The Wolf in the Whale

Written by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Review by K. M. Sandrick

An Inuit newborn at risk of imminent death is revived by the warm breath of a white wolf. The infant’s grandfather believes the Wolf spirit has been transmitted to the baby’s heart and that the child will assume the role of his dead son to become shaman. He consequently gives the infant his son’s name—Omat. Omat is raised to be a hunter as well as shaman. When seal food becomes scarce, Omat finds a path forward by following a wolf that changes its shape into a whale and swims to the south. The trip brings Omat in contact with a Viking warrior, Brandr, and the two band together when conflict arises.

The Wolf in the Whale is based on The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Erik the Red, which chronicle strife between Vikings and native peoples in Newfoundland and a possible meeting of Inuit and Norsemen. It is an earnest undertaking, weaving mythology with reports of hunting, birthing, and travel on the tundra, and includes background on Inuktitut and Norse words as well as spirits and gods and monsters. The narrative is not a smooth one, however. Sentiments sometimes do not track. Omat at age 8 expresses fear at the beginning of one chapter; at the end Omat notes no tears or fear because of the inhabiting spirits. In the first chapter Omat acts as a boy; in the third Omat is told he is a girl. The action meanders, and flowery language often distracts. The topic is intriguing, and the effort is ambitious, but the result is not wholly satisfying.