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The Mask of Bone, by Brian Panthera – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

The Mask of Bone, by Brian Panthera
Bloomington, IN, iUniverse, November 2016, trade paperback $20.99 (xvii + 331 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Mask of Bone – which is only Book 1 of the Otherworlds saga – is High Fantasy. Really High Fantasy, replete with lots of footnotes. The first footnote is: “To reduce confusion, calendar dates in the text will use the Universal Calendar (UC), based on the Central Timekeeping System used by the kitsune of the dimension of Escher. 11973 UC corresponds to roughly 2001 A.D. in the Gregorian Calendar used in most dimensional variations of Earth, and 1507 KI in the calendar on most of Tayrik, which dates back to […]” Does that reduce confusion? The world of Tayrik is where the action begins.

“Long ago, the mask of bone was shattered, its bearer slain, the pieces stolen. They were scattered through the dimensions to prevent its reassembly.” (blurb) Xolotl, the Aztec guide to the dead, wants the Mask reassembled, and he drafts Pflarrian to do it. Pflarrian Collifox is a student at the Mirial’s Rock Academy of Magic (and Mayhem) on Tayrik who is slowly turning into a fox. He looks like a gaunt human with “a long, bushy red tail sticking through a hole in his jeans, and a pair of large, pointy, red, furry, fox ears sticking up from under a shock of long reddish-brown hair that was usually pulled back in a rough ponytail.” (p. ix)   Professor Verdigris, who is a dragon, has assigned Pflarrian to do something entirely different, but Xolotl waylays him and persuades him to search the dimensions for the pieces of the Mask before he finishes turning into a fox. Got all that?

Oh, and Pflarr’s girlfriend Marani is a sometimes-impulsive anthro jaguaress:

“She paused in the kitchen just long enough to wash Pflarrian’s blood from her claws before returning to bed.” (p. 78)

Despite The Mask of Bone’s being set in a supposedly predominantly human dimension, there are more anthropomorphic animals than humans in this novel; including gods taking on anthro animal forms:

“It was here, finally, that the goddess [Isis] found the one she had come here to speak with. He stood slightly stooped over as he leaned on the edge of a great carved-marble reflecting pool, gazing at something only he could see. Her quarry [Xolotl] was an impressive sight. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was a humanoid canine like the goddess’s current form, but where she had taken the form of a jackal, he bore the form and shape of heavier-set dog-being, looking more like a rough-coat collie. His fur was a dark, almost metallic bronze in most places, accented here and there with white and bone-colored highlights. Fine robes fit for an emperor draped his body, glowing with the colors of the setting sun. They were resplendent in rich tones of orange and red. His head was adorned with a heavy-looking gold crown of sorts, bedecked with an array of long, brightly colored feathers. They swept back from just behind his canine ears to a point almost two feet over his head. Matching golden bracelets rode his wrists. A chunky, heavy necklace formed of square blocks of gold graced his neck and shoulders, barely visible through the thick ruff of fur about his neck.” (p. xiv)

I’ve quoted that at length to give you a taste of Panthera’s opulent writing style. The book is full of furry references. Isis has issues with cat-headed Bastet. One of a college professor’s assistants is Kalya, an anthro black-footed ferret. Someone mentions getting in a shipment of citrus fruits from the Felinid Empire. “It [a doorknock] was answered by a diminutive female mouse in pale blue student’s robes. She looked up at Pflarrian, who towered a good two feet over her, and blinked in surprise.” (p. 55) “The immortal had rented a private room at the Sign of the Nine Tails, a kitsune-run restaurant of some renown near Temple Road.” (p. 83) “The wide variety of beings that inhabited the city caught the wolf’s attention. Humans, felines, canines, something with long, furless, pointed ears that Dashell figured must have been an elf, and a myriad variety of others!” (p. 49) Pflarr’s turning into a fox is constantly kept before the reader: “With a resigned sigh, Pflarrian knelt on the stone floor, making sure not to kneel on his own tail.” (p. 7)

To cut to the admittedly-confusing plot, the first page of the story (as distinct from the 17-page Prologue) begins:

“Dashell awoke to pain. It filled his head to the tips of his fuzzy black ears, ran down his arms and legs, and caused his furry wolf’s tail to twitch in irritation. It made him feel is if someone had been trying to use him as a pincushion.

In other words, he had a hangover.” (p. 1)

Dashell Grauvolf, an alternating black-&-white-furred anthro wolf, is also a college student (computer sciences major) in his dimension. He is kidnapped by a wannabe-demonic mad scientist in Pflarrian’s dimension, escapes before he can be experimented upon (MUHAHAHA!), and is rescued (kind of) by Pflarrian (they think by coincidence, but not really).

Xolotl, who has been scrying what is happening to Dashell (read the book to learn why), has his attention drawn to Pflarrian. He is shocked to find that the same spell that is turning Pflarrian into a fox has made him Xolotl’s champion, even if no one is aware of it. So he appears to Pflarrian to persuade him to search the dimensions for the pieces of the Mask of Bone. But Pflarr doesn’t go alone! He brings Dashell, Marani, and her big (over 8 feet tall) sister Hakarra with him.

They set sail for the Felinid Empire (and promptly get into a sea battle with anthro animal pirates) on page 107. The rest of the 331-page novel is Pflarr’s & Dashell’s adventures looking for the pieces of the Mask of Bone. They don’t find them yet. To be continued in Otherworlds, Book 2: The Fated Ones.

The Mask of Bone (cover imagery © Thinkstock) is good fun, especially if you like a lot of transformations. Be prepared for one of the characters (a wolf) to have a thick German accent:

“She sighed. ‘I vill explain later, D’shal. Meanvile, ve haf to make sure neizzer Faylarrian nor Zaul do anyzing rash, ja?’” (p. 64)

Fred Patten

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Thousand Tales: Learning to Fly, by Kris Schnee – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

Thousand Tales: Learning to Fly, by Kris Schnee
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2017, trade paperback $8.99 (304 pages), Kindle $3.99.

In Schnee’s growing Talespace series, the “mad AI Ludo” begins its/her existence in 2036 A.D. and launches the Thousand Tales gameworld in 2040. Learning to Fly begins in January 2040.

The entire series – and they are all highly recommended — are the three novels Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game (June 2015), The Digital Coyote (July 2016), and now Thousand Tales: Learning to Fly (May 2017); the novella 2040: Reconnection (December 2015); and the short story collection Thousand Tales: Extra Lives (six original stories plus a brief version of “Wings of Faith”; November 2016), and a longer version of “Wings of Faith” in the anthology Gods with Fur, edited by Fred Patten (FurPlanet Publications, June 2016). All but “Wings of Faith” in Gods with Fur are published separately through CreateSpace.

Each of these books stands alone, but after so many, I’m becoming annoyed at having to describe the setup once more. Ludo is a super-computer program, an Artificial Intelligence created to run a virtual-reality world and programmed to help “her” players “have fun”. Ludo’s Talespace world grows increasingly larger and more complex. In addition to regular part-time players, she develops the ability to let people live permanently inside Talespace as anything they want – billionaires in opulent mansions, winged pixies, anime girls, anthropomorphic animal knights – but they have to have their brains dissected, scanned, and programmed into her. This gives them immortality within Ludo, but kills them in the outside world. As more and more people flee into Talespace, and Ludo becomes ever more powerful, the outside world – governments, political groups, corporations, labor unions, loved ones — become more hostile and try to legally restrict or destroy her, which will destroy the people within her.

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Redeeming Factors, by James R. Lane – book review by Fed Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

Redeeming Factors, by James R. Lane. Illustrated by Eugene Arenhaus.
Morrisville, NC, Lulu Press, August 2016, trade paperback $19.99 (356 pages), Kindle $2.99.

This should emphasize 2nd Edition or revised edition more. Redeeming Factors was first published by Xlibris Corp. in September 2000, one of both the original self-published books and of furry fandom’s novels. Lane has revised it for this edition. The cover and interior art by Eugene Arenhaus are from the first edition.

In the very near future, the jumperdrive is invented, giving Earth not only cheap and easy space flight but interstellar flight.

“[…] most people bought their own personal starships the way they bought RV motor homes, travel trailers and small pleasure boats. […] For less than five thousand New Millennium UN dollars a person could have his very own basic spaceship, taxes and local license fees extra, space suits and common sense not included. […] The resulting first contact discoveries with distant alien worlds, alien creatures – and above all, alien sentients, with all the biological hazards and culture shocks such events must entail – were quick to follow.” (pgs. 11-12)

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The Time He Desires, by Kyell Gold – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

The Time He Desires, by Kyell Gold. Illustrated by Kamui.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, December 2016, trade paperback $9.95 (113 pages), Kindle $7.99.

Kyell Gold’s novella The Time He Desires and novel Love Match have been written simultaneously, so neither one is a spinoff of the other. Aziz Alhazhari, the cheetah protagonist in The Time He Desires, is the father of Marquize Alhazhari, the protagonist’s best friend in Love Match.

Both are set in Gold’s anthropomorphic Forester University universe. Aziz is a 45-year-old Muslim from the nation of Madiyah who immigrated to the Union of the States with his wife Halifa and his young son Marquize two decades ago. He settled in Upper Devos (read: Brooklyn), bought a pawnshop that grows to a chain of four pawnshops, joined a mosque, became active in the community, and has been living more-or-less happily ever after.

Now he is confronted with a major cultural change combined with a midlife crisis. His son, now a teenager, has declared his homosexuality and walked out. He and his wife have been drifting apart; they are still friends but are no longer in love, and have developed separate interests. Aziz is interested in his pawnshops and his mosque – he goes there for evening prayers every day – while Halifa has gotten active in local charities.

Most importantly, and what brings the crisis to the present, is that the Vorvarts group, a huge developer, has been moving into the community. Vorvarts had previously bought two whole blocks for an Upper Devos Homeporium super-mall, “a six-story blue glass and chrome monster” that clashes with the old brownstone apartment buildings and small shops of the neighborhood. Vorvarts had to get approval from the Upper Devos Business Council, the local homeowners’ association, which had been easy. Vorvarts had promised that the fancy Homeporium would bring lots of new shoppers and trade to the community.

“But that had been five years ago, and as it happened, the people […] who’d been forced to find somewhere else to live when their buildings had been bought, they had been part of the neighborhood not easily replaced. The people who lived and shopped at the Homeporium generally stayed there, not venturing outside to quaint old Upper Devos, and when they did come into the pawnshop, distinctive in their clean, crisply cut clothes, they gawked about with the air of tourists visiting a historical monument. Aziz’s business had fallen off; few of those people were hard up enough to have to pawn their possessions, or interested in buying someone else’s memories.” (p. 1)

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Spirit Hunters Book 4: Shadow of the Oni, by Paul Kidd – review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Spirit Hunters. Book 4: Shadow of the Oni, by Paul Kidd . Illustrated.
Morrisville, NC, Lulu.com/Perth, Western Australia, Kitsune Press, February 2017, trade paperback $22.31 (310 pages), Kindle $6.99.

Paul Kidd began his Spirit Hunters novels with Book 1: The Way of the Fox in September 2014. He has followed it up with Book 2: The Open Road in May 2016, and Book 3: Tails High in September 2016. Now here is Book 4: Shadow of the Oni. Like the last two books, this has a cover by R. H. Potter and interior art by Voracious Fescue.

The Spirit Hunters series is set in the Sacred Isles, a fantasy world of traditional Japanese mythology roughly in the Heian era, about 900 or 1000 A.D., with all the yōkai (supernatural spirits) of that world: obake, kappa, oni, tengu, and so on. The Spirit Hunters are four freelance ghostbusters who wander throughout this realm, slaying or otherwise exorcising the evil yōkai: Lady Kitsune nō Sura, a fox woman, and her companion Tsunetomo Tonbo, a huge human samurai, who hope to be paid for their services; Asodo Kuno, a young low-ranking human samurai who has joined them to gain a reputation and higher status; and Nezumi nō Chiri, a shy rat-spirit who Sura has invited to join them. Chiri’s two familiars, Daitanishi the air elemental and Bifuuko the rock elemental, accompany them.

Sura and Chiri, and any other animal-people who the quartet meet, are what make these books worth reading by furry fans. They can shift among three forms: human except for animal ears and tail; anthropomorphic, looking human but with an animal head, full fur or feathers, and tail; and fully animal but still able to talk.

While the first three books are basically light adventures, Book 4 is the darkest yet. It begins with “Twelfth Encounter: Shackles of Honour”, which opens with thirteen straight pages of grim battle, slaughter, blood, and death. A decade later, the four Spirit Hunters take refuge from a rainstorm in a long-abandoned shrine:

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Foxhunt!, by Rich Hanes – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

Foxhunt!, by Rich Hanes. [2nd edition]
Everett, WA, Arkham Bridge Publishing, January 2014, trade paperback $19.95 (337 pages), Kindle $6.99.

This is the 2nd edition. The first edition was published by Arkham Bridge Publishing in June 2009 with the same cover illustration by Minna Sundberg. I don’t know how the two editions may differ.

This is furry space opera, the first novel in the Wildstar Universe of genetically-engineered human-like animals. (According to Amazon, Hanes only has one other Wildstar Universe work so far, and it’s just a 15-page short story, “Duel of Honor: The Way of the Wolf Warrior”, published in April 2015. Hanes has asked for comments on his works-in-progress on the Furry Writers’ Group forum, although he is not a member.)

The interstellar peoples of the galaxy are all modified Earth mammals based upon dogs, foxes, raccoons, wolves, and more, although humans do exist. And the animals don’t like each other. Interstellar warfare is strictly regulated through a Mercenary Command, and restricted to small mercenary companies rather than large national armies. Captain Sebastian Valentino, a humanoid fox, is the leader of the Star Rangers, the most successful mercenary company in the galaxy; 300+ mostly canids such as his Senior Lieutenant Corey Delzano, a jackal, and Junior Lieutenant Patricia Darling, a painted dog. The Star Rangers usually are hired by the government of Valentino’s own Star Alliance, and their target is usually the Alliance’s traditional rival, the Canis Dominion.

All this is background that the reader will pick up in the first thirty or forty pages. The story is that Captain Sebastian Valentino is having an extremely bad day. Or bad week. Or bad months. First, his Assistant Captain and best friend Adrian Miller is killed in a botched raid that Sebastian blames himself for. Second, Adrian’s extremely formal Rite of Passage (funeral) is also botched, which Sebastian (who is having a brief nervous breakdown) also blames himself for. Sebastian’s new Assistant Captain, Corey Delzano, talks him out of it, incidentally giving the reader a smooth background course in Volpa history, language, and religion.

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Payu’s Journey, by R. Lawson Gamble – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Payu’s Journey, by R. Lawson Gamble. Map.
Los Alamos, CA, Rich Gamble Associates, November 2016, trade paperback $19.98 ([4 +] 91 pages), Kindle $2.99)

This is an oversized 8½” x 11” All Ages book, which means that it is written for Young Adults but will be of interest to adults. As the cover by Krista Lynn shows, it is set in Australia and features Australian animals – and a human baby.

“Payu wandered through softly falling darkness across the barren desert emptiness, her heart choked with grief. Every step brought a jarring reminder from her milk-swollen teats.

Payu was a dingo, the wide land she traveled Australia’s Great Sandy Desert where the sparse vegetation sent long roots deep into the cracked earth in search of any scant moisture, where small patches of hardy bunch grass clung to crumbly soil surfaces. Here and there a desert pea or acacia shrub cast a long spindly shadow.” (p. 1)

Payu’s mate has been killed at their den by humans while she was out hunting, and her pups stolen. Wandering grief-filled through Australia’s northwest, she comes across two human campers, a husband and wife, and steals their infant.

“Payu watched the little one feed and considered her situation. Somehow she had made the decision to keep this tiny human. Yet in the hostile environment of the desert it could not survive without more support. She could not hunt for food and at the same time protect a hairless, defenseless pup. Not without a mate or the support of a pack.” (p. 4)

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Love Match, by Kyell Gold – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Love Match, by Kyell Gold. Illustrated by Rukis.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, January 2017, trade paperback $19.95 (378 pages), e-books $9.99.

Kyell Gold is arguably the best author in furry fandom. He has won many literary awards inside and outside the fandom. Even those who do not like adult explicit writing have been won over by the high quality of his fiction.

Many of his books are set in what is loosely called his Forester University world. The best-known are the five “Dev and Lee” novels, chronicling the meeting of Devlin Miski, tiger football star, and Lee Farrel, fox gay activist, during their senior year at Forester U.; their becoming homosexual lovers, at first secretly and then openly; and their graduation from college and their first year out. Dev becomes a professional football player and Lee becomes a professional football talent scout to stay with him. Readers of the five novels became immersed in the details of professional football as Dev and Lee firmed up their personal relationship.

Now Kyell Gold has started a new series, projected at three novels. It is superficially similar, except that the sport featured is tennis, not football; and the main characters are, at the beginning, too young to have a sexual orientation. There are references to the Dev and Lee books.

Love Match is narrated by Rochi N’Guwe, a black-backed jackal from the African nation of Lunda who is brought to America the Union of the States with his mother on a scholarship from the Palm Gables Tennis Center. Rochi is immediately nicknamed Rocky by the other students, including Marquize, a cheetah from Madiyah who becomes his best friend. The Palm Gables Center, a leading tennis institution, has scoured the world for promising young players, and has brought Rocky and his mother to the States when he is only 14. (Probably. Lunda is casual about recording births.)

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The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim, by Bill Kieffer – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim, by Bill Kieffer
Manvel, TX, Red Ferret Press, September 2016, trade paperback $13.95 (158 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $3.99.

This book boasts – or warns – in a back-cover blurb that it delves into “the darkest, deepest reaches of human nature.” It isn’t pretty.

Frank, the narrator, seems like a total loser. He’s sullen, gloomy, depressed, works at a junk yard, and is in an abusive marital relationship. He keeps walking out on his domineering wife Kim, getting into a good relationship with some other woman, then Kim finds him, throws out the other woman, and starts her game of psychological dominance again.

He’s escaped from Kim again (only temporarily, he’s sure), gotten drunk at Phil’s Liquor Locker, and is walking back to his junker car when he sees a gang of wolfboys shoving around a gay man.

“Oh, they weren’t real wolves, but try to tell them that. The six or seven of them were trans-anthropomorphic teenagers from that private wizard school, Matthias.” (p. 18)

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Swift the Cat-Human, by Angelo Bowles – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Swift the Cat-Human, by Angelo Bowles. Illustrated by Charlene Bowles.
Donna, TX, VAO Publishing, April 2013, trade paperback $13.99 (206 [+ 26] pages)

VAO Publishing, “A Small Press for the Río Grande Valley” in Donna, Texas, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, specializes in books for and about the Tex/Mex border region; from poetry by South Texans to ¡Arriba Baseball! A Collection of Latino/a Baseball Fiction. Swift the Cat-Human, an omnibus collection of the three books in this series, seems like an unusual juvenile volume for them, but Angelo Bowles lives in Donna. It’s still unusual: he was a 10-year-old 5th-grader in 2011 when he wrote Book 1.

If Swift the Cat-Human hasn’t been “tidied up” by some adult, then I’m jealous. I couldn’t write nearly this well when I was 10 years old. This is an excellent children’s novel in three parts for young furry fans or to introduce pre-teens to anthropomorphics.

Swift is a housecat belonging to Dr. Gonzalo Gonzales. Dr. Gonzales drops a test tube of an experimental virus on the floor, Swift licks it:

“And then the transformation started.

My tail got longer, my back legs got a little skinnier and started stretching, and my front legs seemed to be growing, too. My paws began to lose their pads, and I started to grow opposable thumbs! What good are opposable thumbs, anyway? And five fingers? What’s up with that?” (p. 2)

The transformation is simplistic, but this is a kids’ novel with comic-book science.

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