Lost on Dark Trails – Book Review by Fred Patten
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Lost on Dark Trails, by Rukis. Illustrated by the author.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, January 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (312 pages), electronic edition $12.95.
This is a mature content book. Please ensure that you are of legal age to purchase this material in your state or region.
This is the sequel to Rukis’ Off the Beaten Path, reviewed here in January 2015. It is also the middle volume of a trilogy, “The Long Road Home”. It begins immediately following the events in the first volume.
Shivah (bobcat), the narrator, is an Amurescan native “squaw” in an anthropomorphic world roughly similar to late 18th-century North America. She is searching — along with Ransom, a coyote trapper, and Puck (Puquanah), a blind silver fox shaman — for vengeance against Methoa’nuk (also bobcat), Shivah’s ex-husband, a cruel native warrior who has joined a band of raiders that have wiped out Shivah’s tribe and now threaten the Otherwolf colonies along the Eastern Seaboard. Shivah, Ransom, and Puck join a party of Otherwolf lawmen led by Grant Wickham (husky) who also search for the raiders, led by Rourke (otter). But in a bloody battle at the end of Off the Beaten Path, the raiders escape and Puck is apparently killed.
Lost on Dark Trails begins with Shivah nursing Puck back to health, while Grant has been fired for allowing the raiders to escape. Ransom, believing Puck dead, has left; the others fear to commit suicide. So Shivah (a “weak woman”) is alone and apparently sidelined with the blind and recovering Puck to support. Instead, she rallies Grant (and a friend) to join her and Puck in finding Ransom; then continuing (without the friend) unofficially after Rourke and his raiders. She and Puck join them as two of the new pursuers, rather than as Grant’s tagalongs. The surprise ending of Lost on Dark Trails wraps up most of the loose threads from Off the Beaten Path, but indicates that the conclusion of the trilogy, also titled The Long Road Home, will take an unexpected new direction.
Shivah has always been a strong protagonist, and by the end of this middle novel, everyone recognizes this.
“I smiled back, and tried to look confident for them all. I was rather liking being in charge, I was finding day by day. There had been so many times in the past I’d wanted to be the one to corral the chaos amongst my comrades, to ground the menagerie of rowdy, strange men who’d become a part of my life into something more orderly. And now I could.” (p. 43)
Lost on Dark Trails is full of dramatic dialogue interspersed with mature romance. Ransom and Puck are homosexual lovers (see Rukis’ cover) in an age when this was socially forbidden; and Shivah and Grant develop a traditional man/woman romance. They are the reason for FurPlanet’s mature reader advisory; but both the heterosexual and homosexual scenes are tastefully and nonerotically presented.
Note that I said “man/woman”, despite these being a male dog and a female cat making love to each other. As I said about Off the Beaten Path, my worst criticism is that the characters are too-obvious humans only thinly-disguised as anthro animals. They always refer to themselves as men and women, and despite appearing as anthro animals, they conveniently have the same domestic livestock as humans.
“‘I could just take your horse,’ I threatened, although I didn’t mean a word of it. I was honestly uncertain how far I could push the man, and it was fun finding out.
‘Helios won’t budge without me at the reins,’ the husky retorted, stubbornly. ‘Besides, how would you stop me from following you after you left.’
‘I could tie you up.’
Grant paused, at that, looking uncertain, ‘You’d do that?’
‘Okay,’ the fox interrupted. ‘As amusing as it is listening to you two engage in completely bizarre foreplay, we need to talk about gearing up.” (p. 31)
Here is some of the dramatic dialogue:
“‘You ain’t even got a badge anymore, Wickham,’ Ransom pointed out, stabbing a finger at the man across the campfire. I saw the husky’s ears drop, and felt a sudden surge to defend him. ‘So you’re doin’ this… what? As a bounty hunter?’
‘There isn’t an active bounty on Rourke anymore,’ Grant insisted. ‘I’m not doing this for money –‘
‘That makes it even more illegal though, don’t it?’ Ransom persisted. ‘If the state ain’t even willin’ to pay men to hunt this bastard anymore, we as citizens are breakin’ the law by goin’ after him.’” (pgs. 128-129)
Readers should definitely begin with Off the Beaten Path, but the conclusion of Lost on Dark Trails is so final that the story practically stops there – if you can ignore Rukis’ fine writing and art leading to The Long Road Home. Rukis says on her blog: “If you’d like to wait to own the entire series, we’re looking to release all three at AC [Anthrocon], potentially in a set, POTENTIALLY all in hardcover.”