Review: 'Red Devil', by Kyell Gold
Red Devil, a sequel to Kyell Gold's Green Fairy, is both the second volume of his Dangerous Spirits series, and part of his Forester series (Out of Position, Isolation Play, Waterways, Bridges and others), set in an alternate contemporary America inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. Solomon Wrightson, the homosexual teenage wolf who was the protagonist of Green Fairy, is the best friend of Alexei Tsarev, the fox protagonist here.
Alexei, a young Siberian in the States on a student visa that expires in two months, hopes to impress the Vidalia Peaches semi-professional soccer team enough to become a member.
If they sponsored Alexei, he could apply for a visa that would allow him to stay in this country indefinitely. (p. 3)
Besides being good athletes, everyone on the Peaches is gay. Alexei has only recently come to the States from his hometown of Samorodka, Siberia, partially to play soccer but really to escape the brutal anti-gay attitude prevalent in Siberia. (Gold is clearly using Siberia to refer to all Russia in this anthropomorphic world.) Alexei misses his sister Caterina, with whom he was especially close. They were exchanging letters, but she has not answered his last few missives. Alexei is sure that their abusive parents are preventing her from writing.
Alexei is rooming with Sol at the house that Sol shares with Meg, the mannish teenage otter from Green Fairy, in Sol’s room where his portrait of Niki, the murdered 19th-century fox transvestite is hanging. Alexei, who semi-believes in ghosts, already is influenced by the spirit of his great-grandmother “Prababushka”, whom he feels may have followed him to the States to protect him. In addition to worrying about Cat back in Samorodka, and getting onto the Peaches soccer team to stay in the States, Alexei has developed a crush on one of the Vidalia amateur players, Mike, a friendly Dall sheep; but the insecure, withdrawn Siberian fox is always being shoved aside by Kendall, a more brash and self-assertive pine marten also on the local amateur team. Alexei is unsure whether Mike is just being polite to Kendall, or if he really prefers the more outgoing marten. Or whether Alexei should continue to concentrate on his feelings for Mike, rather than looking for another boyfriend in Vidalia and the States’ more open and relaxed straight and gay sexual atmosphere.
Illustrations by Rukis, St. Paul, MN, Sofawolf Press, January 2014, trade paperback $19.95 ([iii +] 269 [+ 2] pages), Kindle $9.99.
Red Devil continues Gold’s multispecies anthropomorphic culture with enhanced scenting. Alexei is still getting used to life in the States.
He finished his latte and left the coffee shop, walking down the street amidst all the other people. Even though the crowds were larger than in Samorodka, the mix of scents was similar. He supposed that beyond a certain number of people, scents just mingled into a haze. There was a muskrat in front of him, alone; a jaguar stalking the edge of the sidewalk. He followed the progress of another fox, a little chubby and older, checking his phone as he crossed the street. Any of these people might come up to him and be the right one for him, mightn’t they? Only they never would. Even here, where he did not know everyone he met, where there was a group of gay people who met and dated and (in private rooms) held paws, even here, he was walking to dinner alone. (p. 32)
Alexei’s loneliness – his alone-ness in the midst of Vidalia’s open VLGA (Vidalia Lesbian and Gay Association) community – becomes an obsession with him. As Alexei withdraws from the others, the more aware he becomes of the other loner among them: Meg, his otter housemate, one of Sol’s best friends but uninterested in Sol’s gay proclivities. Alexei knows that, before he came to the States, Meg enabled Sol to communicate (with the aid of absinthe) with the murdered 19th-century Niki, who helped Sol to accept his homosexuality. Alexei finally insists that Meg similarly help him. Meg openly scoffs at spirituality – she is sure that Sol’s absinthe-inspired visions were just his imagination – but she agrees to provide the same experience for Alexei. The experience is a disaster; Niki’s spirit is not summoned, and Sol is deeply offended.
But maybe a different, older spirit is summoned to Alexei. A centuries-old Siberian fox soldier who can give Alexei the self-confidence that he needs.
Alexei is invited to join the VLGA - Sol, Mike, Kendall, and the “L” girls - on an outing to a gaming arcade:
The basketball shooting game had four stations, where players could compete against each other while shooting at individual baskets. Alexei prepared to decline, but when he opened his mouth, the words he said were, ‘Of course.’
He’d been about to shy away from a challenge? That was –
A smile touched the corners of his muzzle. That was not what Konstantin would have him do. Well, even if he was not good at the shooting, he would play with them. (p. 88)
Alexei loses to Kendall, but takes the initiative in challenging the marten to a dance game where, because of his soccer practice, he excels.
"Okay, this game’s timing is off." Kendall stepped off the pad. "I know I hit more combos than it gave me credit for."
Alexei was about to step down as well; his point had been made, and Kendall was quitting. Mike had paid him a compliment and the small sun was glowing in his chest. But as he gripped the rail of the game and lifted one foot to step down, a cloud hid the sun inside him. A deep, gruff voice in his head spoke.
Do not let your enemy walk away wounded. Defeat him soundly. (p. 92)
Alexei humiliates Kendall, but instead of the others’ being favorably impressed by his victory, they are taken aback by Alexei’s unexpected ruthlessness.
As Red Devil continues, Alexei is forced to wonder if the ghost of Konstantin is real or is his own subconscious reacting to his former meekness? Whichever it is, is the mental urge to win at any cost successfully gaining him what he really wants, or is it turning the others against him? Then Alexei gets an international phone call from Cat. She has stolen ten rubles from their father for the call, and she begs Alexei to help her get out of Siberia. Alexei, desperate, wonders if Konstantin can help them. But Konstantin is a stereotypical 19th-century Siberian soldier: everything for the tsar and the traditional Siberian life style, which is NOT same-sex. Will Konstantin help him and Cat, or will he blackmail Alexei into giving up his gay-ness?
Red Devil follows the style of Green Fairy. Different chapters are in different type fonts; Alexei’s story in Vidalia in the present is in regular type, Konstantin’s at the Siberian court in the days of Alexander II and III is in a different font’s italics, and Caterina’s letters to Alexei are in simulated handwriting. There are increasing signs that Konstantin is coming from the spirit world into the real world – or that Alexei is increasingly losing his touch with reality. Is Konstantin’s disgust with homosexuality “real”, or is it Alexei’s subconscious reaction to his Siberian upbringing? Above all, will Alexei’s disagreements with Konstantin, or his conflicts with his own subconscious, sabotage his success at making friends and staying in the States’ open gay society, and Cat’s goal of escaping from Siberia?
Also like Green Fairy, Red Devil is a deeply homosexual novel – male and female – but it is not at all erotic. It is G-rated in terms of eroticism.
Gold provides enough “animalicity”, with wagging tails, the characters’ muzzles, Alexei’s Siberian fur being a minor problem in Vidalia’s humidity, Mike’s golden horns, the difference in carnivores’ and herbivores’ diets and more to make this a successful, very well-written furry novel. But it is primarily for readers sympathetic to the gay lifestyle. The cover and ten full-page interior illustrations are by Rukis.