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

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The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

When the spirit you accept as your own doesn’t fit into that which has been prescribed, warring gods might see you as rebellious and try to be rid of you—before you start to change the world.

So the theme goes in The Wolf in the Whale, a sweeping novel about the life of an Inuit around 1100 AD. Omat is our main character, a Shaman born a woman. But her grandfather believed she was born with her dead father’s soul and instead, raised her as a man. Omat's resulting gender fluidity—her two-spirit nature—is baked into her voice and actions, into her struggle to fit into a rigid and desperate nomadic society. It is not some easily interchangeable character trait.

“She is like me. She contains multitudes," [Loki] murmurs. “I am man and woman, giant and god. So Omat, too will live between worlds, speaking to men and gods alike, containing two souls." A single tear forms in the corner of his rainbow eye. “Like me, she will be torn between the people she was born into and those she will grow to love.”

The Wolf in the Whale is about Omat searching for herself, shunning the rigid rules of gods and society. Again and again.

I love the arctic. I love the snowpack and the hard wind and the wolves. From page one I fell right into this world near the eastern coast of subarctic Canada, where people survive by hunting seals and the occasional whale. Despite being set over one thousand years ago, the landscape is fully imagined as breathtakingly beautiful yet brutal and unforgiving.

Brodsky’s research shines through with historical detail present on every page. From the way the Inuk cut their meat, to the laborious task of building an iglu—to hunting and stitching clothes. Far removed from these tedious tasks, the gods, both Inuit and Norse, loom large with their fingers in everyone’s business. The mythology is vivid and deep. It’s woven into every corner of Omat’s community and beyond.

One of the best historical fiction books released this year, the pages fly by in a tense narrative which manages to be both epic in scope and deeply personal.

If you liked American Gods by Neil Gaiman or Circe by Madeline Miller, be sure to pick this one up.

CW: sexual violence, rape

Casey Reinhardt is the lead editor for Timeworn. She is also a writer of historical and speculative fiction. You can find her toiling away at a desk in Buffalo, NY where she dreams up madness, most of which makes its way into a story or poem. Her work can be found in Apparition Lit and Exoplanet Magazine among others. Find her on twitter @yoscully.