Author: Joel Thomas Feldman
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Publication Date: 27 February 2022
Available As: Paperback and e-book
Following the events of Ash: Journeys of the Immortal—Book One (ibid, 2020) Sam is now 14 and nearly two years removed from her encounter with the phoenix Ash. A visit to her mother’s ancestral home in the far reaches of northern British Columbia forces her to grow up faster than she should as she comes face-to-face with legendary creatures once thought to be only myths and learns several revelations about her late mom…and about her.
Unsure of who she is anymore, Sam is introduced to her grandmother, the chief of the Tahltan tribe. With hopes of finding answers, Sam is left with only more questions. Now, she must help her newfound tribe which is under attack from the Ijiraq: vile, shape-shifting monsters which prey on children to maintain their immortality. Can Sam find herself while also saving her people? What of the revelation that she is the prophesied savior—the Raven-Wolf Queen?
Ijiraq is a young adult, fantasy book comprised of twenty-two chapters, a prologue, and a handy glossary at the back that helps with pronouncing some of the Inuit words and explaining the etymology behind many of the terminology used in the book. It’s the second book in Feldman’s Journeys of the Immortal series and it’s probably highly recommended that you check out the first book, Ash, before tackling Ijiraq as Feldman’s characters make numerous references to the events of that book so Ijiraq is probably a lot more enjoyable once you’ve followed Sam’s original journey and gotten some understanding of the nature of her character, the relationships she has, and the powers she possesses. At the same time, Ijiraq is very much its own story and, from what I can tell, goes down a very different path compared to Ash so it’s not impossible to enjoy it one its own merits (I haven’t read Ash, after all) but the mentions of Ash’s events do raise a lot of questions if you haven’t read that book. A couple of years after her fateful encounter with a phoenix known as Ash, Sam finds herself struggling at school; everyone thinks of her as a bit of a freak because of her unpredictable mystical abilities, which allow her to project and read minds, heal minor wounds, and conjure balls of energy through sheer force of will. Still confused as to what her powers really mean, and struggling with the onset of her womanhood, Sam is mentored in exploring her abilities by her friend, Mick, and supported by her father, Jack.
Though he’s clearly devoted to his daughter, Jack is reluctant to interrupt her childhood and schooling but realises that she’s fast approaching an age and an intellect where she needs to learn more about herself and her heritage, so he decides to take her on a long road trip to British Columbia so she can meet her grandmother, Rose, the head of the Tahltan tribe. Although she’s sad to leave behind her few friends and her boyfriend, Tommy, (and easily bored by the long drive), Sam is excited to connect with her mother’s side of the family; having lost her beloved mother, Nan, presumably in the last book, Sam is excited to learn that her mother also had special powers to control the elements and such. She quickly overcomes her annoyance at having this information kept from her by Jack once she meets Nan and learns mother about her culture. Since he comes from a different tribe, and many of the Tahltan blame Jack for Nan’s death, Rose is instrumental in Sam and Jack being accepted by the tribe. Though Sam readily absorbs herself in the culture and is eager to hear stories of her mother, Jack finds himself ostracised by many and Sam also has to deal with a burgeoning rivalry with Maddie, a girl of similar age and ability who becomes jealous of Sam since they’re both prophesised to one day lead the tribe. Thanks to encouragement from Rose and exploring the region, Sam finds new aspects of her abilities; they can be both useful (ploughing snow from roads), helpful (she heals an injured deer, and other badly or mortally wounded powers), or destructive (her energy balls can kill with extreme efficiency). Using them physically drains her, and Sam finds herself unconscious quite often throughout the book due to taxing her limits, but her magical abilities only grow as she encounters the supernatural creatures that live alongside the Tahltan.
Chief among these are the titular Ijiraq; when Sam and Jack first encounter one of these monstrous horned beasts, they mistake it for a wendigo but it turns out that they’re a very different supernatural race that have long terrorised the Tahltan tribe and humankind. Natural shapeshifters, the Ijiraq often take the form of crows to cross vast distances and intimidate and spy on their prey, but they can also assume other forms, such as humans and other animals. Exceptionally long-lived and brutish creatures, the Ijiraq live out in the forests beyond the Tahltan camp and lure children to their camp so they can consume them. Decades ago, the Tahltan managed to broker a shaky truce with the Ijiraq which stated that they wouldn’t take any of their children in exchange for a sacrifice of one every ninety years, and both Sam and Maddie are feared to be the one to be sacrificed to the Ijiraq in a bizarre ritual where they’ll absorb their magical energy and lifeforce to sustain themselves. Rose, however, has no intention of sacrificing any of their children, but diplomatic relations between the Tahltan and the Ijiraq become strained due to Sam’s ever-growing magic, which grows and changes over the course of the book. The Ijiraq are easily the best and most fascinating aspect of the book, for me; while I can only guess at the pronunciation of their race, they are far from simply being mindless beasts and have a whole language, intelligence, and society comprised of genders, children, and built on experiences of oppression and hardship. A proud race who are simply trying to take what was promised to them, the Ijiraq represent a formidable force that the Tahltan cannot hope to oppose, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth diplomacy, subterfuge, and strained attempts to keep the peace and avoid all-out war. Conflict between the two tribes becomes inevitable, however, due to Maddie’s jealousy and other factors, meaning that Sam finds herself at the centre of a battle between these two peoples as she comes to realise that her destiny lies far beyond anything she could ever initially imagine.
While I don’t normally read young adult fantasy fiction, Ijiraq was a pretty enthralling read;Feldman is at his best when delving into the lore and mysticism of the Tahltan tribe and the background of the Ijiraq, with the book ending on a tantalising cliff-hanger that promises to offer yet more information regarding this. The Ijiraq are a visually interesting supernatural race, resembling anthropomorphic stags, to a degree, and sporting glowing red eyes and superior vision as well as diverse shapeshifting abilities. They’re also far bigger and far stronger than that Tahltan, who are a simple people living a simple life who put all their trust and faith in Rose’s wisdom and abilities. Sam’s arrival definitely shakes things up for the tribe, and ruffles more than a few feathers in both camps, and she very quickly develops a devotion to her grandmother and her tribe based on her lingering desire to be closer to her deceased mother. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a downside for me as I wasn’t a big fan of Sam at times; while she’s mostly a friendly and level-headed young girl, she’s still a teenager so she’s often a whiny, pouty little brat and her perspective on things is very narrow compared to more experienced characters like Nan. Feldman does doe a great job of capturing these parts of her personality, and they do make her a more well-rounded character, but she does step over the line into being a Mary Sue very quickly; her magical powers are just naturally better than others, she’s able to quickly (or naturally) learn new abilities, and she steps into her prophesised role with a sense of duty that is beyond her years. In many ways, she’s grown beyond even her father, who is mostly just in awe of her powers and supportive of her even when the odds are stacked against them and, more often than not, things work out for her even when she’s volunteering to sacrifice herself for her newfound people simply because she’s able to convince, threaten, or magic her way out of situations.
Still, while I struggled a little to connect to Sam and the first few chapters were difficult to get into without having read Ash, there was a lot to enjoy in Ijiraq once Sam and Jack meet up with the Tahltan tribe. The mystery and intrigue surrounding the tribe and their complex relationship with the Ijiraq is very engaging and makes you question the motives of seemingly benevolent characters, the presentation of the Ijiraq is striking and framed very much as a horror piece in the first instance, and delving deeper into their background goes a long way to realising why they are the way they are and fleshing them out into something more than just flesh-hungry monsters. Although I went into Ijiraq with no knowledge of Inuit beliefs, lifestyle, or folklore and just a general interest in supernatural creatures like wendigos, vampires, and werewolves, I found the concept very engaging and enjoyed Feldman’s descriptions of both Tahltan traditions and lifestyle and the origins of the Ijiraq. Overall, those who have read and enjoy Ash will probably find a lot to like in Ijiraq since it delves deeper into another side of Sam’s life that I presume wasn’t explored all that much in the first book; many of the characters who I assume featured in Ash are pushed aside here, however, in favour of spending time with the Tahltan tribe, but I’m sure that’s all in service of expanding upon Sam’s character. And, while I didn’t care for her at times, she does experience a fair amount of growth here as her concerns grow beyond her small-town life and her own insecurities to encompass the welfare of an entire people. Fans of fantasy stories, folklore, and coming-of-age tales will probably also find a lot to enjoy here, and I’m interested to see where Feldman takes Sam in the next book, but I absolutely do think it’s best to familiarise yourself with Ash first so you can get the most out of this striking little tale.
If you’re interested in checking out Ijiraq, and to learn more about Joel Thomas Feldman and his journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.