Review: 'Descent', by Phil Geusz
Descent seems to be barely anthropomorphic: a novel with only one Furry main character, the narrator. Yet this is a novel that any fan of Furry fantasy should enjoy reading.
The setting is our world, yet a magical one. Gregory Lombard is first seen caught in a traffic jam.
I hate driving rental cars. […] Grinding my teeth in frustration, I carefully depressed the clutch (carefully, because the pedals had been designed for feet far smaller than mine) as traffic once more slowed and stopped. […] Then the inevitable happened. A child riding in the van I was trapped behind noticed me and pointed. Soon an entire pack of five and six year-olds had their faces jammed up against the rear windows. I waved back, my newly-altered hands still feeling odd to me. I always tried to make time for kids, even on bad days. […] Because I knew that the moment I let my mind wander, I’d start thinking about the fingers I’d lost forever earlier in the afternoon. (pgs. 4-7)
There is powerful magic in this world, and Greg Lombard has been cursed by it.
Where this morning I’d been the proud owner of two furry but otherwise human-looking hands, I now possessed a matching pair of rather pawlike mitten-thingies. (p. 7)
This has been going on for awhile.
At age seventeen [nine years ago] I’d been kidnapped and cursed by someone; we never found out who, though it was easy enough to guess why. The honorless cheat enchanted me anyway, despite the payment of a huge magical ransom. So far, the curse had proven immune to all counterspells. Even worse, exposure to any sort of magic only made things go faster. This tended to make my fellow mages reluctant to attempt much in the way of scrying or experimenting. Where once I’d been well on my way to becoming a prestigious and powerful sorcerer in the family tradition, now I was destined with absolute certainty to become a humble rabbit. A family pet instead of a family leader. In both mind and body. […] I still had months or possibly even years of near-humanity ahead of me. Depending on how one defined ‘near’, that was. Some would already say that I was more a near-rabbit than a near-human. Everything grows blurry pretty fast once you set out to define ‘human’ in a world with magic in it. (p. 9)
Magic has always existed in this world, and among the humans, the Lombard family has excelled at it. The Lombards have been the leaders of the Sorcerer’s Guild for so long as to become a hereditary dynasty. Other supernatural races coexist with humans.
I wriggled my nose in frustration at the sight. No matter what arrangements were made for them, the elves caused trouble wherever they went. The dwarves, the trolls, even the gnomes got along perfectly well both with us and each other. In fact, their unique talents made them especially valuable members of society. Who would’ve guessed, for example, that trolls would prove to have such an incredible knack for the advertising business? Sure, the pixies caused problems sometimes. But in their case people understood and made allowances. Pixies weren’t fully sentient, and even on those rare occasions when it was destructive their kind of magic dissipated within a few hours. But the elves … (pgs. 41-42)
Greg is not unique. There is an Internet support group of people who are transforming into rabbits or mice or dogs or horses, or things like gargoyles. Most of the curses are generations old, dating to times when magic was more powerful and unregulated; the results of curses on victims and all their descendants, which the descendants are now suffering. However, the other animal-people are very minor background characters here. Greg’s is one of the few modern curses, which is why not only the Sorcerer’s Guild but the FBI and other present law-enforcement agencies are so interested in his case.
For the past nine years Greg has been working undercover, posing as one of the “normal” cursed who is desperate to buy illegal magic in a vain hope of breaking his curse. He has helped to expose some minor, usually solitary unscrupulous sorcerers with paltry magic. Only now, when his shift to rabbithood has gone so far that his fellow Guildmembers and lawmen want him to retire, he gets a lead to organized criminals with powerful spells – maybe connected to those who had cursed him. Greg is determined to go lone wolf if he has to, to take this one last chance to make a real difference even if he cannot cure himself.
Fans of Phil Geusz’s fantasies are familiar with his obsession with rabbits. Greg Lombard is a different kind of rabbit-man, one whose adventures shift unexpectedly. At one point they may seem familiar to the fans of urban fantasy noir; of such sorcerous enforcers as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, John Levitt’s Mason (and Lou), Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft, and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson. Then they become a civil war among the faerie-folk, with the rabbit-man trying to avoid getting trampled underfoot in battles with monsters and basilisks. And finally a World War II-style aerial dogfight between a Dragon and the bunny flying a magically souped-up 1968 Dodge Dart GTS Convertible.
Descent is a different kind of adventure; one that would have been at home in the old 1940s Unknown Worlds magazine along with such fantasy classics as Robert A. Heinlein’s The Devil Makes the Law!, L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall (wiki), L. Ron Hubbard’s Death’s Deputy, Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, and Henry Kuttner’s A Gnome There Was. Don’t miss it!