Finely designed worldbuilding and shapeshifting

Photo via Amazon.ca

Image via Amazon.ca

‘The Tiger and the Wolf’ book review

By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor

 

4.5/5

 

In The Tiger and the Wolf, fantasy and sci-fi author Adrian Tchaikovsky steps into a fantastic prehistoric world steeped in the perfect blend of magic, mythos, and humanity.

The Tiger and the Wolf, published in February 2016, is the first in the ongoing Echoes of the Fall series. In this world, humans live in clans affiliated with certain animals and everyone has the power to Step—to shapeshift into the form of their people’s animal. Our protagonist Maniye, as the title suggests, is the daughter of a Wolf chieftain and the queen of the Tiger, and although she can Step into both forms, she belongs with neither people. Before you think this is a simple story of an outcast girl caught between her two heritages, I promise you, it’s so much more. The plot involves forging political alliances, negotiating between familial ties, and navigating one’s own path through this brilliantly-crafted world.

In fact, this novel’s strongest aspect is its world—more specifically the shapeshifting magic and the mythology behind it all. It’s hard to present shapeshifting in a way that doesn’t feel either overdone or overpowered, but Tchaikovsky deftly weaves the ability into the different cultures. Part of the reason it works is because the setting is so suited to it: The world roughly parallels Earth’s early Iron Age based on the level of technology and the size of human settlements, and humanity’s close bond with nature integrates seamlessly into this period. Every aspect of the shapeshifting—from how people learn to master their powers to how they deal with clothing when they Step—is well thought-out.

The Tiger and the Wolf also succeeds at building different cultures around different animals in a convincing, nuanced manner, rather than homogenizing each people. All of the characters are clearly shaped by their upbringings in their respective clans, but these societies are far from two-dimensional personifications of their animals. For example, the Wolves are fierce fighters who live in hierarchical village tribes, and most people of the Bear are temperamentally aloof and physically huge, but these traits inform the characters without defining them. It feels like the characters themselves are the ones to reinforce stereotypes between different peoples, rather than the author forcing them into simplistic moulds.

The novel’s world also meshes beautifully with the mythology. Every group of people has its own patron god: The Wolf, Tiger, Old Crocodile, Serpent, and many more. Maniye, torn between her two bloodlines, is forced to do some serious soul-searching relating to these deities, and through her the reader is introduced to the truly epic scope of this world’s prehistoric aspects.

I did find a couple of problems with this book. A few points in the story did feel a bit deus ex machina, with characters being saved at the last minute by coincidences that are a little too convenient and predictable. However, the plot still contained enough twists to keep me more than engaged. The characters come across as a bit lacking, and although none of the important characters are intolerably bland, none of them really feel as completely developed and sympathetic as I’d like. Still, the rich world surrounding the characters more than makes up for these deficiencies.

I can’t help but compare this novel to Tchaikovsky’s 10-book epic Shadows of the Apt, which is one of my absolute favourite series of all time. Shadows of the Apt features humans with insect aspects, and the series has some of the most impressive, immersive worldbuilding and mythos I’ve ever encountered, melding together magic, military fantasy, and steampunk technology. The world of Echoes of the Fall is so far considerably shallower than Shadows of the Apt, and I have to admit my heart belongs to the author’s first series (which, I must emphasize, is amazing).

Having read both, it’s impressive that Tchaikovsky has managed to build another complex, cohesive world around this same concept of humans with animal characteristics.

The Bear and the Serpent, book two of Echoes of the Fall, came out earlier this year. I haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, but I have full faith that it is just as enthralling.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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