Why You Need to Read: “The Wolf in the Whale”

By: Jordanna Max Brodsky                                                   

Published: January 29, 2019

Genre: Historical Fiction, Folklore, Fantasy

  Garbed once more as a man, I entered the blood-soaked iglu. I sawed at my hair so it brushed the tops of my ears as a man’s should. I wore a man’s knife in a sheath looped across my chest. I carried a woman’s ulu in my pack. The wolf in the whale had gone south. And so did I. (Chapter 22).

            When I first received the ARC for this book, I did not know what to expect from it; however, the description of the story caught my attention and I read it with an open mind. The Wolf in the Whaleis an interesting story about gender roles, family, survival, cultural differences, and religion. Expectations placed on the characters—and the gods—within the story drive the narrative as well. Readers will gain insight into the first inhabitants to reside in and the first travelers to North America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.

            The protagonist of this story is also our narrator, who is retelling the events of her life. Omat was born with her father’s spirit as a hunter and with her grandfather’s abilities as a shaman. Hence, Omat is raised and treated as a male by her aunt, her grandfather, and her tribesmen, and she is expected to become the next leader of the tribe much to her cousin’s, Kiasik, chagrin. At the same time, the gods of the world—particularly the Inuit and the Norse—fear the changes to come due to the rise of a new and powerful monotheistic god. Unbeknownst to her, the gods mark Omat as a “threat” for she is expected to bring forth Ragnarök, or the end of the world. The gods’ fear causes Omat’s family to suffer from starvation and isolation. However, anyone who is familiar with myths, legends, and prophecies know that the more anyone tries to prevent a prophecy or an event from happening, the more likely it will occur. Omat’s interaction with her family, other tribesmen, the Vikings, and the gods and the spirits shape her character as she transitions from adolescence to adult. 

            The plot of this novel is broken down into 3 parts: Omat’s bildungsroman, the gods’ fear of the end of their lifestyle and adoration, and the Viking exploration. All of these plots drive the story and provides some insight into how early settlers came to inhabit the Americas, and how the interactions—even brief ones—brought elements of cultural diffusion to Omat’s tribe. The Viking “visit” is based on historical and recorded events; yet, it is unknown as to why they did not remain in the Americas. As for the motives of the gods, anyone who is familiar with religion and myths—or, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and/or Rick Riordan’s books—know the gods depend on both the worship and the stories from the mouths of mortals and shamans for their existence. A new, single god could jeopardize the lives of the rest of the gods. Omat’s journey and growth to becoming a leader means learning from other leaders—the good, the bad, and the worst—meeting challenges from the environment and from other people. Omat manages to overcome these obstacles, but not without repercussions. At the same time, Omat does learn some things from each adversity, which ensures her survival. 

            The narrative is divided into 5 parts: Omat’s birth, family and growth into an angakkug—or shaman; Omat’s power and livelihood being threaten by a visiting tribe who only see Omat for her sex and not for her abilities regardless of her gender; Omat’s journey south in search of her cousin and meeting a Viking, and seeing other people live beyond her world; Omat’s captivity amongst the Vikings; and, Omat’s role in Ragnarök, and its aftermath. All the while, the gods are watching the events unfold and they make decisions for their interests, which do not consider the impact they will have on the mortals. Given the multiple subplots and the story, the later parts in the novel are told in real-time. While this is both appropriate and believable for the plot, it makes the story seem slow at times. Omat is retelling this story. These events already happened—she either was told, or she experienced them—and we are led to believe that this stream-of-consciousness narrative is reliable. 

            The author, Jordanna Max Brodsky, has a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University. The Wolf in the Whaleis a historical fiction fantasy and folklore novel. This story is not only about the brief “meeting” between the Inuit and the Vikings—and other early settlers—but also a look into the folklore—a body of culture, traditions, tales, religion, etc. shared by a particular group of people—with fantasy elements (i.e. gods). The descriptions of the lifestyles of both the Inuit and the Vikings make the story more immersive. The cultural diffusion added by the author’s historical knowledge make the story more believable because the exchange of knowledge amongst various groups of people have been, and continue to be, a necessity for human survival and progression. This novel is a credible story of journey, survival and growth as seen in the author’s style. These elements add to the various dangers all of the characters face from the weather to each other. The realism makes the difference and it flourishes in this novel. 

            Readers who enjoy historical fiction might enjoy The Wolf in the Whale more than those who enjoy fantasy. This is because the historical and the anthropological aspects drive the story more than the appearances of the gods and the spirits. That is not to say fantasy fans won’t enjoy this book, they might not appreciate it as much as historical fiction fans. This is the author’s first standalone novel. So, readers who are curious about the author should read this novel. Fans of the TV show, Vikings, and/or the video game, Never Alone, should find The Wolf in the Whaleto be a well-structured story with the right amount of cultural elements that makes it more believable than the “what if” concept.

            The Wolf in the Whalecaught my attention due to its description about “clashing cultures and warring gods.” I was not sure what to expect from the novel besides shamans and Vikings. Being clueless, but open-minded about the novel allowed me to read the story as it is, and not what I thought it was going to be. The topics of sex and gender roles, culture, survival, interactions between different groups of people, and family drive the story as much as the history and the fantasy within it. There were times in which, some of the real-time events dragged the story. There were times in which, I wanted more from certain characters, but realized it would have diverted from the protagonist. Overall, The Wolf in the Whaleis a speculative fiction novel that is a hybrid of fantasy, folklore, history, and anthropology. I was immersed in the story from start to finish. I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys an eclectic mix of genres in fiction. 

My rating: Enjoy It (4 out of 5)!

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The Mirrors of Jamie Lannister: Who Does the “Kingslayer” Remind You Of?

(Note: Spoilers from A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Harry Potter series and the Legends of King Arthur.)

Jamie Lannister—the prodigy of the Seven Kingdoms, the youngest ever to join the legendary Kingsguard, the eldest son of Lord Tywin Lannister, the man who fucked his twin sister—the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The “Kingslayer,” at first, appears to be your typically over-confident rich boy who uses his family name to get what he wants. Well, that is true. And yet, by the time he becomes a P.O.V. character in A Song of Ice and Fire series, we view things from his angle (obviously) and get a full understanding of the man.

Jamie Lannister is a very complicated person, almost at the level of Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series (I mean that in terms of personality, nothing else). For instance, both characters proved to be very talented in their areas of study that were expected from them. Severus Snape was so talented as a young wizard at Hogwarts he corrected the “mistakes” in his spell books. Jamie Lannister was deemed a prodigy swordsman by age ten.

Next, both men appear to be haughty and fixated on “revenge” against an individual, but we later find out that it is self-pity and annoyance surrounding the ignorance of past events that drives them. Snape joined the Death Eaters while he was still at Hogwarts. As time past, he eventually realized that the group had more hatred than he could handle. But, when he tried to protect his childhood friend, Lily Potter, from Lord Voldemort, he failed and never forgave himself for her death. Throughout the series, Harry Potter believes that Snape hated him because he was more like his father than his mother. Yes, Snape and James Potter never got along because both of them were in love with the same woman, it could be argued that Snape hated Voldemort more for killing Lily.

Jamie Lannister joined the Kingsguard after being “persuaded” by his sister Cersei. What neither of them knew was that the relationship between Mad King Aerys and their father, the Hand of the King, was on edge. It was widely believed that King Aerys accepted Jamie only to humiliate Tywin Lannister by disinheriting his “heir.” It was also immediately after joining the Kingsguard that Jaime realizes that the vows of knighthood did not mirror the vows of the Kingsguard. Jamie believed that the duties of a knight were “to protect the weak and the innocent.” However, Jamie felt worthless the longer he remained within the Kingsguard. He wasn’t even allowed to protect Queen Rhaella when her husband was ravishing her violently. It was at the Sacking of King’s Landing that Jamie decided he had to step in for the “kingdom” instead of the king. He killed Mad King Aerys and his pyromancers before fire could be set to the entire capital. Unfortunately, the only witness to the incident was Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, and he had gotten inside the throne room after the deaths. Jamie knew that no matter what he said, truth or lie, he—a member of the Kingsguard—killed the King. Ned Stark would have seen it as dishonorable either way. So, Jamie becomes hateful towards Ned Stark simply because Ned Stark would not hear reason behind King Aerys’ murder.

Last, both characters are seeking redemption for their past actions. As of right now Snape managed to gain redemption, after death. According to J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter shares the memories of Snape with Professor McGonagall and several other wizards after the Battle at Hogwarts. Thus, it is proven that Snape was working with Professor Dumbledore the entire time and is praised for his actions. Jamie Lannister is trying to redeem his honor and that of the Kingsguard. While the Kingsguard is beyond his control in terms of “structure,” Jamie is focusing on making fair decisions throughout the kingdom and attempting to search, to find, and to protect the daughters of Lady Catelyn and Lord Eddard Stark, Sansa and Arya. Based on what George R.R. Martin has said, Jamie will attempt to, but never complete his journey for redemption. It is here when the comparisons between Jamie Lannister and Severus Snape stop. However, there is another fictional character that Jamie Lannister can be compared with.

Sir Lancelot is a character (or even a true person based on the legends) that many people throughout the world are familiar with. Most notably, he is one of the famous Knights of the Round Table, from King Arthur’s kingdom of Camelot. He was a good-looking, talented swordsman whose deeds proved him to be a “true” knight. That is the tale told within the numerous editions and variants of the story of Lancelot. However, no one is perfect. When Mordred—King Arthur’s bastard son with his half-sister, Morgause—reveals the love affair between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, Camelot is thrown into a civil war, which brings about the end to the legendary kingdom. Hmm, this sounds very much like another popular story.

Jamie Lannister is most likely based on the character of Sir Lancelot, and to some extent King Arthur, from the Arthurian tales. Both men are handsome, are talented in the art of fighting, and are able to provide their talents for their king. Then, they commit adultery with their queen, and everything falls into chaos when the affair is revealed.

Sir Lancelot was said to be one of King Arthur’s best knights, and he was allowed to become part of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Jamie Lannister joined the Kingsguard when he was fifteen-years-old, the youngest ever to join the order in the Seven Kingdoms. Another thing both of these knights have in common is that they both love the queen they are supposed to serve and to protect. Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere (also spelled Gwenhwyfar) were in love with each other, but obviously Guinevere was already married to King Arthur (sounds like another romantic pair from A Song of Ice and Fire series, R+L=J!). In fact, some of the variants state that Sir Lancelot saved Queen Guinevere a few times when she was abducted or was in danger. However, this did not stop them from carrying out a love affair. When the affair is revealed, it is the distraction Mordred needed to start a war with King Arthur for rule over Camelot.

This is where Jamie Lannister mirrors King Arthur. King Arthur unknowingly sleeps with his half-sister, Morgause (or Morgan), and the result is Mordred, the (unacknowledged) bastard son of the king. Mordred was believed to have had a violent nature, and when his father left Camelot to fight a war, Mordred took complete control of the kingdom. Jamie Lannister carries an affair with his twin sister, Cersei, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and that affair resulted in three children: Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. The children are believed to be the heirs to King Robert Baratheon, until his brother, Stannis, and Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, begin to suspect the parentage. Joffrey has a sadistic nature, and when Robert Baratheon dies, Joffrey ascends the throne and starts a full-out war within the Seven Kingdoms. Like Mordred, Joffrey dies, and everyone is happy to see him go.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Mordred mortally wounded King Arthur, and Arthur is “buried” at Avalon. As of right now, Jamie is still alive and nowhere near his remaining children. In addition, Jamie displays no grief after Joffrey dies because he believed him to be an ineffective ruler. On one hand, in comparison to Sir Lancelot, Jamie and Cersei have ended their “relationship,” and Jamie, like Lancelot, decides to live the rest of his life honorably while seeking redemption. On the other hand, Lancelot lives the rest of his life as a hermit and in penitence. When Lancelot does die, he is buried at his castle where his tomb was already waiting for him. Jamie Lannister is making his way across the Seven Kingdoms with several companions, which include other knights and members of his family. When he does die, will be buried where he died, like the other members of the Kingsguard before him. It is unlikely that Jamie will be buried at Casterly Rock with his ancestors.

In all, Jamie Lannister is based on two Arthurian characters: King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. However, I argue that Jamie Lannister reminds fans of Severus Snape. I know GRRM does NOT want his fans to assume that his fantasy series will be anything like J.K. Rowling’s, but there are times when it cannot be helped. It means that these fictional characters are so well developed that we can automatically think of another rounded characters. At the same time, because we have an idea of the inspirations surrounding A Song of Ice and Fire (and Harry Potter) we have several theories and educated guesses as to what could happen to these characters in future tales.