Rating: 4 out of 5
Maniye, the protagonist of this story, quickly became a character whose progress through her world I wanted to follow. Mr Tchaikovsky’s skill seems to lie in creating (at least some) very enjoyable characters, and this, coupled with the fairly innovative world, made me enjoy the story. The premise of the entire world is that the majority of humans can “Step” into the shape and mind of an animal, hence the tiger and wolf of the title which combine in Maniye’s character causing her no end of problems. Having grown up under a particularly angry wolf chieftain (her father), Maniye’s quest lies in reconciling the two beasts within her while also escaping the hold of his father. This setup makes for a number of “high-speed” chase scenes where the few friends Maniye has found herself do their best to get themselves as far away as possible from a large number of very angry wolves heading their way.
The world is refreshing in a few ways: most fantasy likes splendid cities, grand armies, and ostentatious titles. There is none of that—well, little of that as a fair few good titles do get thrown around—because the author has made this take place in a Bronze Age society which is turning to the use of Iron. There are a few splendid places that are visited on this quest, but these relate to old temples and places of worship which are rather easy to imagine as located on a high peak in the Peak District (or similar). Mostly, the reader traverses wide forests, unshaped by human touch, with Maniye’s storyline staying in the cold and wild north known as “the Crown of the World”. The rest of the world is brought to the reader through the eyes of Asmander the Chamption and his companions, who started from the Sun River Nation, and have got rather far from there. Relatively little is said of this nation but complex politics seem to be happening there—which is why the Champion has been sent to travel the world looking for something.
Asmander I liked, not because he is a particularly good character, but due to his animal form: he can become a crocodile (but also more). It’s the author’s integration of crocodiles into this otherwise very European setting which I enjoyed. My mind, on hearing of those noble beasts, thinks of Egypt and creates a link between the two vastly diverse settings. And, a lament I’ve gone on previously, but the mighty ancient civilization is not referred to often enough in our modern fantasy, so it is good to get even such a tenuous link (of my own—the author’s crocodiles could well have come from somewhere else!). Come from where they did, crocodiles are in this book and definitely make it more enjoyable.
I’m going to continue with the rest of the series to see where it goes. Trouble on the horizon, of course…