Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Redhook, 2019. Paperback. 464 pages.
Publication: January 29, 2019

About The Wolf in the Whale:

"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."

I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up The Wolf in the Whale. I had no idea that I was opening up a book that would become one of my new all-time favorites that I am sure to re-read many, many times in the future. I have almost never finished a book and immediately wanted to flip back to the beginning and start reading it again, but I absolutely had that desire for this book. My heart was broken so many times in this book that I lost count, and I have to say that I loved every minute of it.

The world-building is one of the most prominent components of the story and is also what immediately drew me in--this world is as much a character in this story as any of the other characters. The setting takes place in what appears to be a real-world setting from 1000 AD in what is now subarctic Canada areas, but there are more magical elements in the form of the Inuit and Viking gods and how they interact with humans. Omat is a shaman, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, which also adds some magical elements in a way that feels genuine and respectful and makes me want to learn more about the world in this book and its inhabitants. I loved all of the mythology that expanded this world and made everything come together in a comprehensive way.

The Wolf in the Whale has a strong plot, but it's the characters (along with the setting) that truly make this story as beautiful as it is. Omat is a stunningly complex protagonist with so many layers and so much development that I couldn't help but develop an extremely strong connection with her. She is someone with a lot of internal struggles that often translate into outward conflicts with others and I think the balance of these conflicts is a rather notable aspect that I really appreciate. Brodsky notes in her research that the concept of Omat's father being reborn into her is an older Inuit tradition that actually occurred, and although I cannot speak for any Inuit descendants or those who know the culture, it feels as though it was portrayed really well and in an honorable manner. The way that Brodsky handled the complex nature of Omat's feelings around her gender was incredible and really made this story stand out. I also completely fell in love with Omat's "pack" and think that addition to the story was flawless.

Another character that we eventually meet is Brandr, and though I won't say much about him so as not to spoil anything, I want to note how well done his development was as well. Brandr develops not only throughout the current events of the story, but also in some of his background that we get to see that led him to the point he's at when he actually becomes a prominent character in the story. This created a strong foundation not only for Brandr, but also for Brandr's relationship to the Vikings and the nature of the Vikings themselves and their relationships with their gods and others. 

One of the most creative and striking parts of The Wolf in the Whale was how Brodsky had both the Inuit and the Viking gods interact. Not only did she develop and give each group of gods their own distinct personalities and forms, she also had them merge and interact in ways that felt unlike anything I've seen before in books that feature various gods and mythologies. I also loved seeing how the gods meddled with humans in so many different ways.

It's also worth noting that this is a brutal book as much as it is an emotional journey. There is unexpected, intense violence that showcases the harsh reality of the cruelties humans will inflict upon one another, whether because they do not know the culture of another people and view them as inferior or whether it is people of the same culture that they simply do not respect. It's also brutal in the way that it shows the honesty of living in a climate as difficult as the arctic; there is a constant risk of messing up and having deadly consequences. Brodsky pulls no punches in this book.

One small last thing I'd like to say is that after I finished this book, I had a strong interest and desire to learn more about the Inuit culture and experience in this world, both in the past and present. This stands out to me because I always think it's a positive reflection on the author's part when a book makes the reader want to continue to learn about a particular subject after reading a book--it shows a dedication to research and respectful storytelling that shines the topic (in this case, Inuit culture) in such a light that I know there is long tradition and history to explore.

This book had me constantly hooked. Even when Brodsky was merely explaining how Omat and her family were using all parts of a whale or seal or building an iglu (which, by the way, I've always wanted to experience), I was captivated. Every last detail felt meticulous and and perfectly placed with care. This is a story of exploration and discovery. It's a story that features survival, hope, strength, loss, understanding and tolerance, family, gods meddling with humands, and home. If you want to read a moving, unforgettable journey with no dull moments and characters that will leave you feeling as if you are a part of them, this is the perfect book. I have said this a lot, but I genuinely cannot recommend this book enough. Overall, I've of course given it five stars and I will absolutely be checking out Brodsky's backlist and any future books she chooses to write.

Content warning: I think it's worthwhile to note that there are a few very dark scenes in this book with strong violence (including some against children) and rape, so just keep that in mind if you are sensitive to any of those topics. All of these areas were handled extremely well and done in a manner that was important to the plot and the tone of the story, so I personally did not find it gratuitous, but I also understand that no matter the circumstance some people struggle with these topics.

*I received an ARC of The Wolf in the Whale courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound


  1. Awesome that this is 5 stars. The world building and respect for Inuit culture sound great, and having read a couple of her previous books (in the Immortals series) I know she can write. I'm kind of excited for this one now!

    1. I'm thinking of checking out her Immortals series soon, so I'm glad to hear good things on that one too. I hope you get a chance to check this one out!

  2. This sounds like such a unique read, and I love complex characters so your description of Omat really appeals to me too.

    1. It was really unique, and Omat was incredible. Definitely one of the better characters I've read lately.

  3. I'm about halfway through this at the moment, and loving it! Great read and also really intrigued by the Inuit culture in it.