The Tiger and the Wolf – Adrian Tchaikovsky

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*

 

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Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky is best known for his fantasy series, Shadows of the Apt.  In his new novel, Children of Time, (published today by Macmillan, advance copy courtesy of NetGalley) he takes a different direction, writing hard SF.

Children of Time follows two parallel story arcs.  In the first, the inhabitants of an ark ship called the Gilgamesh are fleeing a polluted and dying Earth.  They are seeking a new home for humanity.  They spend most of their time in cryogenic stasis, waking occasionally to deal with crises and examine potential new home planets.  The story is told mainly from the perspective of a classicist who is an expert in the ‘Old Empire’ civilisation that wiped itself out in a global war.  The ensuing ice age returned the survivors to a more primitive way of life, with society struggling to piece together enough technology to escape and find a new home.

The second story arc follows the evolution and development of a society of super-evolved spiders on an experimental world terraformed by the Old Empire at its height.  Although the experiment had originally been intended for primates, none survived to reach the surface of the planet and the nano-virus designed to hasten evolution and embed certain traits has taken hold in the invertebrate population of the planet instead.  We follow a spider called Portia and her descendants as they build complex societies, create new technology and come into conflict.

The vast time scale over which the story plays out makes this a truly epic novel.  It’s placed firmly at the harder end of the SF spectrum, with nods to prominent figures in the genre: a spacestation orbiting the terraformed world is called the Brin Sentry Pod, for example.  This means that its focus is very much on the underlying ideas about how humanity would cope with a civilisation-ending disaster, rather than looking at the human impact.

The novel forces you to make interesting comparisons between a conflict-ridden human society and a spider culture genetically engineered to avoid conflict and work together as far as possible.  It poses questions about whether history is determinative, and what rights we have to steer the fate of other cultures and civilsations.

At the time of writing, I’ve not yet finished reading the novel, but it’s a very interesting piece and should be enjoyed by lovers of hard SF.