In The Tiger and the Wolf (Pan Macmillan, who provided a review copy), Adrian Tchaikovsky gives us a compelling new fantasy world peopled by tribes of shape-shifters, each aligned to a different animal.
The Tiger and the Wolf is the story of a young girl wrestling with questions of identity as she grows up, trying to find her place in the world. Maniye Many Tracks is the daughter of the Chief of one of the Wolf tribes, conceived on the Queen of the Tiger people after she was captured in a bitter war between the two tribes for dominance as top predator. As a child, Maniye can shift her form to either tiger or wolf, but as she grows up she must choose one or the other form. She cannot have both: trying to retain them will eventually drive her mad.
As a half-Tiger child, Maniye is bullied and ostracised by the Wolf people, including her father, Stone River; and her tribe’s priest, Takes Iron. They are suspicious of her Tiger ancestry, and her father plans to use her as a political pawn to destroy the Tiger people once and for all, to help cement his claim to become Chief of all the Wolf people, not just his own tribe. Maniye runs away from this fate, rescuing a Snake priest that her tribe have captured and plan to sacrifice to the Wolf god.
Unwittingly, Maniye finds she becomes the catalyst for wider conflict among the tribes in her part of the world. After rescuing Hesprec, the Snake priest, Maniye’s father tasks a renegade Wolf called Broken Axe to track her down and bring her back. In their escape from him, Maniye and Hesprec meet and form friendships with a wide range of members of the other animal tribes in the area. They also meet a group of diverse travellers from the south, led by Asmander, a Champion of his people. Asmander has been sent to secure the assistance of the Wolves for a possible war of succession in the south. And running throughout the whole novel is a sense of an impending but unspecified world-threatening crisis.
One of the real strengths of the novel is the realisation of each of the animal tribes. The culture, rituals and power structures of each flow convincingly from the animal each tribe is linked to, whether it is the pack mentality of the Wolf clans or the mostly solitary members of the Bear. The fight scenes, in particular, are amazing: with people shifting from human to animal form and back again.
Ultimately this is a novel about identity, culture and growing up. Caught between races, Maniye fits within neither Wolf nor Tiger, and is welcomed and trusted by neither. She struggles to assert her independence and adulthood, and to find a place in the world that enables her to embrace and honour both sides of her heritage. The diverse and multi-cultural south, which is prosperous and for the most part more technologically advanced, is contrasted with the primitive mono-cultural north.
I’m really looking forward to spending more time with Maniye and her friends in future books in this series.
Goodreads rating: 4*