Review: 'Flight of the Godkin Griffin', by M.C.A. Hogarth
Flight of the Godkin Griffin is an example of anthropomorphic literature at its best. It is told in the form of the diary of Mistress Commander Angharad Godkin, 48 years old, from the eve of her long-awaited retirement after thirty-four years in the army of the Godkindred Kingdom; at once obviously an inhuman army on another world.
Angharad has been recuperating at Fort Endgame after being wounded at the battle for Glendallia; a Pyrrhic victory in which she lost most of her cavalry unit and half of her command staff. She is just packing to leave when she is summoned to the office of the Fort’s commander:
The Mistress General hovers behind a desk, overlooking several maps and emitting a palpable air of tension. She has never elucidated her bloodlines to me, though to be named Godkin she must be the product of the interbreeding of at least ten species, as I am. In appearance, she is mostly mammalian, leaning toward genet or marten with rounded ears and a striped tail.
‘Mistress General, you wanted to see me?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she says curtly. ‘Angharad Godkin, you are hereby assigned to replace the provincial governor of the newly pacified province of Shraeven, on orders of the Godson.’
My beak drops open in shock. Any soldier in the Godson’s army can retire … unless they’re on active duty.
Casandre sighs. ‘Sit, Angharad.’
I refuse. ‘I’m retiring tomorrow.’
‘Not anymore,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry, Angharad, truly, but the Godson himself sent the orders. It’s time for Governor Chordwain to step down.’ (p. 3)
Sofawolf Press, June 2012, trade paperback $17.95 ([iii] + 243 pages). Illustrations, map by the author.
In just the first two pages, Hogarth establishes that this is another world (with three moons), that Angharad can fly (her wings were injured in the battle for Glendallia; also, “A warm breeze presages spring and sweeps my fine hair off my shoulders, tickling my wings.” – Angharad wears a backless blouse with breeches), that the creatures of this world can interbreed and do not look like each other, and that the royal court is REALLY anxious for the politically inexperienced Angharad to take command of the large province of Shraeven (until recently an independent kingdom) as soon as possible. She is promised all the additional troops she wants, a new support staff, an almost unlimited expense account – but she, personally, has to be the new Governor. Angharad suspects that the “newly pacified province” is in fact a hellhole, and that she is expected to fail – but who wants her, personally, to be a scapegoat?
This is basically a semi-medieval political fantasy thriller. “‘Shraeven,’ [Silfie] says, ‘is an impossible province because it has so many ethnicities with such extremely different religions and customs that no one has been able to unite them long enough to convince them they’ve been conquered.’” (p. 8) Angharad, a military veteran but with no political experience, must educate herself fast in the internecine court and church intrigues of Shraeven; and deduce how this leads back to the Godson’s court. “Angharad quickly finds herself the central piece in a game being fought on too many levels, all of them very foreign to her nature and background. But if she's being forced to play, she's going to play to win; and everyone may come to regret having gotten her into the game.” (blurb)
Of important added interest, there are constant references to this planet’s unique biology.
I have time to turn and recognize the lean figure jogging toward me as Gavan from the Third Moon Plain, one of my infantry captains, a stalwart veteran of two of my campaigns and a Fourblood of mostly predator lines: there’s bear in his ears and nose and wolf in the tail, certainly. (p. 5)
Going into the mounted troop is a calling; no one would force a person to work with beasts unless he was comfortable with them, and few people are. It’s too striking a reminder that we are only a few bloodlines removed from beasthood ourselves. Though it’s strict policy not to train mounts that might have resulted from the union of devolved people, sometimes a beast has more intelligence in its eyes than can easily be accounted for. (p. 6)
As a matter of policy, the army avoided recruiting mongrels: dimwits trapped by the accident of bloodline and pure-breeding into a shape neither humanoid nor totally animal. And yet, sometimes it does, particularly when it feels it needs to fill the ranks with expendable soldiers. (p. 9)
The door crashes open, expelling a page and a man on his heels. My first glance suggests wolf’s ears, ram’s horns, a coyote’s muzzle, the spots of an ocelot, the stripes of a zebra. (p. 15)
This biology also figures into the social and political intrigue. “Angharad believes that her race is moving toward divinity by breeding many different species together; her own ten-species bloodline places her near the Godson in rank and makes her choice of mate difficult.” (blurb)
Angharad is an old lover (lesbian) of her new second-in-command, the vixenlike Silfia Fiveblood of the Dale, “who’d broken my heart when she allowed her family to dictate whether she should dally in a non-productive union instead of wedding someone who would produce the child Sixblood of the Dale.” (p. 7) The myriad religions in Shraeven range from those that encourage interbreeding with anything that moves, to those that encourage interbreeding just among intelligent beings, to those that want to kill all the mixed breeds, much less the human-animal mongrels. One cult even worships the winged interbreeds like Angharad as gods. “‘Perfection,’ I murmur. ‘Just what I need. A following.’” (p. 13)
And all the above is just in the first chapter! This all results in a novel of political intrigue in which the Furry element is especially important. There is no human vs. Furry conflict; everyone is a Furry of one kind or another, with many more blends than Earth has species. It is almost immediately evident that in this context, “man” means anyone who is sentient.
But this isn’t all. Hogarth also presents a vivid word-picture of this world:
The walls of the cut fall away and we walk over mounds of stone into a rumpled valley dense with flowers, white and honey-pale gold. The air is sweet with the perfume of spring. I stand on a grassy hill and watch my train of soldiers advance toward the colorful buildings of the next town in our path. But mostly I am intoxicated by the beauty of the place. Perhaps it was the rain a few days past that washed the fields and turned them this brilliant sap green … or perhaps Shraeven is always thus in spring in the mountains. We camp a day out from the village and there’s not a man in my regiment, yea verily, nor a mongrel or a woman either who does not have high spirits. (p. 80)
As Angharad and her servant-friends, the mostly-vixen Silfie and the snow-leopard-like Ragna, and her troops venture farther and farther into Shraeven, she finds out the hard way that not only the people are uncontrollable, their gods are, too:
I grin. ‘Let me guess. The Star God’s agenda isn’t theirs.’
‘Precisely,’ Negrat says, watching me warily. ‘You find this humorous.’
‘I’m a soldier,’ I say. ‘I hate politics, so of course, the Godson promotes me to the governorship of a province. I hate religion, so gods start talking to me. And now, since I hate both, the gods are playing politics. Now all I need is for the Godson to start playing religion.’ (p. 189)
The further they get into Shraeven, the more Angharad finds that it is not at all like she has been led to expect. The reader should not be surprised to find that Flight of the Godkin Griffin frustratingly ends with Angharad and her army only nearing the capital of Shraeven, because Sofawolf Press’ publicity warns, “Flight of the Godkin Griffin is the first of a two-book series detailing Angharad's entry into Shraeven and her growing awareness of the challenges, both political and personal, that lie ahead of her.”
This first half of a novel has been revised from a collaborative serialization that Hogarth published on LiveJournal from October 2003–June 2009.
This journal is a work of interactive fiction about the travails of a griffin military commander, and is updated 2-5 days a week on weekdays. If you'd like your vote to help direct the story, become a Godkin patron by following the link on the User Info page and donating. Check the Godkindred website, linked above, to catch up with the Story so Far.
At the end of each installment, patrons were presented with two or more questions to direct the next installment. For example:
‘I want my entire company re-outfitted. This new cavalry unit included,’ I say. ‘I want more soldiers. And I need a new support staff.’
‘Naturally, naturally,’ Casandre says. (From the first installment; revised in pages 3-4 of the book)
This was followed at the end of the first installment with a poll: “Should I pay to re-outfit my people? … Yes! They're never going to fulfill their promise. … No! They said they'd re-outfit your company, and they will.”
Hogarth has smoothed out this first draft into a finished novel, or the first half of one. Please, hurry and publish the second half!
About the authorFred Patten — read stories — contact (login required)
a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics
I gotta say it is extremely difficult to tweak vocabulary for anthropomorphic fiction so that it doesn't overlap with terms that are tailored toward humans or one's own experiences in this universe.
For example the phrase "He was a good man" came up when I was writing and it's a common phrase but since the person who died wasn't a "man" as in male human I went bzzzt try again. After a little that one was easily tweaked to "He was a good spirit".
More challenging was the story was on a different planet and I had to describe a sun rise... where's the challenge in that? Well, it's like a game of taboo... I can't use the word "Sun" because the "sun" isn't a word used to describe the star in the center of every universe, it is used as a specific name for a particular star we are most familiar with. So yes I could use the word sun, but what are the odds that an alien culture would come up with the same name for their star as we ours? So I simply called it "the fire in the sky" and used other metaphors to avoid giving it a name, which was a bit more difficult.
Sci-fi and furry writing definitely provides a challenge to ones vocabulary and understanding of societal definitions and etymology if one tends to over-think things.
In my work (most notably in By Sword and Star), I often use "man" or "woman" to simply indicate male or female character, instead of assuming that the terms automatically mean "human." I don't see a problem with it, especially when there aren't any humans in a story's world, but apparently it trips up some readers who take things very literally. *shrug* I'm all for using appropriate idioms and such (I remember critiquing a story where a zoomorphic fox talked about 'learning the ropes,' which didn't make much sense from a real-life fox's perspective), but at some point you do get into the calling-a-rabbit-a-smeerp type problem, and it becomes overblown and distracts from the story you're trying to tell.
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