Review: 'Nordguard: Across Thin Ice', by Tess Garman & Teagan Gavet
Nordguard, Book One: Across Thin Ice
by Tess Garman & Teagan Gavet
St. Paul, MN, Sofawolf Press, June 2011
Hardcover $39.95 (75 pages), paperback $19.95
Tess Garman (Kenket) & Teagan Gavet (BlackTeagan) – better known under their joint pseudonym of Blotch – have a well-deserved reputation for anthropomorphic light humor, with numerous cover paintings and their webcomic-turned-graphic novel Dog’s Days of Summer.
Now the duo show that they are equally adept at drama, with the beginning of a cold, cruel tale of murder and treachery in an anthropomorphic Far North.
In November 1903, in the Northern Territory of the United Territories [roughly Canada’s Northwest Territories], an emergency message is telegraphed from the isolated Tartok mine: “Many dead, more dying.” Freezing winter storms have cut the mine off from the nearest sea ports, so the only chance of getting immediate aid to Tartok is by an overland sled team of the Nordguard, the major civilian rescue/mail delivery/trailblazing organization of that territory.
The team selected for the mission is Pi’s, an elite group of Husky and Malamute sled dogs with an admirable record of success. But this mission from “the corps” (a vaguely hinted-at governmental body) to the Nordguard comes with ominous undertones, from a new inexperienced field surgeon assigned to Pi’s team to an arrogant Russian major whom they are required to take along for political reasons.
“Book One: Across Thin Ice”, is the adventure of Pi’s team crossing the deadly but beautiful White Land, in early winter when the ground is not yet quite safely frozen, to reach the Tartok mine. There are menaces from both the harsh landscape and the hunters of the Maguruq, tribes of native “strays”. The reader already knows from a prologue that what they will find at Tartok will intensify the mystery and danger immensely, but that is for Book Two.
The publisher’s notes for “Nordguard” say that:
Painstakingly hand-painted in watercolors over the span of several years, there is both amazing detail and broad vibrant landscapes, in colors that run from blinding snowfields through golden firelight and the spectral green of the Aurora Borealis.
The book features Blotch’s characteristic detailed, well-researched landscapes, here of the wild frozen country and settlements of the early 20th century Yukon gold rush – dominated by earthy browns and icy blues – and an equally detailed anthropomorphic cast. The main characters are Pi’s team of sled dogs, but with a rich background of other Northern animals: bears, hares, mustelids, lynx, caribou, and some Asiatic animals to personify the foreigners.
The team is sharply detailed, headed by Pi, a charismatic Husky bitch, a decisive leader; London, her point dog and lover; Nickel, the happy-go-lucky risk-taker of the team; Geri & Freki, the twin wheel dogs; and Lt. James Mckay, the insecure medic newbie on the team (not a Husky nor Malamute) who is anxious to prove himself. Their trek gives them many opportunities to show their mettle, but the ongoing presence of the troublemaking Major Kutukov and the distant appearance of Maguruq warriors promise that they are only entering the realm of greatest danger.
This is a very satisfactory first installment of a tense thriller which is bound to enhance Garman’s & Gavet’s already-stellar reputation.
Read more: Flayrah's interview with Blotch on Nordguard