*Terrible, terrible pun. But it makes me so happy. Sorry not sorry.
The Ancient Arctic Epic You Didn’t Know You Needed
Combining Inuit and Norse history with fantasy elements, The Wolf in the Whale tells the story of Omat, an Inuit hunter and shaman living in the Canadian arctic in 1000 AD. Born a girl, her family believes the soul of her dead father has been reborn in her and therefore raise her as a boy. Omat finds her identity in hunting for her family and communing with the spirits to keep them safe, but there are larger forces at work, and evil approaches. After her cousin is taken by Viking raiders, Omat must leave the only home she’s known to save him. But this nearly impossible rescue mission leads Omat to a bigger destiny: to keep the gods from tearing her world apart in an epic Ragnarok.
Not quite that Ragnarok. But Thor is there. So is this guy.
I loved the blending of mythology and the active participation of the Inuit and Viking gods in the narrative; it reminded me a lot of The Illiad and adds a rich, mystical element. The Inuit had a fascinating pantheon of animal and environmental deities, all with incredible origin stories, and they are one of the best elements of this story. While the author is not Inuit herself, it’s obvious that she did her research to brilliantly bring to a little known culture to life.
A Journey of Self-Acceptance
Brodsky also did a nuanced, sensitive job of exploring the Inuit beliefs about a nonbinary/third gender person. Omat knows she has the body of a female, but believes (as does everyone else) that the male spirit of her father has been reborn in her. She struggles to reconcile who she feels she is with the rigid gender expectations and taboo beliefs of her people. For example, she is able to remain a male, or hunter, until she begins menstruating, as after menstruation women are forbidden from using weapons or hunting. Torn between the separate realms of men and women, she doesn’t feel like she belongs in either, existing alone in the shadowy middle. Her parallel journeys, one physical, one metaphorical, are what give this story adventure and heart.
Add in a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers romance and some loyal, semi-magical animal friends, and you have an epic, piercing story of loyalty, self, and forging your own destiny.