The Passage Series, by John J. Sanders – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

The Passage series.

Rites of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2016, trade paperback, $11.00 (viii + 257 pages), Kindle $1.99.

City of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, June 2017, trade paperback, $12.00 (v + 277 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Voices of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2017, trade paperback, $14.00 (vii + 326 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Passage trilogy is set on Earth in the far future when humanity is turning much of it over to evolved AIs and new anthropomorphic animal clans that live like the pre-industrial native Americans.

Rites of Passage begins with the Otokononeko, the clans of the evolved lions and house cats living in the Great Sequoia Forests of West Coast North America. There are several offhand references to the humans, in San Francisco, Fresno, and other West Coast North American cities, but they are mostly offstage (at first).

“She dreamed of the dancing, songs sung, and stories told around the large fire. Dohi Aleutsi told a hilarious story about a young human male whose flying car was eaten by a Giant Sequoia tree. Her father and mother had undoubtedly heard the story before. Her father at one point in the story remarked that the car was still in the tree.” (p. 68)

The opening focus is upon Kaniko of the Otokononeko’s Anitsiskwa clan. The novel relates – or bogs down, for those who are not interested in such detail – the culture of the feline civilization in the Great Sequoia Forests. There are seven clans; the Anitsiskwa, Aniwaya, Anigilahi, Anikawi, Aniwodi, Anisahoni, and Anigalogewi. The symbol of the Anitsiskwa is bird claws; that of the Anikawi is antler-adorned leather vests; and so on. Kaniko’s parents and brothers are described, and the Otokononeko game of Stick and Rabbit is both described and played. It is around page 43 before the plot starts moving. Yet the first 42 pages are not boring. They are well-written and present the feline native civilization and characters’ personalities in great detail.

“She heard his crow calls and stopped her movement to listen to the forest. Jamel called two more times and silence. Her third-born brother, Domic, was much more patient and quiet. He was the kind of cat that would lie in wait for you to walk by before he’d pounce on you. She felt the summer breeze sweep through the trees and the tops swayed making the light in the forest dance. Still she waited for the slightest sound of movement. When she left her first-born brother on the ground, she had moved a little tangent to the point where she had heard his last call. She knew he had already moved, and she predicted he would move toward the inner parts of the arena. There the trees thinned until they opened up completely to form a loose circle around a small glade. Domic had long legs and could move faster when the trees were farther apart. They both knew this, and she knew he needed to get between him and the thinning trees,” (pgs. 18-19)

Kaniko, an Anitsiskwa adolescent (lioness), and her brothers Jamel and Domic are about to undergo their separate Rites of Passage to become Otokononeko adults. Just before the Rites, Kaniko meets Mathias, a wolf-humanoid. The felines have never seen a wolf before. Mathias has been injured in escaping whatever has captured him and his people, and the injury has given him amnesia. The Anitsiskwa decide that Kaniko’s Rite of Passage should be to go, with Mathias and with her two brothers, to find out who or what has “painfully” captured all the wolves and release them. Tomiroc and Sharri, two Otokononeko cousins from the Anikawi clan, join them.

They ask at the humans’ Institute of Synthetic Research in Fresno:

“His [Doctor Quinn] smile came back, and he asked, ‘So what can I do for you, do you need enhancements or modifications?’

A little surprised, Kaniko answered and gestured to Mathias. ‘No. We were hoping you could help us locate our friend’s origins. He has no memory of where he came from, only his name. There are no others like him near our home. His arrival is a mystery, and we thought, Fresno being the closest city, to start our search here.’

He looked at Mathias and back at the lioness that stood in front of him. He asked, ‘Hybrid or gene mod?’

Kaniko shrugged, ‘I… We don’t know. My parents and Mother Lacey thought he might be like us, a new species.’” (p. 124)

They learn that Mathias is a mod-human, a human-modified into a humanoid wolf at the genetic level – so he will breed true. That is an incredibly expensive process, and something that there should be a record of – unless it’s been deliberately hidden:

“Kaniko asked, ‘Why would anyone do this?’

Doctor Quinn answered, ‘That is the million credit question here. There are several fractured pieces of broken links in his DNA. They shouldn’t cause any problems, but it suggests that whatever was being done to him was not completed.’ He looked at the wolf and asked, ‘You’re incredibly strong, aren’t you?’


‘I think Mathias was purpose built.’

With her eyebrow whiskers raised, she asked, ‘For what?’

He took on a disturbed look and said, ‘It is spoken in some darker circles that the age-old practice of pitting animal against animal for amusement and gambling has taken on a whole new level of animal cruelty. It is reflective of what Lynn Leakey discovered in her own city more than fifteen years ago.’

Kaniko’s eyes widened, ‘You mean forcing children to fight in an arena?’

He nodded.” (p. 147)

Okay, that’s a major spoiler – that these three books aren’t about rescuing a clan of wolves, but about finding who has made a single wolf morph against his will. But that has to be revealed, or this review of the rest of Passages and all of City and Voices is going to be misleading. Also, Kaniko has taken this opportunity to ask Doctor Quinn if she and Mathias are compatible; if their children would be a blend of feline and lupine, or if they would be sterile. Now it looks like their children could be anything from feline and lupine to feline and human.

This takes the plot to about halfway through Rites of Passage. There are the conclusion of Rites, and all of City and Voices to go. There are plenty more surprises in the story. The three Passage novels (covers by Leanne Roach) are a fast-paced, ever-changing drama, with far more characters than the five Otokononeko and the one Ōkaminingen who set out to find Mathias’ origins.

Fred Patten

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