THE BEAR AND THE SERPENT, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Reviewed by: Shona Kinsella
*WARNING* This review contains spoilers for the first book in the series, The Tiger and the Wolf – if you haven’t read it yet, you should go and do that first.
I tried to write this review without any spoilers for the first book but since the story is a direct continuation of that one, I couldn’t find a way to do it. You’ve been warned.
Maniye, with her new champion form, senses that she is a destabilizing influence in the north, with many people scared of her and others wishing to test her limits by fighting her. So, she leads a small warband of misfits and outcasts south with Asmander, to the Sun River Nation, where civil war is brewing.
Meanwhile, in the harsh Crown of the World, Loud Thunder has become war leader of the bears and Mother has tasked him with bringing all the tribes of the north together to defend their world against an ancient enemy.
In The Tiger and the Wolf, we were mainly focussed on the trials of Maniye Many Tracks and her search for freedom, a way for her two souls to live together in something resembling peace. In this second book, the story is much less intimate, opening out with the scale of the world and the threat that faces them. This made for a fascinating and complex read as we are introduced to a variety of new cultures, each one distinct and wonderfully drawn. For me, the only downside of this was that we spent less time with Maniye, who I had become very attached to.
The people of the Sun River Nation are brilliantly created, each distinct although they all live under the rule of Old Crocodile with the guidance of Serpent. We see here a level of political manoeuvring that was absent from the people off the cold, harsh north, who are far more direct in their approach to most things. Just at the time when the nation is about to face its greatest threat, there’s infighting for the crown with the country divided between twins Tecumet and Tecuman. Maniye becomes the reluctant protector of the boy who would be Kasra, fighting in an unfamiliar environment against unfamiliar people.
Meanwhile, in the north, Loud Thunder seeks to convince tribes who have been enemies for generations to work together to face a threat that many of them only half believe in. All while falling in love with a woman who has been mistreated and enslaved all of her life.
As with the first book, the world-building is fantastic and detailed. There are hints that the enemy, the plague people, could be from the Shadows of the Apt series and that kind of interlinking between series is exciting and hard to pull off.
The characters are well developed and we get to a deeper sense of some of the secondary characters from The Tiger and the Wolf, such as Loud Thunder and Venater. We are introduced to more Champions – which seem to be more common in the South, perhaps because of the involvement of the Serpent.
Another strong instalment in the trilogy and after finishing this one, I had to go straight on and read The Hyena and the Hawk because I just had to know how it all worked out.