Published by Macmillan on February 9th 2016 (UK release)
Thanks to Macmillan for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Having just read Adrian Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the Monstrous Little Voices book (which I loved) I was very keen to pick this book up, plus, who am I kidding, the whole idea of shapeshifting tribes combined with the beautiful cover, I was simply hooked.
The story is really a coming of age tale set in the bleak North where life is harsh, temperatures are harsher and war seems to be imminent. The world here is one of clans who can shift into the form of an animal depending on the tribe’s totem and in this respect the book includes many different forms of animal, even fantastical creatures such as dragons.
At the start of the story we are introduced to Maniye. Maniye’s father, Akrit, is the chief of the Wolf clan. He’s an ambitious man who keeps a harsh rule over his tribe. Akrit now looks to expand his realm and his eye is fixed on that of the Tiger clan. The two have warred in the past and the peace between them is very fragile. Using his daughter Akrit would seek to make the tiger clan bow to his rule and in doing so hopes to become the automatic choice to lead all the wolf tribes.
Maniye is something of an outcast. The tribe have a cold dislike of her and don’t see her as one of their own and her own father, whilst plotting to use her in his plans to overthrow the tiger, also seems to deeply resent her – not only for the fact that she is his only child, and a female, but because of her own biological make-up. Her mother being from the Tiger clan has left her with a strange inheritance and warring souls. Maniye can shift into both Wolf and Tiger forms, an ability that she must hide from her clan as they would tear her apart. She must however choose one in order for her body to find some peace from the conflicting demands of having two animal’s souls constantly striving for dominance within her. Unfortunately, after passing the tribe’s initiation ceremony into adulthood, Maniye finally learns of her father’s true plans for her and in a moment of rebellion she runs away. Of course her rebellion is a shattering blow in itself but Maniye also releases a prisoner who she takes with her. Hesprec, a man of the snake clan and a priest. Captured by the wolves this man was to be sacrificed to the wolf god. Desperate and fearing his control slipping Maniye’s father sends a man called Broken Axe in pursuit of his daughter. Broken Axe is a lone wolf, a murderer and a man who holds the fear and respect of the tribe. He is also the man who murdered Maniye’s mother at the request of Akrit and he is now on her trail.
It’s at this point that we’re introduced to a number of other characters. Asmander comes from the south and is the champion of his tribe which means he can shift not only into the animal of his clan (a crocodile) but can also take on the form of an unnamed beast. He has his own reasons for travelling to the cold north that I won’t divulge. Asmander is accompanied by a man called Venateer. Of the dragon clan Venateer is now Asmander’s slave following his defeat in battle and the loss of his name. He stays with Asmander in the hope of regaining his name and status and the relationship between the two is tense and angry. The two are accompanied along the way by a female called Shyri who can shift into a hyena and seems to have joined their adventure purely to cause mischief.
I really enjoyed The Tiger and the Wolf however there were a number of issues that prevented me from totally immersing myself in this world. I think the story gets off to a fairly slow start although personally I enjoyed the set up and thought the gradual build up helped to give us a good idea of Maniye’s standing within the clan and also helped me to understand why she felt the need to run away. What I did struggle a little with was a slight feeling of going around in circles during her flight and also what felt like something of a never ending display of small fights between different clans that felt a bit unnecessary on occasion. It also feels like there’s an awful lot going on in terms of characters. They certainly are an unusual bunch to bring together. A wolf, snake, crocodile, hyena, dragon and eventually a bear (Loud Thunder). Not to mention other clans who play brief roles such as the horse and bird clan and also the tigers who are at war with the wolves. All these tribes have their own culture, religious beliefs and means of survival but there are so many introduced into the story that it would be impossible to thoroughly explore all of them which left me wanting a little more. I understand that this is a trilogy so it’s possible these other clans will undergo further exploration in the next instalments.
In terms of the characters, clearly Maniye takes centre stage. At this point I feel a little so so about her and I think that hit me most during the final scenes when I was more concerned and interested in reading about what was taking place with some of her companions and the conflicts they were experiencing rather than feeling worried about what was taking place with Maniye. Strangely enough I think Broken Axe was my favourite character. He has a surly stubborn streak and although he appears quite fearsome there’s more to him than at first meets the eye. I also really liked Hesprec and Loud Thunder – both really interesting characters with intriguing clans and back stories that I would have liked to take a deeper look into. This is a trilogy though so it could be that we get to explore the other clans more deeply in the next instalments.
I think the Tiger and the Wolf is very well written and contains some wonderful and unique concepts. I think it suffers a little from having such a lot to introduce within the timeframe involved. Personally I didn’t particularly love all the fighting between the clans which seems to happen quite regularly and spontaneously but I figure the author is showing us the animal nature of these characters so whilst I probably would have liked less I can see the point and also I’m guessing that other readers will probably love those elements of the story and would probably balk at anything less. There’s certainly no lack of action.
Overall this is a really good read with some incredibly unusual flights of fancy and very emotive writing. This is an author who can really make you feel the cold, the hunger and the despair of his characters. Very evocative writing and a world that I would love to explore further.