Reviews: Furry, anthro, and animal-related books of 2013
Roz Gibson reviews fiction of furry interest she read in 2013; her favorites included:
- The Tails from the Upper Kingdom series, by H. Leighton Dickson
- Sunset of Lantonne by Jim Galford
- Kavishar: Reflections In A Wolf's Eyes by Laura Kyle
- Rise of the Penguins by Steven Hammond
- Pandemonium by Warren Fahy
- I Was An Alien Cat Toy by Ann Somerville
- Nezumi's Children by T.L. Bodine
- Skyfire by Jess E. Owen
- Dragon Stones by James V. Viscosi
- Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson
Tails from the Upper Kingdom series, by H. Leighton Dickson
To Journey in the Year of the Tiger - To Walk in the Way of Lions - Songs In the Year of the Cat - see also Fred's review of the first two, and the third
This series was a great discovery, and should be a must-read for fans of big cats. Captain Wynegarde-Grey, the lion head of the Imperial Guard, is sent by the empress to discover what has been killing the members of a sacred group of monk/seers. He brings with him a disparate group—his happy-go-lucky brother, a cheetah sorceress, a tigress scholar, a warrior snow leopardess, and the only remaining monk/seer, a reviled ‘mongrel’ a feline of mixed blood. This takes place in a Tibet, China and Mongolia dominated by the big cats, but ruled by those of sacred blood — evolved domestic cats. Other furry races include dogs (as nomadic Mongols), monkeys (Japan and south-east Asia) and barbarian bears and rats. I can’t tell more about the plot without including spoilers, but suffice to say, this was one of the best anthropomorphic series I’ve read.
Sunset of Lantonne (The Fall of Eldvar #3) by Jim Galford
Third in the excellent Eldvar series, this takes a detour from the adventures of ring-tailed lemur Estin and his family, and follows the concurrent but separate story of an adolescent elf girl Ilarra and her anthropomorphic wolf protector, Raeln. They deal with the same zombies and necromancers that plagued Estin (who makes a brief cameo appearance) in the previous books, and encounter new supernatural creatures. While this seems like it’s going to follow the human(oid) protagonist and noble nonhuman companion trope, it evolves into something much better, and should not be missed by anyone who wants some good furry literature.
In Situ by David Samuel Frazier
This is one of two ‘dinosaurs in the modern world’ books I read this year. This one requires a ginormous suspension of disbelief (the other one does too, actually…) Intelligent raptors at the time of the K–T event, living a fairly primitive but civilized lifestyle, somehow manage to find the secret to long-term (like, millions of years!) suspended animation, so a chosen handful survive. They are accidently dug up in our time by government workers digging a shelter for another K–T-level impact. A gorgeous female paleontologist, her ex-husband that she still has feelings for, and various government types scramble to beat the oncoming asteroid and figure out what to do about the polite but scary-looking dinosaurs.
Lab Rat by B. A. Maddux
A book out of the furry fandom, this started off as a SF/fantasy mix, with a golem, mysterious benefactor and artificially created furry rat. It ended up being… a gay self-discovery story. Zack the white rat is specifically created and educated for a specific mission involving dragons (who run a nightclub in his city). On his first night out he falls for a male dragon and has a crisis of conscience about his purpose for being. There are some talk of a past war and war crimes that sounded a lot more interesting than the actual book was, but this will work for fans of gay romance. Just FYI — this is not an adult book, so don’t get it expecting a lot of M/M action.
The Gnoll Credo by J. Stanton
Not really a novel per se, this story is told in a series of interviews and encounters a human scholar has with a female Gnoll (hyena morph). The Gnoll relates her society, biology and life philosophy. The book (especially towards the end) gets very preachy, with the author clearly using it as a mouthpiece for his own views and opinions on the human condition. Not really my cup of tea, although a few of the segments about the gnoll were interesting taken by themselves. This is only available as a hardcopy book.
Ripple - A Dolphin Love Story by Tui Allen
It’s A Wonderful Life meets New Age philosophy. From the Amazon blurb: "Ripple is the twenty million year old story of how one dolphin was inspired by love to an intellectual achievement that changed the universe." Yes, this is just as dopey as it sounds. Ripple the dolphin has the dream to invent a new art form — music — but can’t seem to make the others hear what she can. The story also includes a male dolphin with anger management issues, astral projection to other planets and some kind of deep sea monster. On the other hand, it’s a bit more uplifting than Buddy the Rat was…
Fox 8: A Story by George Saunders
A short story about a wild fox whose forest home is invaded by suburban sprawl and a shopping center. He learns to speak and write a pidgin type of English by spying on humans, and, not surprisingly, the book does get kind of preachy. Not a horrible story, but then again, it doesn’t really say anything most people don’t already know.
Vengeance in the North Woods by Randy Peters
A wolf pack is forced from its long-time territory by relentless human persecution, and sets off on a journey to find the possibly-mythical Land of the Buffalo. These are some atypical wolves — they react to humans killing pack members by turning around and killing the humans in revenge! A dramatically satisfying but completely implausible scenario that will leave any reader familiar with wolf behavior rolling their eyes. The hapless wolf pack also has to deal with storms, fire, floods, and hostile animals. The ending, which is even more unbelievable than the man-killing wolves, does leave things open for a sequel. Whether I’ll actually read it is up in the air…
Claws by Ozzie Cheek
Probably inspired by the RL event in Ohio a few years ago where a big cat collector released all his animals before committing suicide, this is about another group of big cats released outside a small town in Idaho. This is a very standard book in the genre, with all the usual tropes — small town politics and politicians more interested in the bottom line than protecting people, a sheriff with a haunted past and headstrong teenage daughter, yahoos with guns, a gorgeous female big-game hunter, and a lot of hungry big cats (including two giant ligers) that are much better at killing people than the ones in Ohio were. There are a number of plot points that seemed to go nowhere (a white supremacist group, crooked politicians), and most of the book is just trying to figure out who the ligers will eat next.
Kavishar: Reflections In A Wolf's Eyes by Laura Kyle
This is an excellent talking animal book. Kavishar is a 2 year old timber wolf that had been raised by a trapper and his son in an isolated cabin in the Yukon. When the old trapper dies, his son (late teenage) decides he doesn’t want to live alone in the middle of nowhere any more, and buys a house in Canadian suburbia. He brings Kavishar and his older husky companion into suburbia with him, with predictably disastrous results. This realistically portrays the mindset of people who bring animals into inappropriate settings because they ‘love’ them, and a large part of the story is taken up by Kavishar’s attempts to be accepted by the suburban dogs. He makes a few friends and many more enemies as his life continues to spiral out of control. I won’t go further on what happens due to spoilers, but this should be at the top of your reading list if you like talking animal books.
The Woodlander (The Grey Tales) by Kirk Watson
A lot like the Hermux Tantamoq mouse watchmaker series, this is a world of anthropomorphic small mammals living in towns not unlike middle America in the last century. John Grey is a squirrel news reporter who has not recovered from the death of his wife and infant son, and has sunk into a deep depression. He is reluctantly talked into helping track down a missing mouse drug addict, and soon finds himself into a conspiracy much deeper than he expected. This is the first book of a series, and while there’s a resolution to the initial storyline, there is still a lot left to be done. So far the next book is not out.
The Rise of the Penguins Saga by Steven Hammond
These are a couple of bizarre books. Of all the animals that would wage war against humanity, I think penguins would be low on the list. What would they do, peck people to death? Well, yes, that is what they do! I did give the first book four stars — despite the ludicrous premise, it’s still a very good anthropomorphic story. A race of mutant master penguins, the ‘Royal Emperors’ (who are much larger than normal penguins and have digits on the end of their flippers for manipulating spears) rally all the penguin species to wage war against humanity in the southern hemisphere. While enthusiastic at first, several rockhopper and chinstrap penguins begin to doubt that their leaders have other penguins’ best interests at heart, and start to investigate what exactly is going on. While about 80% of the book is told from various penguin’s POV, there are some human characters, including the prerequisite gorgeous female scientist working in Antarctica and a geeky but handsome male wildlife photographer. There are plenty of battles, including the penguin army wiping out the entire human population of the Falkland Islands(!) (something even the Argentine army couldn’t manage). The second book in this series is more an isolated vignette in the greater war — showing some human mercenaries in a battle with a particularly brilliant penguin leader. Alone it’s a rather pointless story, but I imagine the surviving characters will show up to play a bigger role in a forthcoming book.
Mandibles by Jeff Strand
Giant mutant fire ants take Tampa, Florida. The book follows a number of characters (an office worker, the staff of a dentist’s office, two armed robbers at a convenience store, an entomologist). As they attempt to survive the ant invasion, the body count rises precipitously, and no character is safe. This isn’t a great example of the genre by any stretch, but if you’re looking for a fast, don’t-think-too-hard book, this could be it.
Pandemonium by Warren Fahy
A direct sequel to Fahy’s earlier Fragment, this not only follows up on the fate of the survivors from Henders Island, but introduces an entire new ‘lost world,’ a vast underground sea that has been isolated for millions of years. This sea was discovered by the Russians as they were building a humongous underground city meant to survive WWIII. This city is eventually taken over by one of Russia’s new billionaires, who plans to unleash surviving creatures from Henders Island on the world. The scientists and rescued sentients from Henders have an epic fight on their hands as they have to battle the tycoon’s forces, the monsters from Henders Island, treachery in their own ranks, and the new creatures from the underground ocean. None of this is particularly believable, but who cares? It’s a fun ride.
I Was An Alien Cat Toy by Ann Somerville
Despite the goofy title, this is a fairly serious story about a human space traveler that crash-lands his sabotaged “podpod” on an alien planet. He is quickly captured by the natives — a race of giant, anthropomorphic cats, who see him simply as an odd kind of native monkey and keep him as a pet. The story is split between the human’s point of view and his ‘owner’s,’ Gredar — a respected potter. I should point out that besides a first-contact book, this also counts as a gay romance. The feline inhabitants are freely bisexual, and the males even have a pseudo-vagina for M/M intercourse. It’s established early on that the human, Teiman, is also gay, so naturally one thing leads to another… I found the book a very interesting world-building and cultural exchange story, and had no trouble with the gay aspect of it. It should be on the to-read list of big cat fans, alien culture fans, and fans of gay romance. There are some adult scenes, although (IMO) it remains in the reasonably tasteful realm.
Nezumi's Children by T.L. Bodine
A group of domestic rats in a seedy pet store face a crisis as the store floods during a storm and the owner abandons them. These rats are a bit more sympathetic than the previous rat books I’ve read. It could be due to cute names (Dumbo, Bitey, Cookie) or due to the fact they don’t go around eating their young and seem to genuinely care about each other. It’s not all roses — there are deaths and hardships as the colony escapes from the flood only deal with escaped ferrets and brutal sewer rats invading the store. But despite this, the rats do not lose their loyalty to each other, and in the end this book was a satisfying experience.
Warren Peace by Michael Wombat
Another goofy book title, and I’m fairly sure the author name is made-up too. A peaceful rabbit warren is invaded by a group of murderous foxes, and it’s up to young, stuttering rabbit Cuetip to leave the warren and try to find help. Obviously inspired by Watership Down, this is an improbable saga. Cuetip manages to find a group of cats that are willing to help him fight off the foxes, for no real reason other than it would be interesting. The cats and rabbits have odd names, which makes sense when it’s revealed in the afterword that a number of the characters were based on the pets of the author’s children. This also has the tired ‘believe in yourself’ lesson that seems to be required for children’s stories. Not a horrible book, but then not something I’d really recommend, either. Did I mention I really hate puns for book titles?
Skyfire (The Summer King Chronicles) by Jess E. Owen
The sequel to last year’s Song of the Summer King, this follows exiled gryphon prince Shard as he flies across the ocean to seek information and allies in his quest to drive out invading gryphons from his homeland. A concurrent thread follows the fate of his family and friends left back on his home island, ruled by the mad Red King (are there ever any sane, thoughtful kings in fantasy?). This is a completely anthropomorphic world, with talking wolves, big cats, birds and wyverns, in addition to the gryphons. My main problem with the first volume remains here — incorporating common fantasy tropes make things fairly predictable (prophecies, spirit guides, a mad, warmongering king, a love promised to another for political reasons, etc.). That said, it’s still an entertaining read, and I recommend it to people who like gryphons or talking animal stories.
Bones Adventures by Mark Wheaton
Readers of last year’s reviews may remember Bones the police dog, who survives the zombie apocalypse, among other achievements. In Inja, he’s sent to South Africa as part of a police dog cross-training program. His African handler (his normal American handler is sick with some African disease for the whole story) gets caught up in a human trafficking operation with a supernatural element behind it. This one is kind of interesting due to the exotic setting, but that’s about it. Bigfoot was one of the most WTF stories I’ve ever read. I wasn’t sure how many stars to give it — 5 for sheer bizarreness, or 1 for being completely fucked-up. A group of yuppie lawyers go on an ill-fated camping trip to celebrate a big company victory, and they’re immediately attacked by a group of crazed homicidal bigfoots (bigfeet?). A young woman barely manages to escape, and after a car crash inexplicably meets Bones wandering around the woods alone. More fleeing from the bigfoots ensures, including additional carnage, and we find out that Bones can kill multiple 8-foot tall bigfoots. The story just gets more freaky as it goes along, throwing in a doomsday bigfoot cult, hot bigfoot sex (they’re apparently really great lovers) and interspecies pregnancy. I wouldn’t call this a good book by any stretch, but it did hold my interest, like a bad train wreck, for what it’s worth. Following the bigfoot story is a novella where Bones and his handler go undercover to bust criminals who run a dogfighting ring. Of course Bones can kick ass on all those punk pitbulls and mastiffs. As with the previous Bones stories, these books are NOT for the squeamish.
Dragon Stones by James V. Viscosi
A surprisingly good fantasy about female dragon T’sian, who goes on a quest for revenge against the people that killed her hatchlings. This is a standard quest story, but very entertaining — I was never bored. A disparate group, all united by hatred of the group behind the mercenaries, joins forces with the dragon, who can assume human form (there’s some funny moments with the dragon’s reaction to normal human behavior.) While treading fantasy ground that has been trod before, this book is still above most others due to its readability and enjoyable characters.
The Pet Plague Trilogy by Darrell Bain
I’d read the second volume of this (The Pet Plague) a few years ago as a hardcopy. Ironically, that was the best volume of this series. In the first book, Altered Humans, a Geneticist is wrongly accused of a murder and forced to flee with his intelligent pet cat. This is set against the backdrop of failing civilization, where the countryside is overrun with intelligent pets and other animals, forcing humans into walled cities and making it too dangerous for most inter-city commerce. The geneticist finds unexpected allies along his journey, including an ‘altered human,’ a cat-woman whose kind is now outlawed. This book was pretty good up until the end, where it seems completely unfinished, like the author got bored and stopped writing. The third book, Space Pets, isn’t really better — the characters from the second book go on a space ship to find the aliens who sent the ship discovered in the last book. Their space flight is very boring, and the author seems to spend more time on the character’s poly relationships than on what they discover in outer space. Even though these books are billed as ‘erotic,’ the sex is pretty tame, and all human-on-human (or, in the first book, human-on-cat-girl). The enhanced pets are cute sidekicks, and both the first and last book end with whimpers, making the reader wonder why he came along for the ride at all.
Dinosaur Lake by Kathryn Meyer Griffin
Crater Lake’s volcano begins to come to life, and somehow wakes up a giant carnivorous dinosaur from the lava caves that riddle the mountain. The dinosaur, of course, comes out and starts eating people. As in Claws, this has a cast of the usual suspects — the park ranger who suspects the danger, the officials who don’t want to start a panic and close the park, the dorky but brilliant young paleontologist, clueless family members who keep putting themselves in danger, brave yet doomed co-workers, etc. Still this was a better read than the previous book, and if you want to read about a rampaging dinosaur eating people and wrecking property, this has it in spades.
Vicious: A Novel of Suspense by Brian W. Alspa
A pair of abused and vicious Presa Canario dogs kills their redneck owner, and go on the run, and setting up their den under an isolated cabin. Four yuppies with marital problems go to the cabin for a get-away, and, of course, havoc ensues. None of the characters (human or dog) are particularly sympathetic, and in the end you don’t really care what happens to them. The book is readable, but not very memorable.
Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson
This is almost as high on the improbability scale as the killer penguin book, but it was still a fun and exciting read with lots of weird creatures and a few furry characters. A research vessel exploring the Great Pacific Gyre (the giant garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific ocean) develops engine problems, then its crew begins vanishing. Eventually they end up at an uncharted island, which used to be home to a notorious Japanese prison camp where bizarre medical experiments were performed on hapless prisoners. The crew discovers that the experimental lab is still active, and the island is overrun with various monsters and mutant animals. The rapidly diminishing crew needs to not only survive and find a way off the island, but do it before the place is nuked by the government.