Book Review: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Rating:  ★★★★★

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.

END SPOILERS.

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.

Throwback Thursday: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’m sorry  I’m giving you one of my old reviews when I haven’t given you a new one yet this week.  I do have some new ones coming though (and I’m super excited to share them with you!) I just have to finish reading the books first.

Last Throwback Thursday I reviewed Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade, and while nothing would please me more than to share the reviews of the other three books I think they start to get spoilery and include information from the first book.  If you’d like to read them, you can check out my GoodReads reviews here: (Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne).

This week, I’ve been in a grimdark sort of mood, so it seemed only fitting that I share my review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns.  I am planning on reading King of Thorns sometime this year so it makes sense.

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Rating:  ★★★★★

So on to the review. I’m giving it 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. This is not going to be a book for everyone. It just isn’t. The protagonist, is a murderous, traitorous, self serving, evil genius. Nothing is sacred to Jorg but vengeance and victory. Vengeance and victory can come at any cost, and Jorg is willing to pay that price. Loyalty and brotherhood are meaningless to him.

I am okay with this. As to what that says for my own mental state, well, let’s not look at that too closely. The thing is, a character like Jorg is just so damn rare. You’ll cringe every time he throws someone off a cliff. Or knifes a brother for looking at him the wrong way. He’s smug. He’s arrogant. He’s a bastard. If you’re like me, you’ll be rooting for him in the end.

Because his father, the real villain of the story, is somehow worse. I think. Minor spoiler: I don’t know if Jorg would ever stab his own son. Maybe he would. Maybe they are equally evil. For now, the father is worse.

The writing was excellent. This is a story about murder and the destruction of kingdoms and a rise to power and Lawrence makes it poetic somehow. Jorg’s inner monologue is fascinating. He’s evil and he knows it, but he still questions it on occasion. Sometimes he questions if he’s evil enough. Sometimes he mourns the loss of his childhood. Sometimes he seems perfectly happy to be rid of his innocence.

The plot is very action driven, with plenty of blood, gore and battle to go around. The action is also extremely well written, never a dull moment. Jorg always has an ace up his sleeve or a pawn to sacrifice.

There are some plot holes that I’m not sure how to fill. I’m hoping they are explained in later series. Namely, why this marauding band of brothers follows around a fourteen year old boy. It has nothing to do with his Princedom (excepting Makin- maybe). Of what I’ve seen of Jorg in this book I just didn’t get it. I understood a little why the one called the Nuban followed Jorg. And maybe it’s as simple as the brothers were sheep who needed a wolf to lead them. I don’t know. Little Rikey’s situation certainly isn’t explainable.

All in all it was great. I am SO excited to read the next in the series and check out some of Lawrence’s other series as well. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes dark fantasy and doesn’t mind a less than respectable protagonist.

Throwback Thursday: The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

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Rating:  ★★★★★

I mean you all knew where Thursday was headed right?  Next Thursday I’ll post a new old review from another series, but honestly only because book four in Terra Ignota hasn’t been released yet. (Also- spoilers ahead for books one and two if you haven’t read them yet…)

Ockham Prospero Saneer pleads Terra Ignota, I did the deed, but I do not myself know whether it was a crime. This sets the tone for the entire book. (As an aside- it really is a fascinating question all by itself.)

One of the issues readers had with Too Like the Lightning, was it’s cliffhanger ending. I’m happy to report that this does not feel like half a book. The wait for Perhaps the Stars will still be long and torturous, but I intend to fill that time with back to back re-reads prior to release (this is still true… come on release date!).

These books are, in their own special way, an art form. These pages are filled with quirky stylistic choices, narrative breaks taken to address the reader (you) who carries an ongoing dialogue both with the narrator, and ghosts of the narrators past and upbringing (primarily, philosopher Thomas Hobbes). Dual columns of text side by side are meant to tell you that multiple conversations are happening at the same time within the text. While MASON speaks, people around him object and these texts are given to you in tandem. Different sets of parenthetical are meant to indicate different languages. I’m sure this has been obvious to some of my fellow readers, but yes, I can be dense, and yes, it has taken me three books to crack the code.

We continue our philosophical search for meaning through the eyes of the Alien, God of Another Universe, filtered through the eyes of a serial killer and a genius, Mycroft Canner. This was an interesting examination of Mycroft. We see a glimpse of Mycroft before this chronicle started. We spy him for a brief moment in that time between his capture and his judgement. His own story, a mirror image of the larger story at hand.

We move away now from examinations of gender and utopia, to the meaning and purpose of war. Perhaps to the purpose of god and religion and its purpose within society. How does a peaceful society take those first few steps to war? Is war necessary to progress? How does society balance the rights of an individual against the greater good? What right does a government have to defend itself or its people against other governments and people? Is this a right we as citizens consent to? Or do we happily ignore it and pretend that peace and the right to live are god granted things that no government can take away regardless of that governments cause?

This may be the last book I have time to read and review this year (in 2017) and with everything happening within my own government I suppose it couldn’t have been more timely. It is highly relevant and highly recommended, and one of the few books I am already looking forward to re-reading because I know just how many things I must have missed.