The Tiger And The Wolf is the first in a new series from Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s well known for his expansive “Shadows of the Apt” fantasy series; I was also incredibly impressed last year by his standalone sci-fi piece, The Children of Time. Expectations of this new series were, therefore, rather high. Fortunately it turns out that Tchaikovsky has delivered.
The Tiger and the Wolf are two clannish social groupings, spread out across a geography shared with other tribes. The Tiger once ruled here, and memories of their historical oppression live on in the Wolf, and in the other tribes that once bowed to the Tiger. The Wolf, however, discovered iron. In a world shaped by bronze, their weapons and armour gave them a tactical edge – and so the power of the Tiger was broken, its members harried back into their stronghold. The other groups quickly found they’d given over one master for another. The Wolf is always hungry – and rules the other tribes with a heavy hand. There’s a fantastic mythology in play here – each tribe having a totem deity, each approaching their interactions with that deity with a certain degree of care, but an absolute faith as well. There’s stories laced through the background of the text – the old feuds between Tiger and Wolf. The songs and stories which provide for the origin of the tribes. The history of small skirmishes and old wars, carved by stone clubs and bronze knives into the skin of the survivors. Tchaikovsky gives us a society on the edge of a precipice, tied together by shared histories, faiths and, occasionally, magic.
This is a world where the soul of an individual is tied to a particular totem – born of the Wolf, one is a wolf; and in that link, people have the capacity to Step. Stepping essentially involves transforming into the form of ones totem animal, and this shapes the tribal societies. We see the differences in the clannish, driven Wolves, in the skittish Deer, the gregarious Horse and the solitary Bear. It’s a piece of everyday magic, but it takes the already convincing setting and gives it a vivid splash of thaumaturgical colour. The priests of the tribe can speak to their gods, to be sure, but the people can live in their forms – and this shapes the world they live in.
This changing of shape is part of the problem for our protagonist, a young woman called Maniye. Born of a liaison between a member of the Wolf and one of their ancient enemies, the Tiger, she has trouble setting her own identity. Those around her are of the wolf, good or bad, pack and alone – but Maniye occupies a liminal space, where the Wolf meets the Tiger. She is of the Wolf tribe, but not part of it – and so she flits between a desire to blend in, to be something of the pack which surrounds her – and a desire to be something else. A person can only carry one animal shape, she is told – and hers, mirroring their inimical relations in the concrete world, are at war. Maniye is a thoughtful individual, with an ability to think things through clashing with a natural impulsiveness, and a desire to do the right thing. But she’s still trying to work out who she wants to be, and who she is – and her struggles in that regard aren’t just mental.
She’s joined by an eclectic cast as she struggles to define herself – from the Serpent priest, who clearly knows more than they’re saying, to the Wolf chieftain, determined to force his daughter into the role he has planned for her and further his own ambitions. There’s a quiet humanity for much of the cast – and even those we see as villains have their own lives, losses and needs. Conflicts here tend to be personal, both emotionally and physically – and so the antagonists are less cackling supervillains than they are individuals convinced of their own truths, and willing to subject others to their points of view. In any event, Maniye is a complex, cleverly drawn individual, and her effort to find her own truths is very compulsive reading.
I won’t get spoilery with the plot, which is something of a page turner. But it’s an absolutel cracking coming of age tale. The emotional resonance is electric, and makes the whole thing rather difficult to put down. There’s old allegiances here, and close-won knife fights. There’s mysticism and magic. There;s a whole world on the edge of becoming something more – and possibly something better.
In any case, this is a great start to a new series, and absolutely worth a look.