Hello Humans! Today’s review is for upcoming adult fantasy The Wolf in the Whale. I was on a bit of an adult fantasy kick at the end of last year, largely because I was attempting to read the last few items on my NetGalley shelf and I had been procrastinating some of the adult titles. It ended up being a really positive experience in the end, and certainly reminded me that I do enjoy adult fantasy but I have to give it a chance!
A young Inuit shaman’s epic quest for survival in the frozen lands of North America in 1000 AD.
Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.
But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won’t come, and Omat’s family is starving.
Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world…or save it.
The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.
Content warning: Rape (happens on the page), incest (alluded to).
I went into this unsure of what to expect. I will admit to having committed the cardinal sin of judging a book by its cover and I thought this one wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I am delighted to say that I was wrong. I thought this was a wonderful story and I would absolutely recommend it to you, my dear readers.
We follow the story of Omat, the epic journey she goes on in order to protect herself and her family.
I’m going to use female pronouns for Omat because that’s what is used in the summary, but part of what is interesting in this story is the exploration of gender. Omat is raised as a boy and embraces more of a non-binary identity as the book goes on. It isn’t explicitly non-binary as the author is exploring the Inuit (and first nation) idea of a third gender, a dual gender that has more to do with spirit than it does biology. But the summary and the book frequently uses she/her/hers pronouns so that’s what I’m going to do for this review. As a cisgender woman I can’t comment on how good this representation of gender (or lack thereof) is, I urge you to seek out ownvoices reviews, but for my part I thought it was a decent approach, it didn’t feel like the author was jumping on a trend, it felt like some research had been done and that she had explored what this would be like for the character in the wider context of Omat’s life, as opposed to just making her entire character revolve around that fact. Some of the most powerful moments of this book were those where Omat was learning different skills traditionally coded to either gender, bringing them together into her bank of knowledge. I found those elements the most powerful.
Some of this book is quite difficult to read. I’ve mentioned it in my content warning above but there is on-page rape which is not easy. If you would like to read this but would like to avoid such a thing please do contact me and I’ll be happy to let you know the chapters to avoid. But there is also a narrative of recovery and discovery through this book. Omat deals with the emotional consequences of what happens in the context of her wider struggle in the book in a way that feels ultimately very human and believable.
The fantasy elements in this book are largely connected to the idea of gods/spirits and so forth, I thought that the links made between different sets of deities (I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil it) were truly inspired.
There is a romance in this book, it doesn’t take over the plot in any way but it is decidedly there, I thought it was a lovely slow burn and I may have shed a tear or two along the way. If you like that kind of romance that lies alongside the main plot then this is definitely a good example of that.
The writing is lovely, you certainly get the feel for the environment in which these characters live, I know the author is not part of the culture she is recording, but she does seem to have done a great deal of research and has put a lot of thought into the representation of this culture. I would recommend reading her note on the places from which she drew her inspiration as it certainly encouraged me to go out and learn more about the various topics she explores.
As I say, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, I was totally caught up in the characters, the story and the setting within the first third of the book and from there I couldn’t quite put it down. If you’re looking for a fantasy that takes inspiration from a fairly unique place then I would certainly suggest The Wolf in the Whale.
Also, there are dogs.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Wolf in the Whale publishes on January 29th so there is still time to preorder your copy!
What say you? Will you be reading this book? Let me know in the comments below!