A Whisper of Wings, by Paul Kidd – Book Review by Fred Patten.
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
A Whisper of Wings, by Paul Kidd. [Second edition]
Raleigh, NC, Lulu.com/Perth, Western Australia, Kitsune Press, June 2015, hardcover $51.95 (557 pages), trade paperback $31.34, Kindle $8.99.
The first edition of A Whisper of Wings was arguably the first professional furry specialty press book ever published, by Vision Novels in October 1999. Anything before that was really a fanzine calling itself a book.
Kidd basically gave his manuscript to Vision just to get it published, after being told by the editors of all the major publishers for years, “A serious adult novel with funny-animal characters? Nobody will ever buy it.” Vision got out two trade paperback novels with anthropomorphic animal characters, both by Paul Kidd, before disappearing in 2001, and A Whisper of Wings has been almost unknown since then. Now Kidd has republished it through his own Kitsune Press, with Terrie Smith’s unused 1997 cover painting. If you never read it before, get it now!
A Whisper of Wings is pure fantasy. It is set in an Australian wilderness more mountainous and forested than the Outback desert, inhabited by the butterfly-winged foxlike Kashra, an alpine aboriginal tribal people. The Kashrans possess a psychic force, the Ka, that the more powerful Kashrans use to enhance their wing-power to make themselves better flyers and hunters. There is also an ïsha world-force, a “Mother Nature” spirit that some Kashran can use to get closer to the forest’s ecology. This Kashran society is thousands of years old and has become rigidly stratified – really ossified. Their civilization is divided into numerous male-dominated tribes, each ruled by a hereditary aristocracy and all under a traditional priesthood. Each tribe is supported by its elite hunters, and by its lower-class artisans who make trade goods. Each tribe is more-or-less self-supporting, coming together for only the annual jiteng games (roughly an aerial soccer tournament) and ceremonial tribal gatherings, at which each tribe tries to outdo the others in lavish feasts and similar displays of conspicuous consumption.
This background is gradually developed through the saga of a world coming apart. The Kashra established this society a thousand years ago, with the jiteng games and the ceremonial gatherings to replace the bloody warfare that was driving all the tribes to extinction. But their world is slowly evolving, and the Kashran society is not. The lush environment which had permitted a Kashran population expansion is fading, but the rulers refuse to scale back their extravagant lifestyle. Some of the upper-class factions — the chieftans and councils of elders, the priesthood, the ritual dancers, the aristocracy — insist that nothing is wrong, while others scheme to hold onto or increase their own share of the shrinking whole.
All of this completely ignores the two protagonists; the black-furred Zhukora and the red-furred Shadarii. They are two very dissimilar sisters, daughters of chief Nochorku of the Katakanii (Swallow-tail) tribe. Zhukora is a young huntress, impatient and hot-tempered, already resentful of her socially predetermined future as the subservient wife of some strutting male. She becomes the leader of the alpine tribes’ youth and commoners; those who are most affected by the changing environment and demand that something be done about it. But the tribal leaders ignore the complaints as coming from blowhard troublemakers – the dissatisfied youths who are always rebelling against the status quo. As Zhukora is constantly dismissed by the establishment, she begins to rally her friends among the young hunters into a sports team that disguises a budding terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Shadarii is a dreamy, ‘useless’ girl with a habit of wandering away from tasks to spend hours contemplating the beauties of nature. She is also mute, and her lack of speech plus her disinterest in the clan’s normal life have gotten her a reputation as simple-minded. Shadarii’s low status and her disinterest in Kashran society draw her away from the growing conflict. But her growing affinity to the world’s lifeforce opens an unimagined psychic potential that makes her a leader among those dissatisfied with both the stagnant aristocracy and with Zhukora’s increasingly violent demands for change.
All factions try to make either Zhukora or Shadarii the leaders or figureheads of what they want Kashran society to become; some deliberately and others unwittingly. Zhukora is determined to become a real leader; to rally the Kashran youth to slaughter the entire ruling structure if necessary and force her bloody new society upon all Kashra. The more that Shadarii communes with nature, the more she transforms into a genuine Nature Goddess and attracts a cult of worshippers who prefer to live outside of the Kashran society rather than reform it. The two sisters evolve into rival primordial forces, each powerful enough to save or to destroy a world.
A Whisper of Wings has many memorable supporting characters: Daimïru, Zhukora’s lieutenant who is blindly loyal to her; Kotaru, the Vakïdurii minor nobleman and jiteng captain who loves Shadarii; the scheming High Priestess; Prakucha, the arrogant aristocrat who uses his position to take credit for Zhukora’s wins; Javïra, the dancer who is insanely jealous of Shadarii; little Kïtashii; and many more. It contains Kidd’s writing at its most florid:
“Prakucha was a noble like herself, and so Zhukora addressed the intruder with his formal title. She fixed him with her glorious eyes and speared him with her scorn.
Her enemy felt her power and gave a cool, delighted smile.
‘Oh Zhukora-Ki! Always so full of fight. Must you be so absurd? Anyone can see that the kill belongs to me.’
Prakucha used the ‘Ki’ endearment reserved for little children. Zhukora remained utterly unmoved. Long hair spilled down across one eye, shading the dangerous glint of female fury.
‘I say my spear took the beast.’
Prakucha shook his head, as though explaining simplicities to a child.
‘And I say that mine was the weapon that struck first.’
‘Then that is a lie.’
The male hunter clucked his tongue.
‘But I cannot lie. I am your superior. Are you challenging me? Me, a hunter of the upper tier? Oh Zhukora, do be reasonable.’” (pgs. 6-7)
Zhukora’s dream is one of conquest: to unite all the alpine tribes into one mighty army and attack the plains tribes. Shadarii’s dream is one of universal love: to refuse to fight the bloodthirsty warriors who are killing them. The ïshi have their own personalities to make this more than a simple physical conflict. A Whisper of Wings is a complex and emotionally exhausting saga; not perfect, but that should nevertheless be legendary in furry fandom. I repeat:
If you never read it before, get it now!