Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe, by Joshua Yoder – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe, by Joshua Yoder. Maps by the author.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, August 2017, trade paperback, $15.00 ([3 +] 397 pages), Kindle $4.99.
Reading Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe is an exercise in frustration. There is a detailed map of the world of Amarthia, but it’s so reduced as to be illegible. There is considerable exciting action, but it’s wrapped in such extensive descriptions as to become almost boring.
The beginning of the novel is what would be a tense dramatic sequence anywhere else. A team of six big-game hunters, loaded for monsters, moves into a secretive nighttime kill mission in a deserted slum district in Kairran, the capital of the desert nation of Pytan. Yet it goes on for forty pages!
“Vincenzo Nieves only averaged 165 centimetres, but the long ears poking out through the crown of his worn white fedora with its faded black band made him appear much taller. As he hop-stepped along, they bobbed and swayed, twitching now and again like electrified antennae.
The jackrabbit had a melodious baritone honeyed by the southern strains of upper-class Banton, far away in the bayous of the West United Kingdoms. Or at least it would be melodious if it was not constantly ringing in the ears of his teammates.
‘So there I was, just enjoyin’ a nice breakfast salad. Actually, it kinda reminded me of the carver’s salad they serve at this quaint café in Clairmount, but never mind. I’m sittin’ there, and in from the kitchen walks this absolutely gorgeous leopard girl, I mean you’ve never seen spots like she had. She had this cute little bob cut that showed off her earrings and a cute top that … well …’ He trailed off with a lascivious gleam in his golden-brown eyes, but no one was actually paying attention to him.
Most of his stories tended to end this way. Only Vince’s appetite for food rivalled his appetite for women. He was not the guy with a girl in every town; he was the guy with a dozen girls in every town. Still, Mohan [the tiger leader] had to admit that, for all his boasting, at least he kept the stories relatively clean. And his behaviour wasn’t entirely without cause; he was a handsome fellow who kept his wavy blond long-fur trimmed short and proper, as befitted a southern gentleman, and had dyed and groomed the fur on his chin into a matching goatee.” (pgs. 10-11)
That’s not all. Vince’s description goes on for another page. And this is just for the jackrabbit. Kittina “Kitty” Katral the tigress, Rizzo Vega the basilisk, Mohan Katral the tiger leader (Kitty’s father), Victoria Littlepond the “petite female bullfrog”, and Ezekiel “Zed”, a desert nomad badger, are described at equal length. So is the monster/fiend they are up against:
“Beneath the city streets, cloaked in the dark and damp, something stirred.
It was aware of many things all at once: the distant lap of water against the shore, the whistle of air through its underground sanctuary, the taste of fresh blood in its mouth, the sounds of its new prey stalking above it.
It could not understand the beings, though the echo of their speech was clear to its ears. It knew from their movements that they were not following the path it had laid out for them.
With swift and stealthy purpose, driven by a hunter’s instinct, it slithered into the maze of tunnels that branched off from its lair.
It sensed something different about these intruders, a peculiar scent that sparked ancient genetic pain and fierce battle. They would not stumble into its trap like the others. It had been long since prey had offered such a challenge.
It could not express emotion like the ones it stalked, yet it felt a thrill shudder through its body. It had not felt anything like it since the days of its ancestors.
The hunt had begun.” (p. 21)
There is the description of the monster’s lair, an abandoned slum hotel … But let’s just cut to the fiend:
“Tiamats averaged eight metres from head to tail. Tw ridges of serrated bone ran parallel down the broad back from the base of its neck to the tip of its thick short tail, which had another ridge of bone running from the base to the tip. Despite its short length, a tiamat could use its tail quite effectively; flanking the creature was always a risky strategy. Four massive legs supported its barrel-like body. Each ended in a five-fingered hand tipped with claws 15 centimetres long. Unlike an ahuitzotl, it did not have webbing between the toes. Its skin was covered with thick diamond-shaped scales couloured a mottled greenish-brown. The scales pulled tight against ribs, joints, and spine, giving the creature a skeletal appearance that belied the incredible strength within its powerful limbs. Many of the major muscles, particularly the anterior and posterior muscles of the legs, protruded through the skin like dull red blisters.” (p. 29)
Etc., etc., etc. – it goes on. When the story finally gets around to the hunters’ confrontation of the fiend, it’s a doozy, but it seems all too short compared to the buildup.
I haven’t mentioned the main character at all yet, who doesn’t enter the story until page 42. He’s Sedric “Ric” Barnes, a lynx investigative journalist, in Kairran with Ed Sanders, his fox photographer. They’re in Pytan to cover the reports of illegal gladiatorial games and slave trading being held there almost openly, and have found the rumors of grisly murders and a nightmarish fiend loose as well.
To condense the plot, the rumors are true. The whole Sultanate of Pytan is run by the Assad Alabwaq, the Black Horns, who continue to run the technically illegal but still popular gladiatorial fights to the death and slave trading. But the kill-crazy fiends are something new. As long as the crimes stayed in Pytan, the other nations of Amarthia are willing to ignore them; but when there is evidence that Assad Alabwaq is trapping the fiends and releasing them in Pytan’s rivals and enemies – a form of biological warfare – that’s going too far. So there are Alabwaq – the criminal organization and its crime lord — trying to trap the fiends; the six hunters trying to kill the fiends first, and a secret running battle between the hunters and Alabwaq; and Ric Barnes and Ed Sanders out to expose the truth.
Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe is unusual in furry fiction in making its lead villain not a predator:
“The man calling himself Assad Alabwaq was short-statured – not uncommon for a mouflon – but he appeared immaculate and confidant in a white and gold linen suit with a purple feather pinned to the lapel. He was approximately in his mid-forties, and kept his slate-grey long-fur, streaked with white at the temples, swept straight back from his high forehead. Alabaster horns – clearly Black Horns was just a euphemism – sprung out from either side of his narrow skull, curving down and forward until they made almost a full turn onto themselves. He had capped them with gold and purple tassels. Despite the dark brown of his body-fur there was a large white patch at the end of his long thin snout, and the long greying goatee on his chin was neatly brushed and trimmed.” (p. 78)
Yoder uses many Middle-Eastern words in his descriptions of everyday life in Kairran. His third-person narration and the tigers’ dialogue is full of Britishisms – spellings such as metres and coulour, lorry for truck, journos for journalists, arvo for afternoon, “If things get bodgie”, “Bonza!”, “Bugger all!”, and so on.
And with many questions still unanswered, this review of Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe (cover by the author) is being brought to a close. How many different sides are in the hugger-mugger in Pytan, and is Assad Alabwaq really the worst of the lot? What is the six-hunter team a part of? Where are all the monsters/fiends coming from?
What is the Mark of the Tiger’s Stripe?
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