by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Forest Gods, by Ryan Campbell. Illustrated by Zhivago.
St. Paul, MN, Sofawolf Press, September 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (343 [+ 2] pages), Kindle $7.99.
This is the direct sequel to Campbell’s September 2013 God of Clay, and the middle novel in his The Fire Bearers trilogy. As with all too many trilogies of this sort, The Fire Bearers is a single novel in three volumes more than a series of three novels. If you have not started it yet, get and read God of Clay first, then immediately read Forest Gods. Be aware that it ends with a cliffhanger, and that it may be another two years until Book Three is published.
In a fantasy prehistoric Africa, the great Saharan savanna is drying up. Animals and human tribes migrate south and further south again to the forest-jungle as the new desert inexorably spreads after them. But the forest itself will not let them enter. The trees and vines come alive and kill any humans who venture among them. This is apparently because the forest gods – Kwaee, king of the gods who looks like an anthropomorphized leopard; Asubonten, the giant crocodile goddess of the rivers; Atetea, the little ant god; and many others – have turned against them. Most of the forest gods blame the humans for turning to Ogya, the powerful god of fire and destruction, and becoming his worshippers. But Kwaee, sulking on his forest throne, isn’t doing anything about it. Kwaee doesn’t even believe in the Fire Bringers (humans).
Doto, Kwaee’s son who also looks like an anthro leopard, worries that his father is abdicating his responsibility by ignoring the desert’s spread. When Doto begs Kwaee to Do Something, Kwaee angrily orders Doto to capture a Fire Bringer if they’re real.
The forest gods’ story is intermixed with that of two young human brothers whose tribe has slowly been pushed from the shrinking savanna to the edges of Africa’s forest-jungle. Clay and Laughing Dog, the second and third sons of their tribal ruler, hold different beliefs: Clay worships the tribe’s traditional animal gods, while Laughing Dog is an atheist. Clay is captured by Doto and dragged into the forest-jungle to be presented to Kwaee, who will almost certainly kill him.