The Snake’s Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel, by Mary E. Lowd – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

The Snake’s Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel, by Mary E. Lowd.
Eugene, OR, ShadowSpinners Press, March 2018, trade paperback, $11.99 (210 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $3.99.

ShadowSpinners Press says, “Labyrinth of Souls novels must contain the idea of an underworld labyrinth. The form of the labyrinth and the nature of the underworld are left to the fevered imagination of the author. […] Most stories will lean toward dark fantasy but science fiction, horror, psychological thriller, Noir, mystery, etc. will be considered.” The Snake’s Song is its sixth novel, and its first furry one.

The Snake’s Song is a work of fabulism rather than traditional furry fiction. “The snake sang,” it begins. “The snake sang and mice knew better than to listen. Mice and rats and songbirds and frogs – none of them listened to snakes. Songbirds and frogs sang their own songs; mice and rats told stories. None of them listened to snakes.

And neither did squirrels.

But one day, a gray squirrel named Witch-Hazel stopped to listen to a soft hissing carried on the wind, a susurrus coming from a tunnel, hidden beneath a bush. With melancholy sighs and mesmerizing murmurs, the hissing voice sang a song of days gone by, days long ago when the earth and sky and underground were bound together with a river that flowed in endless, looping circles; tree branches embraced the heavens, and tree roots held the depths in their woody arms; and all the creatures of Earth could make a pilgrimage into the sky to meet the All-Being who had created every animal.” (p. 13, reformatted)

Squirrels don’t listen to snakes, but now Witch-Hazel does:

“‘Tell me about the All-Being,’ Witch-Hazel asked breathlessly.

‘The All-Being is why birds can fly, fish breathe water, beavers are builders, and bees can turn pollen into honey. Each of them reflects the glory of the All-Being.’

Witch-Hazel wondered how she reflected the All-Being’s glory. ‘How about squirrels?’ she asked.” (p. 14)

Is the snake trying to lure her into its underground lair? But she dimly remembers her mother telling her of the All-Being when she was a tiny kitten, and of the Celestial Fragments – the Sun Shard that grants strength, the Star Sliver that grants endless breath, and the Moon Opal that grants flight. Witch-Hazel is too wary to follow the snake into its hole, but she can’t stop thinking about the Celestial Fragments and the All-Being.

“Witch-Hazel pictured a creature with one bat wing and one sparrow wing; a green cat eye and a yellow coyote eye; a long rabbit ear and a round mouse ear; a deer antler and an antelope horn; a hoofed foreleg and a webbed paw; a mountain lion’s golden haunches and a squirrel’s silver tail – because no creature on Earth has a tail more beautiful than a squirrel.” (pgs. 17-18)

If she could find the Celestial Fragments, she could fly into the heavens higher than the birds and see the All-Being. Squirrels are used to missing treasures being hidden underground; that’s where they bury their nuts.

“She wanted to find the Celestial Fragments.

In her nest that night, Witch-Hazel felt the empty space all around her. The air flowed around her branch like the rivers the snake told her had once encircled the under-earth and sky. She wanted to travel those rivers.” (p. 18)

So the next day she packs a knapsack:

“Then she swiped a flask of pear cider from her biggest sister’s nest – her sister wouldn’t mind – and stuffed that in her knapsack too.

Finally, Witch-Hazel left a note in her own nest for her sisters and brothers, in case they came looking for her: ‘Gone adventuring. Don’t worry. – Witch-Hazel” (p. 19)

And she returns to the hole after the snake has gone:

“Witch-Hazel squeezed into the small round hole under the bush. She’d never entered a snake’s lair before. To her knowledge, no squirrel ever had. Once she was inside, the hole opened up into a passage large enough for her to walk upright. She kept her firethorns in front of her.” (p. 21)

What does she find underground? Think of Alice entering Wonderland. Think of Orpheus entering Hades’ realm looking for Eurydice. Think of Dante entering the Inferno searching for Beatrice.

There are animals, of course, or The Snake’s Song would not be reviewed here:

“Witch-Hazel leaned in close to the gold medallions and carefully examined the animal etchings. The same set of thirty animals graced each of them. Many of the animals were familiar – mouse, sparrow, squirrel, snake, otter, beaver, raccoon, deer. Some of them were strange – one had two humps on it back; another seemed to be like a bird, but it had long legs and a sinuous neck unlike any bird she’d ever seen; another had a nose like a snake, flappy ears, and legs like tree stumps. That one was the largest of the animals, so she tried turning the medallion until it was at the top of the starburst. Then she turned the second medallion until the mouse was on top.   Smallest and largest.” (p. 25)

This is only up to page 25. There is a whole novel to come. Witch-Hazel sings to herself/an imaginary friend to keep up her nerve:

“When she finished the song, Witch-Hazel said to her new imaginary friend, ‘Shall we sing a different one next?’

Her heart nearly stopped when her echo answered, ‘All right. Do you know ‘Hills and Trees Yonder’?’” (p. 35)

Not all the animals are mortal ones:

“The lioness’s face rose higher as the giant creature stepped forward on the rocky ledge beside Witch-Hazel. Her body resolved in shades of gray in the darkness – her head rose from a long slender neck that sprouted out of narrow shoulders, leading into a pair of delicately crossed human arms. She had a human woman’s torso, but beneath it was an entire four-legged lion’s body, complete with a swishing, tufted tail. ‘I am a kind of sphinx,’ the creature said. ‘Sister to the sphinx, precisely. My sister who was celebrated in Greece and Egypt usually claims the name. I am less well-known. I am a leontaur, and I don’t ask riddles.’” (p. 55)

The Snake’s Song (cover by Josephe Vandel) is eerie, wonderful, horrifying, marvelous, and above all, dreamlike. Dreams encompass nightmares. What is the All-Being?

“Dare to Enter the Labyrinth of Souls”

Fred Patten

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