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Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic

by Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik; Andrew Trabbold, illus.

With Ajjiit, husband-and-wife team Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik, who individually have published many short stories and articles on Inuit cultural lore and shamanism, have employed traditional Inuit tales to create a collection of dark fantasy stories that provides readers with a breath of fresh Arctic air. As the authors explain in their introduction, Inuit mythology is more than just a theme superficially layered onto these stories: the collection depends entirely on Inuit legends involving powerful dreaming, shifting physical forms, and creatures of every kind.

For the uninitiated, the heavy reliance on words from the Inuktitut language is intimidating, but their meaning can be deduced easily enough from the context. Although the book has no glossary, a “Note on Language” explains that “out of respect for the Inuit culture, whose shamanism and unique cosmology has inspired our stories, we have tried to include as much archaic Inuktitut as is possible without (in our opinion) tripping up the narrative.” In the end, the language creates a universe so authentic and original that every crackle of fire or snap of ice leaves the reader on edge.

This helps propel stories like “Elder,” which simultaneously highlights the differences between creatures known as Inugarulliit and “those who call themselves ‘Men’ and ‘Women,’” and tells a relatable, uplifting tale of an underdog proving his worth and finding happiness. “The Qallupiluq Forgiven” opens with a foreboding sense of danger, only to see its villain learn the power of forgiveness: “Woe to the one who takes up the burden of executioner as though it were a gift. It is a little thing, the forgiveness that Humans practice amongst each other. But it has Strength above Strength.”

Tinsley and Qitsualik have a knack for finding the right balance between horror story and morality tale, even if the fates of their characters are sometimes predictable. An exception is “Oil,” about a woman named Suqqivaa desperate to avoid the attention of her cruel, polygamous husband. The ending to this tale is wholly satisfying and completely unexpected.