Review: The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper
The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is a collection of seven short stories written by A. J. Fitzwater centred around Cinrak, a lesbian, capybara pirate. It has a couple of strong elements as well as several weak points. I struggled with my thoughts as I read it and, in the end, I would say that, overall, I found it frustrating.
I will start this review briefly talking about politics. It might seem like an unusual starting point but the introduction makes clear that the book is political and it touches on several hot button issues.
Come for handsome, huggable Cinrak in a dapper three-piece, stay for her becoming a house-ship Mother to an enormous found family, the ethical polyamory, trans boy chinchilla, genderqueer rat mentor, fairy, and whale, drag queen mer, democratic monarchy, socialist pirates, and strong unionization.
What I do like about the way politics is handled in this book, is that it is not set up as a conflict between opposing ideologies; the book presents its favoured way of seeing the world and just leaves it as that. Even the religious character (and there is a fascinating take on religion inside) is played off sympathetically. However, by taking the stances it does, the book is also going to be, though it has no regrets about it, alienating for certain readers. If you can not tolerate a heavy emphasis on, and I quote, LGBTQIA characters, then this book is definitely not for you and you may as well stop here. On the other hand, if that’s what you crave, it may be exactly what you want and you should read further.
Despite it being a story about a pirate, there is little of the drama that one might expect in a pirate story. Conflicts are rare, violence is almost entirely absent and even the times when we have proper antagonists, they remain hidden throughout the chapter. This is part of the emphasis on joy which the book mentions in the introduction. The downside is that the story becomes muted. When nothing bad happens, there is no real tension or contrast. With the notable exception of the first, which is the most pirate-like of them all, most chapters rely on building up to scenes of amazement and wonder. Fitzwater is certainly capable of delivering that but there are only so many times one can dip into the same pot and, even with the small number of chapters, we see similar scenes repeating.
The chapters have continuity but also present complete stories. The biggest problem with this is the jumps between chapters can disrupt the flow. This is most noticeable between chapter one and two where major events such as Cinrak becoming captain of a ship and meeting her two lovers are completely skipped. When we don’t know the characters or their relationships, it's hard to be invested in them. Interestingly, Agnes, a giant squid, and Benj, a transgender chinchilla, get the most character development (I would even say that Benj gets more development than Cinrak.) but are not Cinrak’s lovers. Her lovers get very little attention, despite serving as major motivating factors for Cinrak. This continues to be a source of frustration throughout the book as tensions regarding the IRATE union or between the rodent and feline kingdoms are brought up and then forgotten without any payoff.
Probably the strongest aspect of the book — for me — was the world itself. It felt like it was drawing on an older way of storytelling where the world itself was anthropomorphic. The moons, wind and stars all expressed their own emotions and intentions; particularly the stars which appear to be the source of magic in the world. Magic is infused into many creatures and objects and seemed to be more diffuse and alive than in many stories. Among the many beautiful mental images that the book brings forth, I do want to single out the glass whale as being particularly memorable. How we see the world is dependent on the language used. At its best, the language in The Voyages of Cinrak flows out to create imagery with a floating, dream-like quality. But, just as often, the language is overly complicated to the point that it becomes confusing and distracting.
In the end, this book has several good elements which are poorly assembled and too many promising avenues remain unexplored. If you are looking for something light-hearted and kind to relax with or if you want to read a book with no shortage of queer characters, then there is plenty to enjoy here. However, while there were occasionally parts where I was drawn into the story, there wasn’t enough to hold me there.