Black Angel, by Kyell Gold – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Black Angel, by Kyell Gold. Illustrated by Rukis.
St. Paul, MN, Sofawolf Press, March 2016, trade paperback $19.95 (vii + 379 pages).
Black Angel is the conclusion of Kyell Gold’s Dangerous Spirits trilogy that began with Green Fairy (March 2012) and continued with Red Devil (January 2014). The three novels are a powerful mixture of spiritualism, drugs, and adolescent angst, shifting between centuries and societies. They are also set in Gold’s larger Forester University anthropomorphic-animal alternate universe, with clear parallels to our own. Each of these three is complete, but assuming you will like Black Angel enough to want to read the others, readers are recommended to start all three from the first.
Solomon Wrightson (black wolf), Alexei Tsarev (red fox), and Meg Kinnick (otter) are three very troubled seniors at Vidalia’s Richfield High School. All three have left home. Sol, who has just realized that he is gay, is constantly nagged at home by his father to excel at sports. Alexei, who has come from Siberia on a student visa, is concerned by the silence of his sister back home; he is sure that their parents are intercepting their mail. The mannish Meg has gotten her parents to let her move into a decrepit apartment to be an artist. Her apartment has become a social center for the three. Sol’s traveling into the past in Green Fairy, and Alexei’s being haunted by a ghost in Red Devil, may be due to external causes in those novels, or – as the rational Meg scoffs – it’s all in their imagination.
“Hi. I’m Meg. I’m nineteen, and I’m fucked up.
That’s not a big secret, by the way. Pretty much anyone who knew me from about fifteen to now would tell you the same thing. Only back then I thought it was a good kind of fucked up.” (p. 1)
She’s not so sure any longer. Sol and Alexei are moving out to grow in their own directions. Sol is going to college, and Alexei has to get his student visa extended. Meg considers herself more rational and mature than either of them, but she is also aware that she’s stuck in an adolescent rut while they’re moving on with their lives. So she’s glad to have the apartment all to herself when Sol and Alexei move out, but not sure what to do next.
In addition to being an Art Institute applicant, Meg takes commissions over the Internet for fantasy art.
“‘I need to get caught up with these commissions first. You know I need to do like ten of them a month to make rent and food.’ And booze and weed, but I left those as understood.” (p. 67)
She considers starting an online comic strip, using an idea she’s had since her childhood for a story about Marie-Belle, a young muskrat living in the bayous around New Kestle [New Orleans] in the past who wants to become a voodoo priestess.
A parallel story appears in Chapter 6. Meg suddenly has dreams of Hannah, an adolescent otter in a rigid future Christian society who chafes at its restrictions on women.
“I sat bolt upright in bed, convinced I was soaked through, heart still pounding. The dark room, as silent as when I’d gone to bed, still seemed to echo with the call from my dream, the name, ‘Hannah!’
I’d never dreamed that vividly before. The meds had given me some fucked-up nightmares, but nothing that coherent, nothing with smell and dialogue and hunger in my stomach and the heat of sun and the cool of water, that left me rubbing paws through my fur surprised that it wasn’t still wet.
A dream like Alexi and Sol had had.
I made sure that I wasn’t hallucinating something from my dream coming back to my bed, the way Sol had, but it didn’t make me feel better when I didn’t find anything. Alexei’s dreams hadn’t brought back anything except a ghost.
The good news is, my ghost is a fifteen-year-old otter girl, not a scary Russian soldier. I laughed at that and then clutched my sides, breathing hard, laughter turning shaky and hysterical. It was like I was listening to myself laugh and didn’t have any control over it.” (p. 53)
To further complicate the plot, at nineteen Meg is also very concerned about her own sexuality – or lack of same. Is she heterosexual? Homosexual? Bi? Asexual? Why doesn’t she feel any urges when confronted with good-looking young otters or animals of other species?
Black Angel turns into three parallel stories, each told in full chapters. Meg’s predominate, but those of Marie-Belle the muskrat and voodoo – or is it vodou, not voodoo?– in her comic strip, and of Hannah the otter and her Christian cult in Meg’s dreamworld, are so rich that the reader will forget about the larger story while reading those. Meg grows increasingly afraid that she can’t keep them from taking her over.
[Meg is walking with Athos, her grey fox friend who supplies her pot but who also seriously cares for her. They are discussing her comic strip.]
“‘But you know that,’ he said. ‘Your comic was in Colonial times, right?’
‘No. 1915,’ I said automatically.
He said something about the style of the houses and I replied that they were old houses, all the while thinking, how did I know the date that certainly? I knew it was about a hundred years ago, but then why didn’t I answer ‘1912’? Or ‘a hundred years ago’?” (p. 83)
As Meg is drawn increasingly into her dreamworlds, and objects from those dreamworlds appear in the real world to increasingly confuse her, her friends – Athos (fox), Alexei and Sol, Mike (sheep), Bellie (raccoon), Eve (another raccoon), Alain (fox), Sherine (weasel), and maybe someone (or something) from either Marie-Belle’s or Hannah’s worlds – try to help her, despite herself.
Not only is this an excellent story, it presents several vivid word-portraits of life in three anthropomorphic societies.
[Meg’s present world.] “So I went to the [city] pool. Not many otters there, because they mostly have pools in their houses, or they live in that big complex on the river and swim there. But about every other major species demographic was there: foxes, wolves, mice, rats, deer, squirrels, cougars, rabbits – a million god-damn rabbits – and even a few bobcats, playing against the water-hating stereotype. The pool blasted Neutra-Scent and today had added in a cut-grass smell that was supposed to make it feel like a backyard pool.” (p. 32)
[Hannah’s futuristic world.] “‘Go on. What’s going to happen to me in church?’ Hannah dove before Angeline could answer, plunging through the water toward the roots of the nearest cyprus. She knew Angeline could follow easily, but when she surfaced by the trunk, only a few otters remained in the church water, and Angeline was not one of them.” (p. 103)
Besides word-portraits, this contains ten full-page interior illustrations by Rukis. Black Angel is a fine conclusion to the Dangerous Spirits trilogy.