The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is a novel set in a tribal, ancient world, creation, drawing more on Native American and Aztec imagery than on the traditional planks of Fantasy.
It looks at themes of destiny, intention, and identity.
Our protagonist is Maniye, a girl who is an outcast because of something within her, a stranger among her own people, She is cursed to transform into a wolf and a tiger, and suffers their warring within herself, even as an old war is rekindled by the actions of her father, the bloodthirsty chief Akrit Stone River. This is ability not unusual per se, everyone in this setting can shape change. Maniye's people, the Winter Runner's, are Wolves, all of them can 'Step' into the form of a wolf. In the same way, the Deer people and Boar tribe, who are in the Wolves' 'shadow' - ruled by them in other words - can change into their respective beasts. Essentially, this is a matter of soul, The people in this world (which is divided into the Crown of the World, the Plains and the Sun River Nation) shape change into their animals because their souls are those animals, and to die in human form is to trap the beast and deny it the chance of reincarnation. In contrast to many fantasy worlds, there's very little magic on top of this, Tchaikovsky keeps his palette limited, which seems sensible. Where he deviates from the idea of simple shape changing it is given a special status, such as one character being able to transform into what is essentially a dinosaur. Each tribe seems to have some trick they can channel that is simply their own, the Wolves can work iron for example, while the Horse can officially adopt people from outside their tribe, giving them Horse souls, and the Serpent can shed lives like they shed skins. Beyond that though, there are no spell slingers, nobody is throwing fireballs or summoning demons (it's suggested that there is more magic, set back in the past but that's not explored; I hope it will be at some point).
The bulk of the novel is set in the north, within and around the Crown of the North and concerns Maniye's flight from her home, and her search for acceptance. Something she never really finds in the structures of the tribes and clans that dot the Crown of the World. Instead she finds sanctuary and acceptance among a group of misfits, essentially, who while they may not fit the ideals of their clans, have learned to make their own space in the world. Their experiences make them more receptive to her situation, and there's a strong sense of Tchaikovsky praising those who make their own path and don't shy away from stepping outside the norm - something which seems like native ground to an author. It concerns Maniye's quest for peace within herself as she tries to deny each part of herself, until she is finally forced to face the beasts within her or perish, towards the end of the book.
This question of identity is carried into the other characters' arcs, as her father tries to become the Chief of Chiefs, in fulfillment of an imagined destiny where he completed his defeat of the Tiger and brought them under the Wolf's hegemony. He sees himself as this mythic figure and pursues it, up to the point where he is willing to slay his own kin in order to achieve it.
Identity as a theme is further explored by Asmander and Venater, two characters from the south, who exemplify the split between being content with your identity and chafing against it. Asmander, the Champion of his people (i.e. he can transform into a dinosaur as well as a crocodile) is content with who he is, shouldering the responsibilities and duties that he bears, even though his father resents his status and has likely sent him north to find warriors as a way to humiliate him. He is the very image of what Maniye should be, according to Akrit. Obedient and patient, he is in many ways perfect, and of course in being perfect he achieves imperfection. His companion, Venater, is a former pirate and belongs to a tribe called the Dragon (I'm not sure why but I do think its pretty cool). He's also Asmander's slave/charge, having been defeated in battle by him and brought to the north to serve him. He chafes at his status and constantly brings it up. Unlike his master, he has failed to accept his fate. Their interplay provides the theme of the book, in a nut shell. I really liked this, as it provided a universality to what Tchaikovsky was talking about, rather than making Maniye more of a special snowflake.
The characters are well realised, the tribes are lovingly put together (I particularly lke the Bear tribe) and the story is interesting, well realised and digs into the themes nicely. I felt the novel was strong, though I must admit I skipped through some of the battle scenes. I'd love to see it as a roleplaying game and see more books set in the world.