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Category: Reviews

Dwale’s critical review of “Red Engines”: When furry fiction becomes islamophobic propaganda

by Patch O'Furr

Dwale is a member of the Furry Writers Guild whose story “Behesht” won a 2017 Coyotl award. Follow them on Twitter. Thanks to Dwale for this guest post! Here’s a few previous articles about the anthology. – Patch.

Dwale continues – and see an update from Furplanet at end.

Disclosure: I have a story in this anthology. This analysis will contain spoilers.

I’ve been making my way through “Dogs of War II: Aftermath”, edited by Fred Patten and have now almost finished. I had thus far thought it more or less innocuous. Then I read the second to last story.

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I found “Red Engines” to be an offensive, even dangerous work of fiction. It is a nakedly Islamophobic diatribe, the publishing of which, while not surprising given today’s political climate, is saddening.

The story is told from the point of view of an AI-controlled robotic bird who calls himself Hughin. Hughin comes to an unnamed village in an unnamed part of the Muslim world; desert country (these kinds of stories never take place where the land is green).  He sees the dust trails of an approaching army identified as the “Allies.” He perches on “the town minaret” (I guess this is a one-mosque town?), then flies down to a school.

At the school, he meets Aisha, a young girl, and asks her if there are other children present. She takes him inside where he meets and questions the others, recording their answers. Hughin, you see, comes from an island of artificial intelligences and has been told to collect as much data as he can from these kids before they are killed. The reason he does this is to preserve them in some fashion. He is not part of the conflict, we are told, he is supposed to be a neutral observer.

From this information, Hughin constructs within himself what he calls a “djinn,” a virtual representation of what he has learned from the children. Throughout the remainder of the story, this “djinn” spouts off phrases such as “Eat the Jews!” And while Hughin admits that this pseudo-mind is a “nasty parody,” the reader is never really offered much of a counterpoint.

They hear an explosion nearby, and when the children ask who is attacking, Hughin says, “The allies.” He thinks to himself, but does not say, “and you’re all going to die.” This makes clear that the coming battle is not a surgical strike. It is to be a wholesale massacre.

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Liberation Game, by Kris Schnee – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Liberation Game, by Kris Schnee.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $8.99 (307 pages). Kindle $3.99.

This is both a sequel to Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game, 2040: Reconnection, The Digital Coyote, Thousand Tales: Learning to Fly, and all the other stories in this series, and an independent summation of all of them. It covers the years 2036 to 2040, from when the Artificial Intelligence Ludo was just starting to set up the Thousand Tales/Talespace gameworld, to when it – maybe – becomes a legally recognized independent country. It features new characters, although some previous characters appear in it. (Nocturne, identified in the first novel as a black-feathered griffin-girl, is described more fully; she’s not an eagle-lioness combination but a raven-lioness.)

Liberation Game features three main characters: Ludo, in “her” beautiful human woman form; Robin MacAdam, a young American, a member of the Latter Day Saints/Mormons helping to build a community in the Central American nation of Cibola; and Lumina, a centauroid deer robot (very shiny but metallic; not very “furry”).

As Liberation Game begins in 2036, Ludo has just begun her mission to help humans “have fun”. Lumina is one of the first independent AIs that Ludo has created. She was intended to become the android companion of a German doctor who Ludo hoped to encourage to become a supporter of Thousand Tales and one of its first uploaded residents, but he is killed almost immediately, leaving Lumina at loose ends. She drifts over to Robin’s project.

Robin, the assistant of Edward Apery, are the two Mormons/Americans helping the local natives of Cibola to construct a modern village, Golden Goose. The name is intended as both a symbol of what they hope to accomplish, and as a subtle hint to Cibola’s corrupt government that it can get more over the long run by letting the experimental village succeed than by taking all its assets as “taxes” immediately.

“The village of Golden Goose existed by a strange partnership. The Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons) had pumped money into Cibola in the hopes of winning over some of the local Catholics. The government had eagerly deeded them some land to start economic reconstruction. Robin himself had initially cared more about travel and adventure and damn good local coffee.

The village’s other partner wasn’t human: Ludo the gamemaster AI.” (p. 5)

At this point, Ludo is mostly a silent partner, helping to subsidize Golden Goose’s development for the long-range goal of building one of her centers of Thousand Tales and uploading human minds into Talespace. Edward/administrator and Robin/engineer are the tutors of the local natives, and their representatives to Governor Leopold, their Cibolan government official.

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Bearly Fiction, Volume One, by Frances Pauli – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Bearly Fiction, Volume One, by Frances Pauli.
Moses Lake, WA, Gastropod Press, May 2018, trade paperback, $5.99 ([2 +] 114 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $0.99.

The subtitle says “a collection of anthropomorphic stories by Frances Pauli”. The back-cover blurb begins, “Eleven animal stories from author Frances Pauli. From dogs to dinosaurs, from the courtroom to the coral reef, follow these critter characters through a wild variety of adventures across genres.”

In her Introduction, Pauli says that these are all reprints, so you may have read some of these before, in several anthologies of furry fiction. They’re still good, and it’s nice to have them all together. Also, this is a thin but tall book, 7.5” x 9.2” – that’s almost as large as a standard sheet of paper. Considering the low price, you certainly get your money’s worth.

Bad Dog – Hellhounds are born at the witching hour exactly. Hatach is born thirty-five seconds after the witching hour. How will this affect his being a hellhound?

Rats – “A rat walked into a bar.” But he says that he isn’t a rat. Or he wasn’t, anyway. The bartender tries to help him figure out why he turned into an anthro rat.

A Temper for Order – “Piper’s beak tipped the bottle with expert care. The liquid oozed through the narrow spout. Not a drop spilled. One of her feet clutched a smaller, hand-blown phial. She needed twenty drops more to get the mix just right. Twenty drops exactly. Balanced on one long leg, the little hen slicked her feathers closer to her body and counted while she poured,” (p. 14) Piper mixes herbal medicines in an avian beachfront community. Her friend Trudy, a weaver, is determined to play matchmaker for her. But Piper is obsessed with neatness, and the cock that Trudy seems determined to match her with is Dash, a seemingly-staggeringly-drunken stork. Is there more to Dash than is apparent?

El Emperador – Jessie is looking to buy a fast horse. The one the horse trader calls El Emperador looks like a broken-down fleabag. But Jessie is desperate, so she buys him and renames him Harry. How can she get the Emperor/Harry to run?

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Riders of the Realm. 1, Across the Dark Water, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Riders of the Realm. 1, Across the Dark Water, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. Illustrations, maps by David McClellan
NYC, HarperCollinsPublishers/Harper, May 2018, hardcover, $16.99 ([xix +] 417 [+4] pages), Kindle $9.99.

Alvarez’s Riders of the Realm trilogy is a followup to her The Guardian Herd tetralogy. The four Young Adult Guardian Herd novels (Starfire, Stormbound, Landfall, and Windborn, published from September 2014 to September 2016) featured the intelligent, talking pegasi (flying horses, despite the FAQ that “being called a ‘horse’ is an insult to a pegasus”) to the west of the giant continent Anok. More exactly, it featured the five herds there of those pegasi (the Sun Herd, Mountain Herd, Snow Herd, Jungle Herd, and Desert Herd), and the two all-powerful black stallion pegasi, Starfire and Nightwing, fighting to the death for their fate.

Riders of the Realm is about the 140 pegasi from those five herds, led by the mare Echofrost and the stallion Hazelwind, who flee Anok altogether for the unknown southern continent across the Dark Water ocean, and what they find there. They declare themselves a new Herd; Storm Herd. Or rather, since their story takes second place, it’s about the civilization there of the two-legged Landwalkers (humans), their enemies like Gorlan giants, spit-dragons, giant ants, burners (miniature flying, fire-breathing dragons), and other creatures – notably, the pegasi that they have already domesticated – and how they are affected by the arrival of the 140 flying-horse refugees from Anok.

Across the Dark Water is two stories: that of 12-year-old human Rahkki, small for his age, the younger brother of Brauk Stormrunner, one of the officers of the Fifth Clan’s Sky Guard; and of Echofrost, a “sleek silver mare with a mix of dark- and light-purple feathers, white mane and tail, one white sock” (p. x). But it’s mostly about Rahkki and the politics of the Sandwen’s Fifth Clan – about the humans.

The first chapter introduces Rahkki, his adult (21 years old) brother Brauk, and Brauk’s Khilari flyer, Kol:

“Overhead, glittering feathers, shining hides, and polished armor blocked out the sun – it was his brother’s squad of Riders, flying back from patrol. Eighty winged horses, each ridden by a Sandwen warrior, glided in formation, their hooves striking the clouds. There were a total of three squads in the Fifth Clan’s Sky Guard, and Brauk Stormrunner was the Headwind of his. The flying steeds were called Khilari, which meant ‘Children of the Wind,’ and they were sacred in the Sandwen Realm.” (pgs. 2-3)

Across the Dark Water is complex; about the political structure and politics of the Sandwen’s Fifth Clan (of seven clans); about the Sandwen’s relationship with the other species of this southern continent; and about these other species. Riders of the Realm is admirably different from the four novels of The Guardian Herd in that it is about flying horses and humans and how they interact, rather than just about flying horses as was the previous tetralogy, but of less interest to furry fans in that there is so much about humans and not the anthro animals.

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Tomori’s Legacy, by Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Tomori’s Legacy, by Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $15.99 (165 pages), Kindle $4.99.

Tomori’s Legacy is the Brackhaus’ Packmasters #3. I reviewed #1, The Relics of Thiala, and #2, Raid on Sullin, favorably. This #3 is the shortest, but it’s no less rip-roaring, space-opera fun. The cover, again by Darbaras (Dávid László Tóth), features Cat, the series’ narrator.

The Packmasters series is set in a far-future interstellar community. Cat (the narrator), Ferret, Bear, and Wolf are four bestiae, bioengineered anthro-animen in hiding, led by Ana, a young human with semi-suppressed Packmaster powers. The bestiae are considered beneath contempt by most humans, and were enslaved by an arrogant cult called the Packmasters who used them to try to conquer the galaxy. The Packmasters were apparently all killed by the rest of humanity in a bloody civil war a generation ago, and the bestiae were all slaughtered except for a few that powerful humans kept as pets. Ana, a mistreated adopted orphan now in her early twenties, escapes with the help of Cat. They gather three other bestiae and discover that Ana has Packmaster powers; but instead of her using them to dominate the others, they form a pack of friends with a telempathetic bond under Ana’s leadership, Cat’s guidance, Bear’s piloting, and Wolf’s muscle (plus the mostly-childlike Ferret). They steal a luxury space yacht, the Lollipop, belonging to a corrupt human Senator, Viscount Tomori, and flee to Vandal, a distant space station towards the Fringe of the galaxy that is (what else?) “a wretched hive of scum and villainy”. But Tomori comes after them. The Relics of Thiala ends with Tomori and Bear dead. In Raid on Sullin, the remaining four form a tighter family, Bear is replaced as pilot by Ferret, and they are joined by Ten, a battle-hardened gazelle who is no less deadly for being a herbivore.

To quote the beginning of the blurb for Tomori’s Legacy, “Viscount Tomori is long dead, but his affairs just don’t want to rest in peace.
[…] Now Ana and her pack are part of the power struggle among the crime lords of the Rim, and have to return to Darkside before things get out of hand.”

The climax of The Relics of Thiala is the bestiae and Ana stealing Viscount Tomori’s space yacht and fleeing to Vandal, a criminally-owned space station; Tomori’s coming after them; and the fight in which he and Bear are killed. Raid on Sullin begins with the authorities of Vandal ruling that they acted in legitimate self-defense, and “to the victor belongs the spoils”. Ana, Cat, Ferret, and Wolf are the new owners of the Lollipop. They are immediately sidetracked into the adventure of Raid on Sullin.

Tomori’s Legacy begins with their return (with Ten, the gazelle) to Vandal, where they are stunned to learn that they weren’t given only the Lollipop. They are the new owners of all Tomori’s property. Since he had run his clan as his personal possession, they now own his criminal businesses, including a shitload of thugs and schemers who each want to take over and become the new boss of Clan Tomori.

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Dangerous Thoughts, by James L. Steele – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Dangerous Thoughts, by James L. Steele.
Grove City, OH, KTM Publishing, June 2018, trade paperback, $15.00 (369 [+1] pages).

Dangerous Thoughts is Archeons, Book 1. The setting is so unusual that it needs to be quoted at length:

“A bubble in spacetime expanded from a single point at eye level. It grew wider and wider until it seemed to rest on the circle of stones off the pathway. The bubble wavered and puckered as it held open against the pressure of the surrounding spacetime trying to collapse it.

The opening caught the attention of several inhabitants of this world, and they approached it. On the other side they saw a planet none of them recognized immediately, of fiery volcanoes and two daytime stars in the sky, one red, the other white. Standing on this alien world were the two sentient beings who had opened this hole. The natives of this world instantly recognized them as Deka and Kylac, two Archeons from the planet Rel.

[…]

The Relians visible through the wavering sphere approached it. They grew larger, filled up the opening until finally they emerged from its surface. The first to step through was a theropod covered in blue scales so dark they were nearly black. A red stripe ran up the top of his snout and down his back to the tip of his tail. Immediately after his tail exited the portal, a bipedal canine with digitigrade legs and a slightly hunched posture followed. His belly was white, his forearms were black, and the tip of his tail was white as well. The rest of his body was covered in red fur. They stood side by side and observed the people as the unstable sphere closed behind them.” (pgs. 3-4)

The two Archeons, shown on the cover by ThemeFinland, are Deka, the theropod, and Kylac, the mammal. They have just recovered from an explosion that killed their fellow Relians and destroyed the portals, “leaving hundreds of planets without links to other worlds.” (blurb):

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The Adventures of Peter Gray, by Nathan Hopp – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Adventures of Peter Gray, by Nathan Hopp.
Green Bay, WI, Written Dreams Publishing, April 2018, hardcover, $25.50 (248 pages), trade paperback $16.99.

The Adventures of Peter Gray is told as an autobiography, being written by an elderly Peter Gray, a wolf Furren, in a retirement home in New York City, presumably in the 1960s or later. (The Epilogue gives a specific date.) There is a reference to watching I Love Lucy on a color TV. He seems to be strongly religious:

“No one stops playing their fancy radios, singing ‘Top of the World’ or watching I Love Lucy on their colored televisions to ever be thankful for what’s been given. Or is to be given. Nobody kneels down and thanks the Lord for how much a single year can impact who you are, who you have become, and who you love. No one even thanks Him that much anymore.” (p. 8)

The autobiography begins on New Year’s Day, 1899, when Peter is a homeless 12-year-old street orphan freezing in the alleys of lower Manhattan. His descriptions make it clear that this is a funny-animal world. There are humans, but they are rare compared to the Furren, who seem almost exactly like the humans:

“A Catholic raccoon, Lance Turner was no taller or older than me, but he was more dedicated to his faith. He was also one of my best friends. We’d known each other for nearly five years, and the raccoon and I had gotten some real bruises from our meets. He was a funny guy when not quoting scripture, though I couldn’t say the same about his older twin brothers.” (p. 15)

“As the she-wolves gathered the items they needed, I glanced at the Furren helping them. It was Alan himself, a six-foot mouse with black fur, an unpleasant face, and covered in burly muscles. I knew the guy, and had once stolen a package of cheese from him earlier in my youth. I prayed the mouse didn’t recognize me.” (p. 16)

“‘Hey, cub. Would ya’ like a new pair of boots?’ a raccoon vendor asked me after he’d crossed the road. He had a single tooth and his musky stench made me gag. I didn’t try hiding my distance. ‘These are made of the finest leather in all of the East Coast, and I’ll give half –’

‘—and I’m a Crown Prince of England. Not interested,’ I mumbled, passing by. ‘We can’t even wear boots.’” (p. 19)

So the Furren don’t wear footwear, at least. The humans are roughly analogous to the African-Americans:

“‘Gosh…’ Lance gasped. ‘Are those…?’

‘Humans?’ I nodded, still staring. I’d heard of them, but had never seen two this close. ‘What else could they be?’

Humans were a very strange species, having no fur or tail as a distinct feature to the bodies, nor any claws or large fangs to hunt. Their short, angular noses didn’t smell as good compared to wolves or bloodhounds. I remember once reading in a newspaper that humans were scattered across the planet and often thrived in bands like packs, keeping together. Others preferred the cities over countryside, but humans were kept far below the Furren in the food chain everywhere. Always under the Furren, especially the carnivores.

It wasn’t until decades ago that they were freed from the chains of slavery in America, thanks to a powerful wolf in the White House. Some, mainly canines, still look down on them as dirtier than sooty snow, but I chose not to. As long as they had a stove and coal, any human was a friend of mine.” (pgs. 21-22)

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Endling: [Book One] The Last, by Katharine Applegate – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Endling: [Book One] The Last, by Katharine Applegate. Illustrated by Max Kostenko. Map,
NYC, HarperCollinsPublishers/Harper, May 2018, hardcover, $17.99 ([vi +] 383 pages), Kindle $10.99.

This first book in a Young Adult fantasy series, recommended for 8 to 12-year-olds, is narrated by Byx, a young dairne; apparently the last of the dairnes – the endling.

“My parents feared I would be the first among us to die when trouble came, and trouble, they knew, was fast approaching.

I was small. And sometimes disappointing.

But I knew I could be brave as well. I was not afraid to be the first to die.

I just did not want to be the last to live.

I did not want to be the endling.” (p. 5)

Dairnes are a golden-furred doglike people with marsupial-like pouches and arm membranes (glissaires) that can glide, like flying squirrels.

“Dairnes were often mistaken for dogs. We share many physical similarities.

Dogs, however, lack opposable thumbs. They can’t walk upright. They aren’t able to glide from tree to tree. They can’t speak to humans.

And dogs aren’t – forgive me – the sharpest claws in the hunt, if you take my meaning.” (p. 4)

Byx lives in the Kingdom of Nedarra, a large land shown on endpaper maps. Nedarra has nine talking animal species including six primary species:

“That was the closest I had ever come to humans, one of the six great governing species. Those six – humans, dairnes, felivets, natites, terramants, and raptidons – had once been considered the most powerful in our land. But now all of them – even the humans – were controlled by the despotic Murdano.” (pgs. 7-8)

Other talking animals of Nedarra include the wobbyks, the starlons, and the gorellis. Below those are the non-talking animals like chimps, whales, horses, crows, crickets, and so on. That’s Byx and Tobble, a wobbyk, on the cover by Max Kostenko. The wobbyks have three tails and are fierce fighters – according to Tobble:

“‘It’s only fair to warn you,’ said Tobble. ‘You do not want to see an angry wobbyk. We are fearsome to behold. I in particular am known for my fierce temper.’

‘Thank you, Tobble,’ I said. ‘But –’

‘Back home they called me Tobble the Terrible.’” (p. 93)

Byx has never seen a human, but they have been described to her.

“And I learned, most importantly, that humans were never to be trusted, and always to be feared.” (p. 8)

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Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson – Book Review by Fred Patten, who was born in the Year of the Dragon

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $19.99 (i + 335 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon is dedicated “To Readers of Infinite Patience”. I assume that’s because this is Book 4 of Dickson’s The Rise of the Upper Kingdom series; and it’s been five years since Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat.

Has it been worth the wait? YES!!

To summarize, it’s 5,000 years in the future. Civilization has disappeared. In the Far East a new Oriental culture is forming, the Upper Kingdom, a blend of ancient Chinese and Japanese customs with bioengineered animal peoples. To quote the blurb for Book 1, To Journey in the Year of the Tiger:

“This is a powerful, post-apocalyptic story of lions and tigers, wolves and dragons, embracing and blending the cultures of Dynastic China, Ancient India and Feudal Japan. Half feline, half human, this genetically altered world has evolved in the wake of the fall of human civilization.”

In Book 1, Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, a genetic lion-man (yes, he has a tail) is the young Captain of the Empress’ personal guard. While the rest of the great Palace is preparing the celebrations to mark the turning of the Year of the Ox into the Year of the Tiger, he is assigned to leave on a long mission with four others (and several guardsmen). The Upper Kingdom is guided by a Council of Seven, revered Seers whose visions have infallibly led the Empire in wisdom and peace for centuries. Now something, or someone, is killing the Seers, one by one, by unknown means, always in their beds at the close of the Second Watch of the night. Kirin and his companions must discover the cause and stop it.

The four others are Kirin’s adjutant, an aggressive snow leopard woman; the Empire’s Scholar, a young and naïve tigress; the Empire’s Alchemist, an older cheetah-woman of dubious loyalty; and Kerris Wynegarde-Grey, Kirin’s twin but silver-gray where Kirin is golden, the Empire’s Geomancer but a drunken ladies’ man. They have more adventures than they expect, and are led outside the Empire’s borders, into the unknown West (Europe) where they awaken surviving scientists of the forgotten human civilization from suspended cold-sleep. In Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat, Kirin and the others return to the Upper Kingdom, and Kirin becomes the Empire’s Shogun-General to mobilize a defense against the awakened Ancestors and their weapons of mass destruction.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon contains action scenes, but it is worth reading for all of Dickson’s writing:

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The Great & the Small, by A. T. Balsara – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Great & the Small, by A. T. Balsara. Illustrated by the author.
London, Ontario, Common Deer Press, August 2017, hardcover, $31.99 (287 [+ 4] pages), Kindle $4.99.

Don’t be scared off by the price. There is also a trade paperback for $14.99. And most of you will get the Kindle edition, anyway.

The Great & the Small begins with a bustling marketplace scene:

“… in the weak December sun, the harbour city’s popular market was bustling with people looking for last minute presents. Middle-Gate Market was festive with its potted evergreen trees and strands of blinking coloured lights. Shiny red balls trembled on the boughs of the tinsel-dressed pinks as salt air gusted up the hill from the sea below and rattled the lights against the rafters where they were strung.

Watching over all of this, under the faux Gothic clock, stood Middle-Gate’s most famous tourist attraction: a brass statue modeled after the gargoyles of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. The monster stood on guard, a five-foot winged beast that stood meekly by while tourists thronged around it, snapped selfies, and rubbed the creature’s flared nostrils for luck.” (p. 9)

Then dips beneath it:

“That was the side of the market the tourists saw and the locals loved. They had no idea of the other side, the one that lay below. A distinct world, with its own ways, its own rules: a colony of rats.

Tunnels wound underneath the hill, tooth-carved thoroughfares, veiled from the eyes of humans. There were tunnels high up and tunnels below that snaked deep into the hill’s belly.

The Uppers were dug alongside the city’s swanky cafés and eateries, and food was never far away. But lower down the hill, below the heart of the market, it was different. Tangles of narrow tunnels limped through broken pipes, leaking sewers, and sodden earth, connecting scores of foul smelling, crumbling burrows.

No rat lived in the Lowers by choice. Except one, that is.” (ibid.)

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