit two-spirit shaman living around 1000 AD, and what happens when his world collides with the world of gods and vikings. It was part survival story, part romance, and part spiritual journey. Extremely rich in mythology and folklore and heavy on the magical realism.
I’m not sure what pronoun is quite correct to use for Omat- so I’m going to stick with ‘he’ because I believe that would be the preferred pronoun. We start with Omat’s miraculous birth, and within the first 20 pages Brodsky had brought me to tears twice. Omat’s tribe is very, very small, and at the time of his birth, the tribe had just lost most of their hunters to the ice. From page one- the stakes already felt extremely high, and continued to remain so throughout the book.
Omat’s grandfather is the tribe’s angakkuq (shaman), and he recognizes when Omat is born that his powers are already greater than his own, so Omat begins training to take his place. This allowed for a lot of the mythology and the folklore to unfold in what I felt were natural ways. Nothing ever felt like an out of place info-dump, or that it was being explained to me for the sake of knowledge alone.
Aside from the mythology and folklore the history itself felt very rich. The reader is given a lot of insight into tools and hunting practices they might have used, the way igloos are built and how they traveled across the land, various social customs, etc.. Again- it was never something that felt dry or unnecessary, and though I myself am no expert in Inuit history, I would wager that Brodsky’s research was very thorough.
The romance was my absolute favorite part of this book. (Spoilers ahead.) Omat being two-spirited brought an added barrier to their relationship. His attraction to Brandr is obvious to the reader from the first moment they meet, but Omat, struggling with the female part of his identity, does not want Brandr to think he is anything but a man. Brandr on the other hand, is struggling with a lot of his own demons, and feelings of general unworthiness. I loved everything about this pair from the moment they met. I loved the obstacles they had to overcome to get from unlikely allies to friends and eventually lovers. I loved that they both had their own identities to grapple with before they could ever find acceptance in the other person. This romance is epic on the scale of Outlander.
I do want to comment about the content. This is a survival story. And more than that it is a survival story in the Artic where food is scarce and hunger is common. There is a lot of hunting and killing of animals and it’s animals that I think we generally frown upon killing today like seals and whales. It’s always done respectfully but it can be hard to read if you’re sensitive to that. Other content warnings: Rape, a really brutal scene of violence against women and children, slavery, loss of parents, loss of siblings, and partners.
The writing was wonderful and an excellent complement to the setting itself. You could feel the biting wind and the frost in your face, the pangs of hunger from subsisting on meager meals, the feeling of fullness from that first real meal eaten in days. I was reminded a lot of the atmospheric writing in The Bear and the Nightingale, though the books themselves have little in common.
If I had to criticize one thing- it would be the climax of the story. ***END BOOK SPOILERS: I wasn’t entirely sure the tone of that final showdown between the Aesir and the Jotunn really fit the rest of the book. The prior spiritual journeys and memory sharing I would have classified as magical realism, while the final battle felt like pure fantasy. By that time, I was already so invested in the book I was willing to shrug it off.
I loved this book enough that I will probably buy a hard copy to keep forever. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Inuit and Norse history and mythology.