Review | The Wolf in the Whale – Jordanna Max Brodsky

About the Book

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.

544 pages (paperback)
Published on January 29, 2019
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When I ran across this book, I knew I had to read it. I love mythology. I love lush prose. I love clashing cultures. I also know nearly nothing about the Inuit culture that is featured in this book, and I was instantly fascinated by that. I have this obsession with places in the world that are really remote, and Greenland is somewhere that has always fascinated me. This book, friends, set me down some serious, serious rabbit holes. 

Brodsky is an author I’ve heard of but I don’t really know a whole lot about her. Other than the premise of the novel, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had high hopes, and I was thrilled to realize that, regardless what my hopes were, she vaulted over them pretty much by the end of the first page. I love poetic writing, and Brodsky absolutely delivered. This was one of those books I long to lose myself in. The words were just as beautiful as the story. I read The Wolf in the Whale as much to admire how Brodsky used words, as for any other reason.

“There are few sounds at night on the frozen sea besides the roar of the wind. No plants to rustle, no waves to crash upon the shore, no birds to caw. The white owl flies on hushed wings. The white fox walks with silent tread. Even Inuit move as softly as spirits, the snow too hard to yield and crunch beneath our boots. We hear little, but what we do hear is vital: the exploding breath of a surfacing seal, the shift and crack of drifting ice. But in the forest there is always sound. The trees, even in their shrouds of snow, are alive, and their voices–groans, creaks, screams–never cease.”

There are some interesting things happening in this book, which I feel I should touch on. First, is the use of Inuit cultural elements, and second was gender fluidity. I will eternally fight for the right for an author to be allowed to write the other, and I will also always be a huge proponent of it. I even think it is a good thing to do, to learn about others, to see the world differently, to empathize. I will say, the research needs to be done well, and I think Brodsky did a really good job delivering on that front. There were details and notes, elements throughout the book that showed Brodsky’s extensive research and her empathy for her characters, the world, the plight of those you come in contact throughout the book is felt in every line. 

The story of Omat is a coming of age tale that is unlike anything you will have ever read. Magical realism is a solid categorization for what happens in this book, when myth and lore are reality, and magic is subtle and unshakable. From Omat’s wolf spirit, to her ability to shapeshift and the spirits that live inside her, which were all beautifully described and illuminated for the reader, I was enchanted by her life, and the life of her people.

Conversations with animal guides, and gods, then the ultimate clashing of cultures were done just beautifully, from stem to stern I cannot fault a single element of this book for any of that. I love understated magic systems that feel real in the world they are set in, and the way magic was used in The Wolf in the Whale was not only carefully planned and executed, where myth, lore, and tradition were treated with an immense amount of respect, and brought this world not many people know about to blazing life for the reader.

“Spirit upon spirit curled one within the other like the spirals of a shell.”

Omat, however, was a fascinating character. As she grows from headstrong child to cautious adult, readers follow along beside her. The world is hard, and tradition dictates everything. When things start going bad for her family, and strangers come (bringing nothing good with them) it sets Omat on another journey. One no one anticipates, which ultimately brings Omat a ton of heartache and trauma, but also makes her a lot stronger. 

The woman Omat ends up being is not the person she started out as. It was fascinating to see how the author worked with trauma and strife, and used them to not only show how these happenings changed Omat. Brodsky does not shy away from showing the aftereffects of trauma, which I appreciated immensely. While there are some hard scenes, which will absolutely make you cry (I dare you not to), Omat doesn’t just move on from them. Brodsky shows how trauma doesn’t just go away. Omat struggles, but she also grows, and the trauma she suffers is never forgotten. It’s felt throughout. 

I want to say this is a slow moving book, but I also want to say I almost wish it moved slower so I could have savored it more. I had a really, really hard time becoming okay with the fact that The Wolf in the Whale had an ending. By the time Omat met Brandr, I was so engrossed in the book I couldn’t pull myself away for all the money in the world. The way the two managed to form their own unique kind of relationship, with language and culture standing in the way, was absolutely engrossing. And wolf pups. 

bangs hand on table WOLF. PUPS. 

The Wolf in the Whale was the kind of fantasy book I live for. Subtle, slow, gorgeous, and thoughtful, this one absolutely blew me away. It’s not a book I will forget anytime soon. My only regret is that it ended. 

5/5 stars