(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor (Spotify, YouTube).
After having read and greatly enjoyed first Spiderlight and then Children of Time, I've been meaning to read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt saga for quite some time now. However, I find the idea of committing myself to reading 10 volumes (for a total of what? One million words? One million and a half?) more than a bit daunting. Enter The Tiger & the Wolf, the author's newest novel. The synopsis is interesting and the cover is one of the most beautiful I've seen in a while. And being the first installment of a new series it seemed less intimidating and much more enticing, so I jumped at the chance of reading an ARC of it.
There is a lot to love in The Tiger & the Wolf, starting with the wonderful world-building. In the novel, all the characters are shape-shifters: they are human, but they have the ability to change into the form of a certain animal, depending on the tribe they belong to. Thus, we meet people who can turn into wolves, bears, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, hyenas and even more exotic forms that I won't mention here to avoid possible spoilers.
The world that Tchaikovsky has imagined is vivid and rich. The different animals that the humans can transform into deeply affect their behavior and the author shows, in a very believable way, how their peculiarities lead to different social organizations and customs. One of the most interesting elements of the book is to discover the political intrigues and to see the tension grow between the wolves and the tigers, leading to bigger and bigger conflict.
And this conflict develops, many times, into amazing fights. The choreography of the battle scenes is just perfect, with a masterful use of the possibilities of shape-shifting in mid-stride and of choosing the most adequate transformation in each moment of the fight. I completely love these battles and I'd dare to say that the novel is worth reading for them alone.
The characters are also quite interesting and charismatic. The main focus is on Maniye and her internal struggle, but I liked the secondary characters even more. In fact, I would have liked that some of them had received more attention as, for instance, Broken Axe, Loud Thunder and my personal favorite: Asmander, the Champion of the South.
For all its excellent qualities, The Tiger & the Wolf also has some problems that were quite evident to me. First of all, the book is long, very long. This is something I usually mention when reading epic fantasy, but in this case is especially relevant because it is reinforced by the other problem of the novel: the pacing is very uneven. The plot is fairly straightforward, nothing wrong with that, but Maniye is constantly traveling from one place to another, sometimes without much reason or purpose. There are big fragments of the book that just consist in the protagonist running and trying to escape while other characters (not always the same ones) try to catch her. In fact, there is even one case when the same characters struggle to capture Maniye and, shortly after, they change their mind and try to rescue her. Personally, I think that some of these scenes could and, in fact, should have been edited out.
Despite these flaws, I did enjoy reading The Tiger & the Wolf, I sincerely recommend it and I will probably be checking the next installment in the series. I loved the world-building and the battle scenes, but I can't help thinking that the novel could have been excellent instead of just good with a steadier pacing and a shorter length.