Review: 'Demon of Undoing', by Andrea I. Alton
Demon of Undoing opens in the midst of battle, immediately establishing the Imkairans as a planetful of uncontrollably ferocious felinoids divided into constantly warring small feudal clans:
The warrior twisted his head, snarling at his commander over his shoulder, ears flat and eyes slitted with fury. In the brown furred hand the sword shifted toward Fenobar’s unprotected stomach, but then the glazed eyes focused on Fenobar’s white crest and sanity fought a return in the light green eyes. Sullenly the palecrest lowered his sword, shamed that he had so far forgotten himself. (p. 1)
Prince “wrong-handed” Fenobar is the protagonist, the Commander of the Temple Guard of the Kingdom of the Fen tribe of the Monghanirri clan. That sounds impressive, but the Temple Guard is a troop of old and maimed warriors, too experienced in battle to be ignored but too infirm to be frontline soldiers any longer.
Fenobar, by his royal birth and his savage spirit, cannot be ignored either, but his crippled left arm, twisted from birth, prevents him from becoming a real warrior. He has been shunted off into a ceremonial command that nobody takes seriously. For a savage Imkairan, subject to an instinctual battle lust, this is especially humiliating.
Riverdale, NY, Baen Books, June 1988, 308 pages, 0-671-65413-6, $3.50.
Fenobar is desperate to win respect; so desperate that he pins his hopes on the legendary Demons of Undoing.
The image was of a strange, alien male. Less heavily muscled than most Imkairans, it was furless, except on its head. In spite of being male, it had no head crest. It had five long and sinuous fingers on each hand, instead of the Inkairan four. Its fingers ended in flat nails instead of claws. It had wide shoulders and narrow hips, which gave it a decidedly triangular shape. The eyes were small, the face flat. The mouth had wide lips. The ears, so small and round as to be almost useless, were hidden under the fur on the sides of its head, instead of being on top like a person’s ought to be. (p. 5)
Reading between the lines, humans came to Imkaira hundreds of years ago, but their strange customs and innovations spread confusion, disquiet, and chaos. Dishonored by their accidental troublemaking, they “retreated from the world and were seldom seen again.” The Imkairans returned to their traditional customs. Ever since then, any hint of social change was blamed on the supernatural influence of a Demon.
High-ranking Imkairans, the whitecrests (the commoners have dark crests), take a sholstan, a respected role-model, to follow and to live up to. Fenobar, ignored by the Fen establishment, secretly takes the legendary Demons as his sholstan. He has won what small honor he has by looking for the reason behind a tradition and using it in his favor. This works until the day Black Fentaru, his royal father, is defeated in personal battle by Thenorig the Mad, high king of the Chaligs. By tradition, all Fen goes to Chalig as trophies of war with Fentaru as his subordinate, but Fentaru orders Stells, his veteran sholstan, to take Fen’s ancient sacred Black Axe of Monghan into hiding at the distant mountain temple at Mone. Fenobar, as Commander of the Temple Guard, is the titular leader of the small troop of Fenirri. Everyone expects him to defer to Stells for real orders, but Fenobar recognizes this as an opportunity to stand out for the first time.
Matters appear to go from bad to worse when Fenobar is separated from the other Fenirri by a landslide, and the rest of the Fenirri are captured by the Kaymath tribe as enemies in their war with the Monghanirri. Fenobar, alone, survives only by disguising himself as a Kaymath commoner. Without giving the whole story away, Fenobar suddenly meets a genuine Demon! He is conflicted between deferring to the Demon as his unexpectedly real sholstan, and ordering the Demon to help him rise to the prominence that he has only dreamed of. The Demon helps Fenobar and the surviving Temple Guard fight their way out of Kaymath. As they escape, the other Fenirri continue to regard him superstitiously, but to Fenobar he becomes a comrade-in-arms.
[…] The Demon rubbed at his strange sharp nose with the back of one hand. ‘I haven’t any more supernatural ability than you have, really! I can’t change things, or make them go wrong.’
‘Demon, I have been with you for two hands of days, and in that time things have done nothing but go wrong.’ […] Purring, he added, ‘But if you are not a Demon of Undoing, what are you?’
His ears twitched wildly as he heard the note of helplessness in the Demon’s voice when he answered, ‘I’m called a human being.’
‘And you are from?’
The Demon cleared his throat. Not looking at Fenobar, he mumbled something at the mail in his lap.
‘We’re from another world.’
‘Demons are hardly from this one,’ Fenobar said dryly. ‘But still you say you’re not a Demon.’ […]
‘I call myself Sig,’ the Demon said, a little desperately.
‘Human Being Sig?’ Fenobar asked sweetly.
‘Sigmund DeGama Cook of the tribe of … of … United Stars Interstellar Survey. Human being. As you are Imkairan.’
‘Oh.’ Fenobar scrubbed at his almost forgotten armor as he thought that over. ‘How did humans get here?’
‘We …’ Sig came to a confused stop. ‘I can’t tell you.’
‘Can’t or won’t?’
‘Won’t,’ the Demon admitted miserably.
‘Ah … you used some kind of magic ritual which permitted you to fly here, not so?’ Fenobar looked slyly up at Sig from under the long hairs of his crest. ‘Demons use them all the time.’
Sig put his head in his hand, surrendering. ‘All right. I’m a Demon.’ (pgs. 177-179)
Fenobar and Sig come to a working agreement: Sig will help Fenobar to rise in prestige with his fellow felinoids, and Fenobar will protect Sig until he can get back to the hidden castaway human colony on Imkaira. Fenobar is astounded when Sig teaches him a whole new way of fighting; karate trickiness instead of straight-on claws and fangs brawling. The two sapients’ different instincts make them truly Odd Couple friends, who cannot really understand each other but who respect each other’s differences. Through their partnership, the reader is plunged into the intriguingly complex Imkairan society, as they slowly gain status while making their way back to Fen and the challenge that defeated Fenobar’s father.
This is a rich adventure on an exotic planet with two charismatic protagonists, the main one an alien yet likeable felinoid. The book ends with Fenobar facing a happily-ever-after future, but Sig still far from home. Demon of Undoing cries for a sequel. Unfortunately, it is the only book that Andrea Alton has written after over twenty years, although she has a current website and keeps promising future novels. We can hope …