The Animal Guild Series – Book Reviews by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Animal Guild Series

The Animal Guild, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2015, trade paperback, $11.97 ([5 +] 307 pages), Kindle $0.99.

Monsters in the Territory, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, February 2015, trade paperback, $12.99 ([5 +] 340 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Marrhob War, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, February 2015, trade paperback, $12.47 ([5 +] 320 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Nhorn, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, March 2015, trade paperback, $11.97 ([5 +] 278 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Sowle’s Amazon “About the Author” says that she has been writing this Young Adult series since the age of 13. (Wikipedia says she was born in 1977.) Book 1 was published by CreateSpace on August 22, 2012, with this Second Edition on May 13, 2015. Book 2 was published on August 15, 2013 with this Second Edition on February 8, 2015. Book 3, March 6, 2014 and February 26, 2015. Book 4, June 8, 2014 and March 10, 2015. Book 5, January 26, 2015 and April 13, 2015. Further books are first editions.

What is the Animal Guild, and who is in it? The story is deliberately murky at the beginning:

“Corto dove between the mesquites and just missed the spiny cholla they cosseted under their branches. It was exactly how he’d cut his forepaw an hour ago and started the blood trail. Drok take every piece of cactus in this desert and chuck it over the white gates of Hell.

He didn’t continue the puerile curse because coyote scent wafted toward him again, stronger and closer. He hadn’t shaken his pursuers, attracted by the blood, and until he could hole up and stop the bleeding, he wouldn’t. The cairn terrier ran past the offensive cholla, which had been lurking in wait behind the mesquite, and wished again that he was a bit taller. […]” (The Animal Guild, p. 1)

In the opening pages the reader learns that Corto is a cairn terrier fleeing from coyotes through a desert. He is on a lone-dog mission, but he is resigned to being eaten by the pursuing coyotes, until he is unexpectedly saved by a fox. But wildies don’t associate with guilders like Corto, do they?

In the first chapter the reader is introduced to Corto and Reynard the fox. Conversation establishes that the animals are divided into wildies and dommies (domesticates), and that some of the dommies are guilders. Can a wildie be a guilder? Corto doesn’t think so, but read on. Corto swears by Drok Wardog and Reynard by Fenig First Fox, the gods of the dogs and foxes respectively; the two also refer to Kithis Singer, the coyote god.

Subsequent chapters are similarly mysterious. Reynard saves Corto’s life a second time, in circumstances so dramatic that Corto interrupts his mission to demand that Reynard tell him what the Hell is gong on.

“‘Speak for yourself [Reynard says]. Can you see a hog anywhere out there?’

‘Eh?’ Corto’s worries were confirmed; the head wound had addled Renard’s mind. ‘Why would a hog be out here?’

He heard something between a grunt and a snort. ‘A hawk.”

Corto blinked. ‘Same question. Why would a –’

Wind and sand swooshed over him. He looked up and saw yellow talons and dark feathers, then scrambled into a defensive crouch while a hawk landed in the creosote several feet away. He registered its slate-blue wings and white-speckled breast while it flapped debris in all directions. He swallowed his instinctive fear when its beady red eyes flicked to him, but he wouldn’t run; he wouldn’t leave –’

A dry nose poked him from behind. He nearly lost his balance and would have tumbled straight at the hawk if his nails hadn’t been gripping the earth so tightly. ‘She’s with me,’ Renard puffed, head and one foreleg sticking out of the hole. ‘She won’t attack unless you do.’

Corto had to sit down in numbed shock. With him? Birds and animals didn’t mix, and certainly not raptors who hunted animals. A low rumble vibrated beneath his pads. He stared at the hawk, his memory tweaked by something he’d heard during his months as a guilder, something about a bird who traveled with animals, but he couldn’t quite remember.

‘Corto.’ Renard said while the rumbling vibration increased. ‘I could really use some help here.’” (p. 14)

And this is only up to page 14 of Book 1. Sowle keeps up the action and tension, but only gradually expands on what’s going on. Of course, the reader can always skip to the back of the book where there is a five-page “Glossary of Concepts, Characters and Gods”. “Guild. An animal community that provides fellowship, camaraderie and safety among the dangers of the wild. Vegetarian by necessity [they eat insects, too], guilds are scattered throughout the West, but less common in the East. Usually hidden from humans in large caves or burrows, […]” (pgs. 287-288)

Corto, who has only recently joined the 235th guild, has been sent out alone to practice Training as an Officer Training School applicant:

“He needed to know what to expect even though he was technically cheating – scoping out the area before the exercise began. General Hannon hadn’t told him not to travel through the town, but it took him fifteen miles west of his destination, and trainees weren’t supposed to have foreknowledge of the physical layout of exercises. It didn’t matter; Corto had been born a domesticate, despite what he’d told the peculiar wildie Renard a month ago. He already knew cities, so it was hardly cheating to –” (p. 25)

It breaks off there for another action sequence. Who is General Hannon? Why did Corto leave his dommie home for the wild? Renard is revealed as the leader of The Fearless Four; the others are Valon, a goshawk, … never mind; you’ll meet them all eventually.

Since Sowle is so deliberately mysterious, almost any plot description is frustratingly a spoiler. Here is another early dramatic quote to whet your appetite:

“Both sloshed warily out of the current without shaking off, then stopped a few feet from Munk. The rottie’s glossy brown and black coat was marred by small scars on neck and sides, ample warning of her lifestyle if her eyes, confident and hostile, hadn’t already revealed her attitude. Her gaze moved casually from Renard to Munk, but the fox could tell this was her first wolverine. The tom’s eyes traveled down Munk’s solid body and fixed, wide and dilating, on his formidable claws.

‘Nice day,’ Renard said. He flexed his own pads, hidden in the sedge, because he knew how this meeting would end.

‘Is it?’ the rottie countered. Her rough voice oozed sarcasm.

‘Kind of far from the guild, aren’t you?’

‘Not too far.’ Renard smiled, aware that Munk was tensing, ‘I’m Renard and this is Munk. Are you from town?’

The rottie smiled back – most unpleasantly – while the tom snorted. ‘You’re in Nikki’s territory,’ he said. ‘Nobody gets through here without her permission. Even the 91st patrols stay to the south. I’m Rinker.’

‘Why do they stay south?’

‘Because they’re scared of me,’ Nikki said. Her gaze held Renard’s, challenging him. ‘If you’re headed for the 91st, you’re going the wrong way. Shall I show you what I do to people who get lost in my territory?’” (p. 43)

The Animal Guild (cover by B. Sowle & K. Womack) ends more-or-less satisfactorily, but it is followed by the first 13-page chapter of the first sequel, Monsters in the Territory. In fact, Monsters in the Territory is the first book of a trilogy within the series. It’s not much of a spoiler to quote Monsters in the Territory’s back-cover blurb:

“Two years after the adventures of The Animal Guild, Corto and Renard serve as the senior command of a new guild. [They transfer from the 235th to the 233rd guild.] But things are going wrong in the territory that Granite Council has assigned them; the guild that had lived there has mysteriously vanished, monstrous creatures abound, and most importantly, something has happened to derail the friendship between the dog and fox. Can they end their bitter feud before the monsters in the territory end it — along with them and everyone they love? Monsters in the Territory is the first of a trilogy of books within The Animal Guild Series, followed by The Marrhob War and The Nhorn (so be warned: cliff-hanger ending alerts!). By the end of the trilogy, the world of animal guilds will be changed forever.”

This trilogy can largely be described as the adventures of the 233rd guild, or that part of it that investigates what has happened to the 178th guild. To give away some spoilers in this trilogy, the monsters are the Marrhob, who consider any animals to be food. Another major danger are the Shagus, part plant and part spider (featured on the cover of Monsters in the Territory). Important characters besides Corto and Renard are guilders Morgen the vixen, Fist the kitten, Hercules the cocker spaniel puppy, and the wildie bear Rethus. Here is a quote from The Marrhob War:

“He [Renard] was well aware that he should return to his duties. The guild had to prepare for the skunk threat, while the next step in the 178th search – the exploration of Shagus lairs – had to be organized. He knew Corto depended on his help, whether or not the terrier would admit it, but Renard couldn’t focus on anyone but Hercules. So be it. He dismissed the guild and curled up against the cocker, mindful of Folroe’s [a wildie raccoon healer] instructions to keep Hercules warm. He draped his heavy brush over the dog, waiting until Hercules’ body warmed from his own. When he felt fatigue finally catch up with him, he let go and drifted into uneasy sleep. (The Marrhob War, p. 4)

Humans are introduced in the later books. The covers for Books 2 and 4 are by Shilo Quetchenbach, and for Book 3 by Quetchenbach & Jennifer Sowle. There are eight books published so far, with Book 9, Sev’s Vision – Sev the ferret is introduced in Book 1 — in progress. More are planned. They are The Animal Guild, August 2, 2012; Monsters in the Territory, August 14, 2013; The Marrhob War, March 6, 2014; The Nhorn, June 8, 2014; Outcasts, January 26, 2015; The Hikum, July 24, 2015; Seven Secrets in the Upper Attic, May 27, 2016; and The Rogan Treasures, May 9, 2017. The first five are in second revised editions (Sowle revised them all during 2015); the others are still in their first printings.

Action, action, action!, with non-stop drama and suspense. Plus a cast of anthro animals who aren’t just funny animals. And an admirably rich vocabulary. Sowle’s Animal Guild series will keep you reading for months.

Fred Patten

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