Spirit Hunters: The Way of the Fox, by Paul Kidd – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

Spirit Hunters. Book 1: The Way of the Fox, by Paul Kidd. Illustrated by Angie Kae (KaeMantis).
Raleigh, NC, Lulu.com/Perth, Western Australia, Kitsune Press, September 2014, trade paperback $31.97 (470 pages), Kindle $7.99.

product_thumbnailSpirit Hunters is set in the realm of traditional Japanese mythology, vaguely around 900 or 1000 A.D. if you know your Japanese history. It begins with the rebel lord Sanuki nō Tazadane trying to annex the lands of Kitsune Mountain.

“Lord Sanuki’s castle and treasury both mysteriously burned to the ground two days later …” (p. 3)

Asodo Kuno, a young and handsome, but not terribly bright human samurai, a junior deputy of the sixth rank (a bottom-rung position) in service to Magistrate Masura of the Imperial court, is traveling on foot to the sword tournament at Iris Castle, where Magistrate Masura is presiding over contests of swordsmanship. Kuno hopes to win the tournament to achieve promotion to a higher position. He meets Kitsune nō Sura along the road:

“A fox woman lounged upon a fallen log like a reclining Buddha, eating a roasted chicken leg. Beside her, there were the embers of a camp fire and a pair of backpacks ready for travel. The fox woman had a long, clever pointed muzzle, and great, green eyes filled with humour. Her body was human in size an shape – excepting for its lush pelt of fur, her fox head with muzzle and long pointed ears, and her long, elegant red tail. She wore a priestess’ robes decorated with images of peaches – with each peach missing a single bite. The fox called out to Kuno in a loud and merry voice while she wriggled her black-furred toes.” (p. 12)

Sura quickly demonstrates that she can also transform into a normal but talking vixen, and a human woman although she retains her pointed ears and luxurious brush. She is traveling with Tsunetomo Tonbo, a huge human samurai with-

– “a solid iron staff longer than he was tall. The business end was grimly studded with spikes. It was the weapon of a monster slayer – a thing designed to obliterate helmets, armour and anything organic that might get in its way. Kuno bowed. The man with the iron staff returned the bow formally.” (p. 16)

Sura and Tonbo are itinerant Spirit Hunters, traveling throughout Japan looking for evil Spirits to kill – hopefully for pay. Sura is an exorcist priestess of Kitsune Mountain. The two attach themselves to Kuno, traveling with him along an increasingly creepy road to Iris Castle.

Kuno approves of killing monsters, so he allows Sura and Tonbo to join him. They make an Odd Trio: Kuno is excessively formal and dignified; Sura is disgracefully cheerful and casual, singing bawdy songs; and Tonbo’s attitude is basically “leave me out of this”. Kuno is a devout Buddhist (the religion has recently arrived from China); Sura is an old-fashioned Taoist, and they have lots of philosophical arguments together. The trio kill their first monster together before they meet Chiri:

“She was a nezumi — a rat spirit – slim, petite and grave. Startingly, the girl was pure white. Seen in half-animal form, she had pure white fur and long elegant whiskers. Her long hair was the pure, stark white of new fallen snow. Her eyes – frightened and intelligent – were an astonishing shade of pink. She wore traveling clothes, and carried a pair of kama through her belt. The blades of the little rice sickles were covered with plain wooden sheathes.” (p. 49) The cover by KaeMantis shows Chiri’s two companions, Daitanishi the rock elemental and Biffuko the apparent insect; an air elemental.

The four arrive at Ayamejo (Iris Castle) to find a big crowd preparing for the tournament. There is a grisly murder. The Spirit Hunter foursome are suspects. Is the killer one of the humans, or an animal-human, or one of the monsters that the Spirit Hunters are hunting? They unmask the killer together, “With the cunning of the fox, the spirit of the samurai, and the wisdom of the rat.” (p. 195) They make a good team, so they stay together.

That is the First Encounter: Silent Death, 201 pages. The other two stories in Book 1: The Way of the Fox are Second Encounter: The Hungry Ghost, and Third Encounter: Sea of Troubles.

Spirit Hunters is a winner. In addition to presenting good supernatural mysteries to be solved, there is a regular cast of magic animals with human assistants, and Paul Kidd’s spritely writing:

 “Murders aside, it was a perfectly lovely day.” (p. 24)

“She [Sura] swirled her spear around herself, sweeping the blade backwards behind her and striking an elegant ‘peering through the bamboo’ en garde pose: a pose somewhat modified by her changing the approved hand position in order to give the monster a rude gesture with her middle finger.” (p. 32)

And, repeated too often to count: “Trust me – I’m a fox!” 

The back-cover blurb sums it up: “A fox, two samurai and a shy and gracious rat go forth on a career of bizarre adventures. The Spirit Hunters battle ghosts, tangle with magic and delve into terrifying puzzles. They must even survive the horrors of kitsune cuisine.”

“These are the first three adventures of the Spirit Hunters saga.” Will there be more? There already are. Paul Kidd is a Greymuzzle from the 1980s, active in furry fandom in his native Australia. During 2006, he announced in his correspondence that he was developing Spirit Hunters to be made into a live-action fantasy TV series, and that he had completed two seasons’ worth of scripts. During 2010 he wrote, “I’m writing the 3rd season of my ‘Spirit Hunter’ TV adventure series at the moment – all full of kitsune foxes and rats and evil spirits, oh my. “ Then he stopped talking about it, but now here are what I assume would have been the first three episodes, in book form. So when can we expect Book 2?

$31.97? That’s a retail cover price? It pretty much guarantees that everybody will buy the Amazon.com Kindle edition instead.

 – Fred Patten