The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
No spoilers. (Promise)
The Wolf in the Whale has one of the most unique premises I've ever come across: a historical fantasy that combines Norse and Inuit mythology. And then there's the fact that it starred, what I thought, was a femme protagonist. But as it turns out, Omat is trans.
I actually changed the description up there. The actual description uses female pronouns for Omat, which makes no sense because he spends the majority of the book using male pronouns. In modern culture he'd probably be considered FTM transgender, except that implies that he was assigned female at birth. But despite having a "woman's body," he was raised as a boy, because he inherited his father's soul. The whole thing boils down to "This baby is trans because magic."
This of course leads to excellent conflict and exploration of gender, gender roles, and sexuality. One of the villains is a cis woman who is very masculine. One of the good guys is a cis man who is very soft, gentle, and therefore somewhat feminine. Omat goes from strictly adhering to gender roles in order to claim and verify his manhood to "fuck the rules, I do what I want."
In terms of pacing, the book is a little slow. The first hundred pages are spent establishing Omat's world, the Inuit culture and mythology, and his magic and family dynamics. We don't even meet one of the main villains until page 103.
Once the book gets going, though, shit gets real. Omat has to overcome a tall order of villains and obstacles in order to achieve his goals, which vary from survive to rescue my brother to save my people. There are Inuit villains, Norse villains, godly villains, and nature itself is a bit of a villain at times.
One of the most interesting things about this book is its theme of sexual violence. Thanks to some transphobia and misogyny on the Inuit villain's part, Omat is raped. It's not graphically described, but it's still very upsetting. While it's the only time it happens to Omat, it's not the only time it's talked about in the book. It's also talked about from the other side: a rapist who is trying to seek forgiveness and redemption, and has to work for it. You rarely see that in fiction--or anywhere, really. Needless to say, even the "good guys" in this story are very grey.
The whole cast of characters are amazing. The Inuit are a tight-knit group and adore each other, but they're willing to sacrifice Omat if the alternative is death. The Norse are fierce warriors and mostly considered villains, but many of them are victims themselves. The gods are a mash-up of good and evil, created by humans and in turn affecting humans in both positive and negative ways. (This book adheres to the rules of American Gods to a T.)
I know shamefully little about Inuit culture and even Norse culture, but considering the fact that Harvard grad Brodsky goes ham on research by actually visiting the places she's writing about and (gasp! shock!) talking to people in those cultures, I think we can trust it. Maybe not the part about a vengeful god living on the moon and a massive snake wrapped around the world, but the more historical aspects.
Honestly, my only complaint about this book is that it's exhausting. In a good way, but still. The book hangover is not appreciated. While there is no gratuitous violence, the story itself is brutal. Rape, character deaths, animal deaths all get thrown at Omat like a never-ending parade of misery. The poor kid just can't catch a break, and neither do we. I need a nap.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!