Review: Seven Deadly Sins: Furry Confessions, edited by Thurston Howl
DISCLAIMER: I have a story in here. Way deep down in the sloth section.
This a collection of dark and often adult tales (or tails, if you pre-fur) that explore the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian fame: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Trouble makers all, to be sure. It's a rich field of study has reveled countless bumper crops of stories (true and fictional) and offers a handy umbrella to pull together the best of the worst of us storytellers.
Even Dr. Who has a Seven Deadly Sins themed anthology out there.
Still, for all the familiar ground these most famous of sins represent, this was an ambitious collection.
Overall, the anthology itself felt a little rushed. Not the stories themselves, mind you. I don't think there were any clunkers here. There were a few stories, however, that left me wondering what they were saying about their selected sin. Each story feels like it got the right amount of editorial attention.
My quibble is of a Macro sort. Seven Deadly Sins: Furry Confessions called for a sharper editorial eye then I think it got. Too often, very similar themes and acts follow too closely in one story to the next. That's bound to happen in the close quarters of the pages between a book cover.
And, I have to admit, part of my kvetch, might be my fault. I read all the interludes first. They knocked my socks off and I skipped every story to get to the mystery tormenting our hosts. As a result, I'm complaining about the holes in a magic show when I went out of my way to see how the tricks were set up before watching the magicians perform.
So, take my quibble with a few grams of a salt lick. THP is a new publisher and they've made quite a commitment to themed anthologies. I feel they are going to get better with each one. I know I'm looking forward to being there to watch them grow.
Presenting my story thoughts in the order that they appeared, with the interludes excluded and withheld to the end.
Don't Judge Me
by Sisco Polaris
It may be a bad omen for a reviewer when the first story in an anthology challenges you not to judge it.
To be sure, the first two or three pages threw up a few red flags for me. I hated the way the character described himself. What was this world with humans and anthro peers? What's the social mores were here? For gosh sakes, there was an Orca in the steam room!
Then I realized I was thinking too hard; the narrator was just here for a needed servicing and the story left real world concerns behind, for both the reader and the narrator. Once we got into the sex, the author's many skills really shone. I was transported to this world and I was there on my knees with the narrator. I opened myself up and I understood his submission and his pride in that. In his need for that.
The title became irrelevant.
Although I am not a big fan of body fluids, I understand the attractions and the glory of being rewarded with a shower of approval, if not love. And the somewhat anonymous nature of the steam-room is a staple of gay porn and memoirs for a reason. Connections are made quickly and rashly because time here is much too limited. It was the nature of gay sex in the seventies and earlier. A needed Shadow World because homosexuality was a crime in so many places. A world, I fear sometimes, we may be getting dragged back to.
And, then, the narrator is spent and he most leave the safe haven. Back in the real world, the title of the tale becomes very relevant again. Not to give spoilers, but— yeah, I found myself judging the narrator.
Yet, I understood. I do very much understand our narrator and I wonder at the hidden suppressed rage that lies beneath it all.
Down in the valley
by Billy Leigh
This was a nicely plotted story with a less obvious tie to lust than the first. Of course, it'd be hard to be less subtle than the bottom's tale.
Ralph Travers is a British fennec fox, a civil servant in a foreign posting in at a time when the sun doesn't yet set on the British Empire. WWII is just around the corner as the fox does his very best to keep his head down and carry on without attracting much attention.
Yet— a male has desires and we join Travers just as he braves a social excursion that nets him an invitation to a weekend getaway at a posh estate and a connection with a flyboy wolf by the name of Giles.
Lust is an undercurrent in their relationship as they get to know each other, but it's more of a love story. Lust is more accurately the driving force behind the antagonist of the piece, an American feline by the name of Lois. She wants Giles.
The history and culture portrayed in the story feels well researched and authentic. It comes close to capturing the feel of the period and the proper attitudes of the expats. The only things I felt missing would be British spellings and maybe there should be a bit more jingoism in the dialogue and the narrative.
Yet, if you have to overlook something, one could do worse; one tell the tale in Polari. Sure, that'd be authentic, but then it would become both inscrutable and campy at the same time.
I'm not fond of the way Travers referred to the reader in the tale. The last story used this same device to great effect, but here it makes me wonder who Travers is confessing to. I imagine if he survives the upcoming battle he'd destroy the manuscript, but if he doesn't then his lover would surely suffer.
It is not a particularly pleasant time to be outed.
Still, it's a nice tale of romance and death.
by T. Thomas Abernathy
One of the nicer things about Furry literature is how it can play into allegorical amplification; allowing us to explore and exaggerate uncomfortable issues like racism and sexism. If done well, you might even garner some sympathy for the devil.
Click is a perfect textbook example of what you can do with Furry to explore these themes. Except to imply that it reads like a textbook does it a disservice.
I've taken a turn or two creating bad people as leads, so I feel confident when I say the author did a great job in making Jack, a human, actually feel human. He's tired, exhausted, angry, and— in the background— suffering a bit from blue balls. He's not the worst person in the world, a nice guy by his own sights, in a situation where his worst traits come to the fore.
It's guilt and shame that sent Jack running to the men's room, not fear. Although it is fear that keeps him there. Lust is the catalyst. And the way that Jack tries to brace himself so he can leave his sanctuary is very human.
The violence at the end is a wonderful contrast to all that comes before.
That this the author's first time in print floors me.
Fun at the mall
This review contains spoilers
Wildfire the fox does his shopping at Yiffs R Us and he's a power bottom. He seems like he might have been a fun character, if the story hadn't gone dark. Mind you, I'm not above writing or enjoying a rape turnabout story, but I don't think being a dismissive asshole is really enough to justify what happens with these characters in this story.
Maybe, the author might have sold me the plot better if these two knew each other well. If these two had a history, then their innate knowledge of each other and what the other might secretly desire, might justify pimping out the lion's ass.
Or maybe there were a dozen other little things that in the story that were good but didn't fall into place for that magic weave. Certainly, naming the victim "humanized" him and reduced the distance between the supposed villain and the reader. And then, I thought what if this was a man and a woman and the woman was being too aggressive and "had to be taught a lesson."
Certainly, it's not the author's fault that I had that thought of the sexes, but it completely threw me out of the story.
And then there's the happy ass, tail up smiling lion at the end, accepting and even enjoying being used by serial strangers. Well, while I love the idea that all your cares could be taken away by a good pounding— I always thought this type of ending was an insult to real rape victims, unless the writer was careful to fully set the scene for that reveal, of course. It's a Penthouse cartoon of an ending. The slut got what she/he deserved and enjoyed it at the end, so, 'happy ending'.
I have to compare and contrast it with Click, the previous story. Click succeeds for me. Fun At The Mall isn't a clunker, but may be my least favorite story in this collection.
Fun at the Mall felt more like a lewd tale about this really cool guy who wanted to show a bully how to share.
by Searska Grey Raven
Our first story in wrath is something of a reverse werewolf tale where the wrath feels a bit more like a virtue than a sin.
I thought it was awfully sweet and dark, like an expensive gourmet chocolate wafer that melts in your mouth and is then gone. There is this slight accent of bitterness; a dash of salt on some caramel. Yummy.
Those three letters
by Rayah James
It's enough to break man, a bone shattering bullet for any soldier to take. Orion let down his guard to love another and he feels betrayed. Enter wrath.
Its a very short story and nicely done. I might have read dozens of similar revenge plot and stories over the years, but the author keeps it fresh and linear. There's nothing particularly furry about it, mind you, but it's still a good read.
For the sins of the father
by Sisco Polaris
Sisco Polaris returns to explore wrath with a deeper insight into the emotional entanglements of vengeance and spite flavoured sex, which I enjoyed with a soupçon of a writer's jealousy for the depth the author explores with his main character, Forrin.
As with his previous story in this anthology, the first few pages were a little rocky and awkward. Happily, I had less world confusion here. In the first story, I had to make the decision to accept the story for what it was. In this story, the suspension of disbelief came in more easily, more readily, and more organically.
And I was quite happy with the pivots and the guilt building as Forrin seduces his younger target. I get sugar and spite.
I burned the bridges to heaven
Weasel's reprint is rich, lush, and full of dark images of a recovering victim of domestic abuse. The wrath in this case is lingering, even if the abuser, Andre, is long gone.
I've read it three times and I'm not at all sure I understand what is on that folded piece of paper, and I'm not at all certain what happened with the abuser, but I know a haunted victim when I'm in the head of one.
Weasel's poetic description of the paranoia, the anxiety, and the flashbacks are well written. Even a squirrel can seem menacing when he reminds you, with a loving a touch, of the lion who scarred you. Yet, I feel I am missing a message between the lines and the settings.
by T. Thomas Abernathy
The first story in the Greed section.
A tiger that likes bugs rather obsessively; you'd think that was the dark secret of the tale but you would be wrong.
This is a more sedate and slower story than his previous in Click. The anxiety of running late kept me turning the page, enjoying the drive and the character's origin story. It might have gone a little too long, but only by a few dozen words. Once the tiger finally makes his Craigslist style meet, he is confident and reveals the full extent of his current hobby with a nice pay off.
I'm not sure it really reads modern greed to me, we are shown the pursuit of an earthly desire performed dishonestly. Classically, I know this is greed because, thank you Sunday School.
This review contains spoilers
Two things kept me from enjoying this story as much as I might have otherwise.
First: this second story in greed, echoes the only other greed story in that there was a niggle in the story that distracted me slightly. In the sense that this didn't just quite feel like greed. The both felt more like "covetousness" than capital-G greed. I know, my logic is flawed. What says greed better than stealing, right?
Where the previous villain was something akin to a psychopath, Cecil— Kal's Mother— is practically Suzie Homemaker. But she just cannot let go. We all know someone who has a mother like that, right? Kal comes across as quite sensible and totally level-headed compared to her. I'm guessing someone had to start adulting early.
The crime in this story is vaguely similar to the previous story. Had there been a story or more between them, I might have not have found their overlapping issues notable.
Second: There was just a little too much head hopping. It's only a few lines here and there, but I'd rather see the little clues that ring ominously than hear thoughts meant to soothe the reader into false sense of security (unless you're talking an unreliable narrator, of course). I think this part might hold up for more people.
Still, Hype brings Kal alive for me, so there's that.
The beauty regime
by Evelyn Proctor
This goes south fast and explores body horror straight away.
The feelings feel quite real, but the damage doesn't quite completely ring accurate. The author doesn't quite go cartoony with the injuries, but she might have paced them better.
Self-injury and self-hatred are worthy issues to explore and taking all that through a filter of envy is something I'd like to see more of. On the other hoof, I would love to see the Lynx's healing journey and the final half page was just not enough.
by Tristan Black Wolf
I think this might be one of the best stories in here I've read in this collection. It hits the classic envy and throws in a heaping helping of lust, too.
I like the few, well-placed red herrings here and there in the form of police reports and news articles. And if there was a fault, it was the mention of Lickapedia and it's motto— but I am really being picky to mention it.
At least as for as this anthology goes, writers seem to gravitate more towards envy. This is the third of five entries and it deals with a classic trope: The Green Eyed Monster and the power of self-delusion.
It's nicely done, but I'm going to have to use Fred Patton's Funny Animal flag here. There's just no plus or added flavor from this being a furry story. No scent marking, no social strata from the various species, or even feral emoting save for one white tail flickering in agitation in an early part of the story. After that, the tail is forgotten. All the tails are forgotten. By the time we get to the confrontation we don't have a cat fight, we have a knife fight.
A happy cat's tail can make a question mark. Two happy cats can make a heart with their tails. And just seeing that once, would have been a knife in Lucy's heart.
The third offering for Envy brings us a look into vanity surrounding the furry specific head fur/hair. As with the previous story, this could have been humans as easily as wolves and foxes. There were a few missed opportunities to make things furrier (literally, as I question the difference between fur and hair, is good body fur overlooked so easily? Is great headfur a common social status marker between the species?) Hair envy between ladies seems kinda common; adding a multi-species furred covered society really should new depth and vectors to that.
But other than that, its a very good story. I've spent much time pondering the spell and what it all really means. Bad stories don't inspire much contemplation, so there's that, too.
I really liked this tale of envy, as I found its use subtle and justified. Envy can attract you to people as it seems to attract Cherize to Luciana. The multi-species society is explored as a sort of caste system and Cherize's struggle is framed realistically in that universe, as is Luciana's attempt to understand her new friend's point of view and history.
I would liked to have explored the physiological differences between jackals and foxes in this setting, as I'm a bit dubious that Cherize's plan has the slightest chance of working (but maybe that was the point?).
By its very nature, sloth is not a very dramatic sin. Sloth is the sin of "what I should have done." It's also the most easily justifiable sin, because, like greed, it can mislead the sinner with a rationale of pragmatism. Like pride, it cloaks itself in ignorance. It's the failure of human spirit in the most subtle of ways and the consequences can be of life and death. The best way to explore sloth, I believe, is by exploring the aftermath.
Which brings us to the first piece in this section.
I love this piece's mood, it captured despair and denial so perfectly, yet teased us with some thin hope. The story is triggered by sloth and setting is awash with tokens of sloth despite the character Park actually working hard at keeping the clock from moving forward.
This piece, I feel, best captures the sense of misery and regret of a sinner. Repentance, self-recrimination, and self-flagellation. I've reread the story three or four times now and I've come away with a slightly different take on Park's and Simon's sins and fates each time.
The bear necessities
by Bill Kieffer (me)
Rather than review my own story, I will confess that in my first submitted version of this story, the story ended with Sladek slipping the TV remote into the bear's lifeless paw and holding his breath waiting for the bear to change the channel with a hint that Sladek never felt the need to exhale. Mostly, it was a joke ending because I found the image funny. Howl asked for a darker version, so I added a bit more of an imperfect pantheon of Sloth: unable and/or unwilling to solve the trap they find themselves in.
But mostly it's still about having sex on a bear skin rug.
by TJ Minde
Aaron and Justin are lovers in this final tale of sloth. It's nicely descriptive and while the relationship is very realistic, the stereotype of rabbits is really all the furriness we get. Which is fine as I'm not aware of a human racial stereotype of everlasting randiness— except of course, young males in general.
This is a disappointing story only in the sense that its about a disappointingly real aspect of human adult relationships: not bothering to reach out to reconnect. But as an example of sloth it connects and leaves Aaron with a thin core of loneliness. Previously, I said that in a good sloth story, you could only really show the aftermath of the sin, but the author proves me wrong by bringing us to a point where sloth is active, is challenged, and wins by forestalling growth.
A voice not spoken
by Stephen Coghlan
So, at first, I thought this might be a Furry version of 45's election.
- An unexpected victory of a candidate no one took seriously.
- The media concerns that were ignored as alarmists
- The steady degradation of rights of races/species considered dangerous
Sounds familiar, right? But much of this would have been written and accepted before the current administration would have been in place. No, it occurs to me that the inspiration is more Hitler than Trump.
Yet, there's a significant difference here and that's the bit of Zootopia in the world/city with a line clearly drawn between the herbivores and the carnivores, with the carnivores on the losing side.
I could make a lot of comparisons to different points of world history (Germany is not alone in hosting genocide, after all, nor is the recoil of a "minority" leader gaining power), but I'll try to refrain and let others speak on that.
I like that this story follows Smokey as he does the very least that he feels he should: to not make waves. So, this is squarely in the sloth category; right up until the end, where a meaningless gesture is all that Korat cat can muster.
A good cautionary story for the subtlest of sins.
by Banwynn (Suta) Oakshadow
I know the story universe that this was written for. Over a decade after it was created for the small circle (200+) of listmembers on the Transformation Story Archive mailing list, this story would have definitely benefited from a more traditional introduction to the rules of this universe. So, as an author who wrote in this story-verse, let me give you all a short one after the fact.
- Imagine a mailing list where people got stories about transformations into their emails and a were able to write and share in each other's worlds where almost every story had at least one Mary Jane, named after our fursonas and often with out real names.
- Then imagine a powerful alien force deciding to make everyone on the list into what they seemed to want. But instead of outright wish fulfillment, the rules were that other than the transformation itself everything had to be written as realistically as possible. Some had mental as well as physical transformations.
(PLUG: You can read my own take here: https://www.fictionpress.com/s/598139/1/Jockeying-For-Position)
This story is a wonderful downward spiral of a young man who gets his wish, but not the mental transformation. His alienation and fear of rejection doesn't really speak of S=sloth to me, mind you, but more of a paralyzing fear that destroys any chance of a future. However, I can see how being frozen in place might evoke images of sloth.
Like all the other stories with this theme, there's the taste of disappointment and sadness here that is part of the package deal. Having four of these stories in a row might take a toll on the reader, and that might be the case with me. I had to go read other stuff and come back to this review, despite my knowing the quality of author's work from our shared mailing list days.
So, my advice when reading this section, take a long break between each story.
I looked forward to getting to gluttony, for this is my own sin.
Dwale's story is a nice take on the sin, without being overt about the source of the victuals in question. The descriptions of the characters are almost spartan, but efficient. The story-telling is lean and hungry.
I really can't say more without spoilers. I expect we readers really need to make our conclusions to the source of the nom noms in the story.
This is an interesting creation and one well suited for a collection of Anthropomorphic sins. The scenes of the feeding frenzy and then the meal planning as our narrator considers what must be done to store all the meat were extremely absorbing. I half expected a joyful continuation of a dark tour of cannibalistic charcuterie.
I actually anticipated it, for the narrator of the piece started out being so dry and intellectual, that I cheered when they dived into the slaughter.
This story leaves me hungry for more.
The music on the sheet
by Nighteyes Dayspring
I really enjoyed the struggle between Shadow and Trevor. The temptation and the pride feel quite nicely portrayed. I was not sure if Pride was the true villain of the piece, as the lack of balance was really what caused the situation here.
Trevor was rich enough and he could have asked for help to balance his life. He could have afforded it. Perhaps pride stopped him in the past.
I'd like to see more with Shadow. It's hard to create a good musical performance in a text piece, I think. Nighteyes did very well here.
by Banwynn (Suta) Oakshadow
Another transformation story! And yes, it still counts if the change happens off-screen. The story-verse is in flux from the all the transformation. The transformed, called morphs, find themselves the new untrusted minority.
For me, this felt like a trip down memory lane (new story to me, but have I mentioned how much I love transformation stories?) and Banwynn's pretty deft at hitting all the right points in a story like this.
What I really liked was how Drever's pride kept him from ditching Ramble or falling for the temptation of what the fox-morph all but threw at him.
by Avin Telfer
For awhile, I was unsure how I feel about this story. It is one of my least favorite tales in the collection. Pride is often thought as the worst of the sins; the sin that destroys grace. Obviously, Todd is no longer the team player he might have once been. The only motivation he has to go on is his continuing research. So, it's his pride basically that keeps him from fully joining the crew. I can't help but think his symptoms more reflect depression than someone being overly prideful.
This is a stronger story than Fun At the Mall; but less exciting. It's just too clinical a walk thru the end of the world for me to get excited about.
Well... the opening was biblical and full of kinky debasement. I like that in a story, even if I had to read it twice to understand Daani's issue with the recording and her mortal limits. She seemed to be walking back from the cusp of ego-mania, flirting with the idea that she might never be more than a wanna-be goddess. All very prideful themes handled properly and dramatically.
The goat and the bat made an interesting couple. I really liked the story and the characters, but I'm not sure what this says about Pride, but it certainly brings them out for display. For all the height she's achieved, Daani may only be now ready to explore her depths in the midsts of despair.
My only quibble here is a spoiler of sorts. Varzen does a good job of describing the man-bat between his wings and foot-hands and his funky nose— but I missed the part where he cannot fly.
by J.A. Noelle
I really liked the realistic interactions of the various age groups here, along with the mix of young adult emotions and I'm pleased that there's isn't much BF crushing going here.
I liked the racial/breed (genus?) strife and how migration is the trigger, I like to place this sort of thing in my own work. It makes for a great allegory and it gives a clear reason to use multiple species. A lot of very artful and thoughtful decisions went into creating this world and the author made this look effortless. Bravo.
by Thurston Howl
This review contains spoilers
As I mentioned at the top, the interludes were the first thing I read when I got my free copy from the publisher was the framing sequences that tie the anthology together and help strengthen the theme. I read them greedily and stayed up longer than I had planned to read all the connective segments.
Of course, in keeping with the Lust theme in this section, perhaps this axiom is true... 'It's never as good as the first time.'
Alone, and bereft of the stories they were supporting, I found the little vignettes amazing. This was probably the best framing structure I've read in an anthology since Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. There was a real plot and the promise of interaction with the stories that made me want to read those stories I was skipping over... yet... there was a mystery that needed solving and I did not see the ending coming.
In reading the collection in the intended order, things fall apart a little. Part of that was knowing the secret behind our narrators, but a large part of it was that these interludes were sort of tied to a story-telling contest on each sin. Who was telling each story and which story was a winner? I didn't care when I was just reading the interludes, but I was rather looking forward to seeing Howl handled the nearly impossible task of using our stories as words coming out of the mouths of this Tiger, Wolf, and Horse. I found myself caring.
It didn't quite work out that way, of course.
And then when the number of stories between the interludes didn't quite match the number of stories that seemed to be told, the Interludes seemed to amplify the disconnects.
Of course, knowing how Derek, Zinc, and Barba make out after all seven sins are explored make me very much aware of the planted red herrings. The outright contradictions revealed in the way of head hopping made me flinch. One character wonders if another might be a demon in one interlude; yet in the last interlude, they know the answer. And they are not surprised, because they have always known.
As I write this, I am made even more aware of the size of the task I've assigned Howl the editor in my head. It's not fair, perhaps, but it is honest. I know it might be akin to asking George R.R, Martin to write Winds of Winter faster, but the heart wants what the heart wants.