This is a very different take on fantasy, I’ve never read anything from the perspective of the Inuit people so I was pretty excited about it going in.
This is a single POV book (I think, I DNF’d) about a girl growing up in a very remote Inuit clan. They are far removed from everyone else and are struggling to make it by, every decision they make can have long-lasting impacts on their group as a whole. One wrong move could be disastrous, and losing members of their clan when their numbers are so few is devastating. They are a close-knit but very pragmatic sort of people. What needs to be done gets done or face extinction. They live in close quarters so things like nudity, sex, sharing partners and all of that are very out in the open and not a big deal. There are strict rules on what men and women can’t do with rigid adherence to gender roles. This makes things complicated for our main character. She was something of a miracle child, when she was born she was barely breathing, it was a difficult birth and her mother died shortly thereafter. She was left out in the snow overnight, assumed to be too weak to live anyway. However, the next morning she was found alive, and it was presumed that her dead father’s soul came to inhabit her body, that she was blessed by a wolf that stayed by her side after she was abandoned and breathed life into her. Since she carried her father’s soul, she was to be raised as a man. She would be allowed to hunt (a huge taboo for a woman) and treated just like all the other boys. However, as a teenager, she found out that she was, in fact, a woman. It was a huge blow and a traumatic event. She vowed never to bleed or take a husband, but things took a turn for the worse when another band of Inuit show up and wreak havoc in her world.
There was a lot of very organic world building in this, the first 30% or so was largely focused on character development and the lore of the world told through songs and stories Omat’s grandfather would tell. He’s an Ongakgook, a shaman of sorts, who is able to commune with the spirits and speak with the animals. The Ongakgook’s other main role is keeping the stories and the lore of their people alive through song. Omat was training to be the next Ongakgook since she was able to speak to a caribou without any sort of training. There are a lot of references to the ancestors, stories about how the gods came into being, and stories of spirits and guides. I found all of that to be fascinating and was really trying to get into the book, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
This book was a struggle for me despite it being on audiobooks. I’m just not that into hunting scenes – I tolerate them at best when they are used sparingly. I can’t help myself, I cringe when I see animals get hurt or killed, even if the rational side of me is saying “this is essential for them to live”, it’s just a gut response. The first 30% of the book was dominated by hunting scenes and small talk amongst villagers. When the outsiders made it into the story the plot did pick up a bit, but there was still lots of hunting, lots of traveling around in snow covered wastelands and I just got bored and kind of grossed out. There’s an off screen rape of the main character and I’m just not into it. I do believe it was handled well, I felt the right kind of angry when I read it. However, I’ve read 11 books so far this year, and 9 of them have had rape in it. I’m just not able to stomach any more of it right now. So, I made it to about 40% before I called it quits, this is sort of an “it’s not you, it’s me” break up. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s certainly a very different kind of book, and if it sounds interesting to you I’d say give it a chance.