The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, by John Claude Bemis – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, by John Claude Bemis.
NYC, Random House, May 2012, hardcover $16.99 (259 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $5.98.
In this Young Adult fantasy (recommended for ages 8-12; grades 3-7), humanity is long extinct. Intelligent but feral animals have taken over the Earth. The Forest is a wilderness with a few crumbling ruins of mankind covered in greenery. The wolves rule the Forest, but a tribe of black bears is powerful and non-threatening enough that the wolves do not bother them. The animals are divided into the voras and the viands; predators and prey. The voras all speak a common Vorago language that the viands don’t, although there are exceptions:
“Cassiomae [a bear] reared up in surprise. The rat was speaking in Vorago, the common tongue used by all the vora hunters. How could a rat speak Vorago? None of the viands spoke Vorago.” (p. 7)
They are also divided into the Faithful, those such as the dogs who were the servants of the Skinless Ones, the now-extinct humans, and those who weren’t. The Skinless Ones are called the Old Devils by some of the animals.
There are more words of Vorago. You pick it up as you read along:
“‘Where are you going?’ Casseomae asked.
‘A passering like that is probably loaded with Old Devil treasures,’ said the rat. ‘Devices. Memories. All sorts of things my mischief could use. Be back in a chirp.’” (p. 16)
The main character in The Prince Who Fell from the Sky is Cassiomae, an old sow bear who is shunned by the others of her tribe as cursed because her cubs are always stillborn. Conversations between her and other bears like Dubhe and Alioth establish that the bears are intelligent. Coyotes like Rend are at the bottom of the vora pecking order (“[…] the jaws of the most vile of all voras, the coyotes.” — p. 7), though all the vora are considered to be above the viand tribes or clans. Dumpster, a rat, is just food to the coyotes, but he becomes an individual to Cassiomae because he speaks Vorago and isn’t afraid of the vora.
Most importantly, the talking animals establish themselves to the reader before any humans appear. This future Earth is full of plant-overgrown ruins, and passerings (satellites) that occasionally fall from the sky, spilling out Skinless Ones’ skeletons and artifacts that sometimes still work. Then one falls with Skinless Ones that aren’t skeletons:
“‘What do you mean, Old Devils?’ Cassiomae asked. ‘You saw bones?’
‘Not bones,’ Dumpster said. ‘Bodies. They’re all in those eggs made of glass. They’ve shattered, I guess from the crash, and those Devils, they’re just lying around –‘
‘They’re not moving?’ Cassiomae asked.
The rat was talking rapidly, almost faster than Cassiomae could follow. ‘No. I was looking around at them thinking, Pluck my whiskers, I can’t believe what I’m seeing! And, Hey, look, my da was wrong! They do have fur, but it’s only a little tuft on top of their ugly heads, when all of a sudden I heard something clicking. I turned around, and there was this one glass egg that wasn’t shattered. It was opening.’
‘Was a Skinless inside?’ Cassiomae asked.
‘Do I look like a spittin’ idiot? I didn’t stick around to find out!’” (pgs. 18-19)
The Skinless One is alive, and its tiny size means that it’s only a cub, doubtlessly too young to survive on its own even if the crash has attracted other voras who will eat it. A maternal instinct is stirred in the cubless Cassiomae, and she (with an extremely reluctant Dumpster) decides to protect the strange young cub from the other voras. Dumpster’s fellow rats have a legend of a paradisiacal Havenlands, where there are no voras and all viand clans can live in peace. Since Cassiomae’s defense of the Skinless cub can only last until the wolves of their chief Ogeema Dire get there, and they are surely coming already, she decides to take the strange cub and go looking (still with Dumpster) for the maybe-mythical Havenlands.
Most of the novel is the adventure of their trek. A third animal, Pack, soon joins them. There are plenty of the Skinless Ones’ ruins, from isolated overgrown buildings (presumably farmhouses) to whole cities, to continually amaze them and the reader. The Ogeema and his wolves continually pursue them, with Rend’s coyote pack as the wolves’ outliers. They meet unexpected creatures such as the Auspectres, and unknown animals that the reader will recognize as a monkey, a pride of elephants, a flock of sheep, and more.
The Prince Who Fell from the Sky remains Cassiomae’s, Dumpster’s, and Pack’s novel. The human, the titular “Prince”, is little more than a Macguffin to start their adventure at first, to deliver him to safety; and while he does eventually take an active role in their travels, he remains primarily a charge to be protected by the bear, the rat, and the other. The cover by fantasy artist Justin Girard shows three of the main characters setting out on their journey. This is a novel that furry fans will enjoy.