A fantasy Inuit/Wild West book. Despite the name, it’s not steampunk.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 341 plus the author’s interview
Publisher: Orbit

The book ends in a way that makes it clearly the first in a series but there’s no information about a sequel. Hopefully, it will be released at some point. Secondly, I feel that the name is misleading because this is not steampunk. There are guns and a railway in the book but they aren’t steam powered.

Sjennonirk is a young ankago to her people, the Aniw who live in the frozen North. An ankago has with herself, or himself as the previous ankago was Sjennonirk’s father, the spirit of the Dog who is an ancestor to the tribe. The ankago can manifest her Dog physically but during that time her body is helplessly in a trance and she will need another ankago’s help to get the spirit back to her body. The ankago might remember what the spirit did. The ankago also see spirits in their dreams and receive instructions from them.

The Kabliw, the people from the south, have come to the Aniw tribes for years trading and bringing priests who sometimes want to know about the Aniw way of life and teach about their own gods. However, now the Kabliw have brought war and guns. One of the soldiers comes armed to Sjennonirk’s family’s house and Sjennonirk kills him. She’s caught and sent to south on a ship.

However, the book’s true main character is Captain Jannett Fawle. He’s out with his group of soldiers tracking abos who have been attacking nearby settlements. But in the middle of the night, he’s attacked magically by something he doesn’t want to believe in. Then, his father the great General calls him back home. Jannett is not on good terms with his domineering father but has to obey. The General shows him a captured Aniw girl who can bring forth a big silvery wolf. General Fawle commands the girl Sjenn to teach Jannett to do the same. At first Sjenn says that it can’t be done but then, to Jannett’s horror, Sjenn says that Jannett has a spirit inside him, too.

I was looking forward to reading a fantasy set in an Inuit culture but to my mild disappointment, after a few scenes in the North, the book moved firmly to much southern setting. However, I was still interested in the fantasy Wild West and found the world building interesting. Apparently, Fawle’s people have come from another continent and are now battling the local people, called abos, whom the newcomers find savage and impossible to comprehend. Some of the native tribes work with the newcomers and even battle the other tribes, just like the Native Americans did when the Europeans came to America. The locals are said to have witches whom can use magic, but Jannett doesn’t believe that.

The newcomers, the Ciracusans after the first town they settled, seem to be much like the European settlers with stone buildings and tall fences. They have dark skinned people as servants. Their religion is the Church of the Seven Deities and a few of them are mentioned in passing. However, Jannett isn’t a believer and we aren’t told much about them. The Ciracusans also seem to be fighting two wars; one against the local tribes and another against their earlier homeland, Sairland.

The plot was quite slow in the middle of the book and most of it centered around Jannett’s disbelief in any magic, even after he’s witnessed it several times. He’s also very bitter towards his father and distrustful of pretty much anyone who isn’t a brother soldier. He doesn’t want anything to do with Sjenn and is afraid of her Dog. Also, I wasn’t convinced of the General’s plan because what magic we see don’t seem to be very useful in battle.

A major secondary character is Keeley, a native man who has the General’s trust and is ordered to help Sjenn teach Jannett. Keeley is a scout and belongs to tribe which is hostile to the tribes that the Ciracusans are fighting against. Jannett finds it strange that his father can trust a native man. Even the major bad guy, General Fawle, becomes understandable once we know more about the situation. He’s looking for a way to win two wars and is getting desperate.

Sjennonirk is an interesting heroine but unfortunately for much of the book she’s imprisoned and when the Dog is out and roaming, she’s unconscious. Still, she struggles to find out whom she can trust, if anyone, and to please the General so much that he allows her to return home. She yearns for wide open spaces and finds the jails horrible. She even finds the houses, where the Ciracusans live in, too confining and the clothes too lights and strange. But she tries her best.

The end feels like a set up of for the next book and doesn’t really resolve things. The mood of the book is quite somber. Both Sjenn and Jannett feel trapped by their circumstances and they can’t really trust anyone. The book’s theme of conquest and colonization is also quite dark.

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