Dawn [and] Edward by Marcus LaGrone – book reviews by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dawn, by Marcus J. LaGrone. Illustrated by Minna Sundberg.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2011, trade paperback $14.95 ([1 +] 192 pages), Kindle $3.95.
Edward, by Marcus LaGrone.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, January 2013, trade paperback $9.95 (314 pages), Kindle $2.99.
The Highlands of Afon series must be science-fiction since the novels are set on the planets Afon and Ramidar in the far future, when humans have spread throughout the galaxy. But they read more like adolescent funny-animal dramatic fantasies featuring Afon’s dominant felinoid “race”, the Taik. (They aren’t just on Afon; they too have spread through the galaxy. See the complex “Introduction to the races and cultures”.) There are also the Shukurae, oversimplified as huge (9’ tall) muscular warthogs, intimidating but loyal to Taik leadership, and the Gelkin, short, squat, bearlike, and militaristic; both also spacefaring peoples.
Dawn is the story, in flashback, of Dawn Winteroak. She’s the Taik teenage schoolgirl in the middle on Minna Sundberg’s cover. Besides other adolescent problems, she’s embarrassed because her fur is “boring. Black and plain, not a spot or stripe to be seen. All her sisters had wonderful coats with spots and rosettes, a fact they used to take some pride in pointing out to her.” (blurb)
Dawn has worse problems. Her story begins: “As Dawn cracked open her eyes, she realized one thing immediately: she hurt. From the tip of her pointy ears to the end of her fuzzy tail she hurt. Even her fur hurt. How does fur hurt? she wondered. Well she wasn’t sure, but it certainly did. She sat up only to find that it was possible to hurt even more! Her ears rang and her head throbbed as she straightened up her spine. Looking down she noticed her jet black fur was horribly tousled and her dress, a gift for her fourteenth birthday all of a week ago, was now in tatters. Shredded and charred, it still stank of smoke.” (p. 3)
Dawn has been caught in the assassination of most of her family including her First Mother, the Highland Taik Ambassador at Large on the Taik-settled planet Ramidar. Worse, she has been taken hostage by the villains. She is rescued by her uncle Llewellyn Silverglade (“A man stood there, dressed like a Highland Taik. His fur was a gorgeous silver and white with black rosettes and a long, long tail. He stood there, looking very much like a snow leopard walking erect and just as graceful in his movements.” — p. 6), leading a group of five Shukurae warriors.
But all that is in the first ten pages. Dawn, now orphaned, is adopted by her Uncle Llewellyn and taken to his very large estate on Afon to live. Much of Dawn could almost be called a felinoid comedy of manners, taking into account differences like the Highland Taik social custom of having families like lion prides:
“Having four mothers seemed to cause no end of confusion and curiosity [in human space]. That and the fact that it was her First Mother rather than her father who was ambassador. Of course it was her First Mother! First Mothers were the heads of the family; why in the world would someone expect her father to be the ambassador? Males didn’t get involved in politics and things like that; that didn’t even make sense.” (p. 10) Males get involved in military affairs. Dawn, and Llewellyn, also have Second and Third Mothers, and large families of half-siblings. The Lowland Taiks, with a lower male-to-female ratio, have different customs.
And technological differences like the gates, or dimensional portals:
“‘Aurora [a Taik with pure white fur] was able to open one of the portals, gates as it were. These gates connect the other regions together and permit people and goods to cover long distances just by walking through their thresholds.
‘The humans described them as a stable wormhole or something. I know they were all very curious about them for a whole lot of technical reasons,’ Dawn rolled her eyes, ‘that I never really paid attention to even though I probably should have.’” (p. 27)
Dawn also has a Personal Secret:
“She all but purred as she flexed and then relaxed her wings, the stretch was doing them quite a bit of good. Wings? Oh yes indeed! Her stately wings filled almost two-thirds of the room they were so large, well more than eighteen feet across. It had been a long time since she had stretched them, much less tried to use them. Jet black feathers perfectly matching her fur coat fluttered in the breeze.
She didn’t understand them, but she’d had them for as long as she could remember. They would wink in and out of existence just as easily as she might stick out her tongue. Sticking out her tongue … She could almost hear her older sisters and their heckling. ‘Freak!’ That was the word du jour. She sighed to herself as her mind raced. Her new family seemed nice enough, but a black coat was one thing, wings were another thing entirely. Well, they hadn’t batted an eye at her appearance yet, and she was loathe to do anything to change that!” (p. 18)
… but it doesn’t stay a secret for long, and when Dawn is caught practicing flying early one morning, she’s told briskly, “‘while that was a marvelous flight, breakfast is the next order of business.’” (p. 44) So: for all its strangeness with an anthro feline cast, large families like lion prides, convenient wormholes, wings and other personal talents like invisibility, Dawn is very much a comedy of manners about socially meeting the Right Boy, adjusting to the Silverglade family of relatives including matchmakers, being menaced by highwaymen with swords, various dances, and making an enemy of the haughty daughter of the local Lady Mayor.
Dawn learns to grow out of being a shy 14-year-old into a popular teenager; by taking advantage of her abilities, not being embarrassed by them. There is some menace – one of the villains who killed her real parents strikes again – but it’s so downplayed that it’s barely an afterthought. The feline traits of the characters are used casually: “As Dawn stepped inside, her claws clicked on the hardwood floors and she had to consciously retract them. No sense messing up a nice floor!” (p. 15) There are a half-dozen line-drawing portraits of Dawn and her family & friends.
Edward is about Dawn’s young uncle; an eighteen-year-old bobcat-looking Taik. Edward Silverglade is the youngest of seven children, all of whom have succeeded brilliantly at their professions. Determined to prove himself their equal, Edward chooses a military career in the space force’s 517th Assault Group, a volunteer unit of Taiks, Shukurae, and humans serving together. They are involved in the rescue of Dawn from terrorists against the Taik governor of the planet Ramidar, where Dawn’s First Mother and family had been killed.
That mission is quickly concluded, but the terrorists are still at large, causing destruction and death. The 517th Assault Group is asked to remain on that planet as a bodyguard detail for the governor’s daughter, Tatiana, a megapopular pop star. The 517th’s job is not only to protect Tatiana but to serve as counterinsurgency experts to help the planetary police catch whoever is behind the terrorism.
Edward finds that Tatiana is no diva. She is an intelligent 18-year-old Taik resembling an anthro jaguar, who works with her bodyguards to catch the terrorists. Edward becomes the 517th’s personal bodyguard of Tatiana, while the rest of its team – 25 of them; 15 Shukurae, 5 Taik (both Highlanders and Lowlanders), and 5 humans; explosive experts, snipers, martial-arts warriors, police liaison – works together smoothly to protect not only Tatiana but the rest of her musical group and her crowds of fans. Edward’s individual talent of changing his fur’s color makes him an excellent furry chameleon:
“Edward slipped into the shadows of a corner of the room and let his fur shift in hue to match the walls.” (p. 27)
It also makes blushing a real problem:
“Edward’s fur stood straight up on end and he fought to keep his color from cycling. ‘Um.’” (p. 107)
The reader becomes familiar with not only Edward but others of the 517th – Kadu, Edward’s Shukurae partner; Jake, a human sniper; Gigirena, a Lowland Taik hand-to-hand combat expert; Meeka and Patuk, more Shukurae; Trevor, their Lowlander police liaison. At the same time, Edward becomes familiar with Tatiana and those closely involved with her, especially Gillian Rose, her motherly agent. When Tatiana forms a girl-to-girl friendship with one of her group’s musicians, Zoë Sylva, a Taik who looks like a clouded leopard with black hair, she is drawn into their orbit. Edward becomes so closely involved with them (that’s Zoë, Edward, and Tatiana on Minna Sundberg’s cover) that at one point he asks to be relieved due to becoming too emotionally involved with the two. Gillian becomes “Mom”, and the Shukurae Kadu is a big sister.
Despite the romantic entanglements, there is plenty of action as the terrorists strike on the streets, in theaters and concert halls, and in hotels:
“Things felt wrong as soon as Edward stepped off the elevator. It was going to be a long night. Like the morning, there was a mob of fans waiting outside. Instead of the protestors of the morning, there was a plethora of of media hacks with cameras in hand. Tabloid vultures, ready to document exactly what Tatiana was or wasn’t wearing as she headed out for the night. They were a hazard of the course, unfortunately. It wasn’t up to Edward to judge people, he was there for one thing: protect the client, protect Tatiana.” (p. 44)
“‘You think they’d bomb the elevator?’ asked Alex.
‘No, but I didn’t think they’d bomb the car either. They have escalated their game, just as Kestrel feared. Our job has just begun.’” (p. 46)
It seems like Edward can’t turn around without the terrorists striking again. So: one romantic comedy for women, and one adventurous military drama/police procedural, both feline-furry.
There are two more books in LaGrone’s The Highlands of Afon series, but they are in Kindle editions only: Chloë (397 pages) and Theodore (288 pages), also with covers by Minna Sundberg. If you like these first two, you may enjoy the last two.