A Menagerie of Heroes; A Rainfurrest Anthology – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
FurPlanet is advertising that its appearance at Further Confusion will be the final opportunity at present to buy the RainFurrest charity anthologies. FurPlanet is no longer carrying them after last December 31st and it is bringing its final printed copies for sale at FC 2016. The book is at least temporarily unavailable, because it will be up to the con to take over printing and selling after this year. – Fred
A Menagerie of Heroes; A Rainfurrest Anthology, edited by Ryan Hickey and Garrett Biggerstaff.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, September 2015, trade paperback $15.00 (320 pages).
Seattle’s annual RainFurrest convention has published a charity anthology every year since 2011, growing from 108 pages in 2011 to 269 pages in 2014. All stories are donated to RainFurrest by mid-June, and the anthology is printed by FurPlanet Productions in Dallas to be sold at the convention in September, with all proceeds donated to that year’s charity. RainFurrest 2015’s total donation was over $10,000 to the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, Washington. The anthologies are subsequently sold through the FurPlanet catalogue.
In 2015 for the first time there were two charity anthologies; the “clean” A Menagerie of Heroes with 14 stories totaling 320 pages, and the “adult” Naughty Sexy Furry Writing; Enter at your own Risk with six stories totaling 124 pages. Here is the G- and PG-rated one, featuring RainFurrest 2015’s theme of Swords and Sorcery.
“Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” by Wilfred B. Wolf is a charming story, but you have to get through some clunky writing to read it. In a medieval Japanese fantasy setting, Gasu Yeo is a Bard, a gifted musician and a royal official sent out to spread the news and the latest royal pronouncements to the farthest corners of the Empire. He is also one of the first Kitsu Bards; one of the first of the Empire’s foxlike anthros to be accepted into the Bards. When he is assigned to visit a distant village that has never seen a Kitsu, he is mistaken for a mythical fox trickster bringing bad luck or a curse. Yeo must convince the human peasants that while he may look like a humanoid fox, he is as human and peaceful (and a royal official) as any of them. The story is delightful, even though given a choice of words, Wolf picks a flat one every time.
“The Lady’s Service” by Renee Carter Hall may not be a better story, but it is much better written. The animal Kingdom of Asteria is about to fall into civil war. The throne has been usurped by Roden, a dictator, and Prince Tiren is about to try to seize it back. But Roden’s soldiers are battle-hardened elks, and Tiren’s are small forest animals, mostly squirrels. Their advantages are that they’re really fast and can climb, but to win a war they’ll have to fight at close quarters, as well. All the squirrels are in training with quarterstaffs and knives in their hidden forest home. Breckon, a young rabbit, wants to join them. Breckon is earnest and determined, but a rabbit isn’t a squirrel. Over the months of training, both Breckon and the squirrels learn that. He grows from a clumsy beginner and an outsider to a confident warrior who also learns how to find friendship.
“Playing the Hero” by Billy Bob Butler is also set in a medieval animal kingdom plagued by war. Here it’s the Avin Empire ruled by harpy eagles, a part of the Fellowship of the Five Kingdoms. The protagonists are four children in the city of Havenpin: Aerin and Claire, two crane sisters; Simon, their hawk step-brother; and Riki, a muskrat:
“The City of Havenpin’s inhabitants were mostly Avin: hawks, corvids, and cranes. However, despite the predominantly Avin population, one could still see representation from all five of the Fellowship Kingdoms. A Scaled merchant was arguing with two Avin over a peculiar rug she was trying to sell, presumably about how muddy the red dyes were in it. Riki learned quickly to not call the them [sic.] lizards. He could still remember the guttural hissing the Scaled emitted before telling him to leave his stall front.” (p. 69)
Riki is a refugee from Moorsend, a nearby city currently occupied by the cat and dog warriors of the Ferrin enemy. He wants to become part of Havenpin’s Watch guards, or maybe a Ranger scout, but his father wants him to succeed him in the family business of being an alchemist. But when the four children venture out into the Ravenwoods on an approved mentorship expedition, it is Riki’s alchemical training that saves them all from an unexpected deadly danger. “Playing the Hero” is a good story, but somehow I was left expecting more. There is too much background, resulting in the story feeling like a brief excerpt taken from a longer novel. I hope that Butler writes it.
“Come the Storm” by Tony Greyfox presents two young animals, Talia the deer and Kristan the bobcat. Each is on a quest of salvation for her or his village, which is dying of thirst:
“It had been many years since the grass had gone this dry, but the elders remembered what had happened before, stories passed down from generation to generation about the long summers and the suffering that had followed – famine and death through the cold winters that invariably came on the heels of the heat.” (pgs. 91-92)
Each youth has been sent with gifts to the gods who supposedly dwell within legendary Oakbend Forest far to the south, to plea for rains. The two youths meet on the parched plains and decide to travel together for safety, although a predator and a prey animal together – well, it isn’t usual. As Talia and Kristan trade tales of their deer and bobcat peoples, convenience develops into friendship, which leads to … (to tell would be a spoiler).
That’s actually a plot synopsis, not a review. “Come the Storm” is neither good enough to be memorable, or bad enough to criticize. It’s just mediocre. The same can be said for most of the other stories in A Menagerie of Heroes. Most are serious: “The Pendant of Westbriar Swamp”, by Skunkbomb; “The Monster’s Story”, by Amy Fontaine; “Tach’s Tale”, by Garrett “Hunter” Biggerstaff; “Tiny Hooves”, by Yannarra Cheetah; “The Black Fang’s Bite”, by Ocean Tigrox; “A Guard’s Tale”, by Tarl “Hoch” Vincnt; “Bond of Spirit”, by Anor-Roc Wildheart; and “In the Days of the Witch-Queens”, by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. One is humorous: “The Princess and the Dragon”, by Kandrel Fox.
These are all funny-animal stories, many narrated in the first person, about wolf or lion or fox warriors, or cat maidens, most of whom could have just as easily been humans. Several are about dragons, evil or good, and a couple are about kobolds. All are in pseudo-medieval European settings, except for “In the Days of the Witch-Queen” which takes place in the tribal African Veldt. None are bad; most are pleasant to read. They just are not really memorable. The day after you’ve read them, you’ll find it difficult to remember what any of them were about.
There is one other standout: “The Dragon Tax”, by Madison Keller. This gets an A+ for imagination. Riastel is a traditional dragon; fire-breathing, maiden-eating, gold-and-jewels-hoarding, living in a cave; the whole nine yards. His cave is in the Kingdom of Thima. The King of Thima doesn’t want to kill him as much as to make him pay an income tax on his hoard.
“‘As, as a citizen of Thima…’ the man [the royal tax collector] trailed off, gulped, then continued. ‘You are required to pay a tax on all your income. Ten percent, to the King.’
The rear end of the donkey hit the sand as Riastel blew jets of flame into the air. ‘Pay tax, to a human kingdom? Thank you for the meal and the laugh.’ Riastel scooped back up the donkey in one talon and the dead ox in the other.
His flared wings seized the sea breeze and a quick flap took him away from the laughable human. Taxes indeed.” (pgs. 130-131)
So the King hires Sybil Dragonsbane, a professional dragonslayer:
‘I think you have a dragon that’s too alive for your tastes.’ Sybil shrugged. Why else would anyone call her?
‘Actually, we quite like having a dragon on the island.’ The King said. He sat up now, eyes shining in the mage-light from the sconces on the wall. Multiple chins jiggled as he wagged his hands around theatrically. ‘Brings lots of adventurers through town, they drop gold at local businesses, and, of course, pay an entry tax to come to Thima. If they survive or not, not my problem. Boosts the local economy.’” (pgs. 131-132)
Sybil has never been hired to force a dragon to pay a tax instead of killing it. She wants double pay for the job:
“‘Double?!’ The anger in the King’s voice tore her attention away from the bottle. ‘I’m not asking you to kill the thing.’
‘True. What you’re asking is even more dangerous. You’re asking me to leave a dragon alive. A very pissed-off, angry dragon who now knows my scent.’ […]” (p. 133)
So far the story is humorous, but to give away a major spoiler, what the King and his tax collector really want is far more than ten percent of the dragon’s hoard. The adventure rapidly turns grimly serious, forcing the dragon and the dragonslayer to team up to stay alive. Even with this revealed, there are surprises aplenty. “The Dragon Tax” is one story that you will not forget soon, and “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” (despite its poor writing) and “Playing the Hero” are also pleasantly memorable. The rest are the literary equivalent of snack food; tasty and filling, but not a real meal.
Five of the stories are illustrated, and Jan, the RainFurrest 2015 guest-of-honor, did separate front and back covers. Remember, it’s for charity.
Features the following stories:
- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood by Wilford B Wolf
- The Lady’s Service by Renee Carter Hall
- Playing the Hero by Billy Bob Butler
- Come The Storm by Tony Greyfox
- The Pendant of Westbriar Swamp by Skunkbomb
- The Dragon Tax by Madison Keller
- The Monster’s Story by Amy Fontaine
- Tatch’s Tale by Garret “Hunter” Biggerstaff
- The Princess and the Dragon by Kandrel Fox
- Tiny Hooves by Yannarra Cheenah
- The Black Fang’s Bite by Ocean Tigrox
- A Guard’s Tale by Tarl “Voice” Hoch
- Bond of Spirit by Anor-Roc Wildheart
- In the Days of the Witch-Queens by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Featuring art by Tim Weeks, Cadmiumtea, Markel Soikes, Kelly Tsvahl, Ben Butler, and cover by Jan.
Previous Rainfurrest anthology reviews:
- Furtual Horizons
- ‘Dancing in the Moonlight: RainFurrest 2013 Charity Anthology’
- ‘Tails of a Clockwork World’
- ‘Stories of Camp RainFurrest’