A Doemain of Our Own, Volle & Pendant of Fortune, Creatura, Fangs of K'aath II, Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult, and Dragon Champion

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2006 Fred Patten

Home -=- #7 -=- ANTHRO #7 Reviews
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A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of A DOEMAIN OF OUR OWN, by Susan Rankin
Title: A Doemain of Our Own (vol. 1)
Author: Susan Rankin
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Mar 2006
ISBN: none
Trade paperback, 128 pages, USD $12.95

   Hooray for Plan Nine Publishing! One by one, they are publishing book collections of most of the best comic strips that appear only on the Internet. Here is the first collection, long overdue, of Susan Rankin’s A Doemain of Our Own.
   ‘Sue Deer’ started this strip about her newlywed namesake, cartoonist/housewife Susan Buckland, and her computer programmer husband Eric, seven years ago. At the time it was supposed to be a slice-of-life comedy. It has remained slice-of-life, although Sue has had to work hard to find comedy in some of what fate has thrown at them. She has, which is why A Doemain of Our Own has become one of the most honestly heartwarming strips on the ‘Net.
   The slice-of-life stuff is intermixed with outright humorous fantasy adventure and with jokes based on the characters’ animal characteristics such as Eric’s antlers growing in, and Sue’s winter fur growing so thick she can trim it into a poodle cut; so there is plenty for all tastes. This ‘vol. 1’ (it says so only on the spine) collects the strips from the first, April 24, 1999, to July 31, 2002; usually two strips per page in Plan Nine’s familiar 7"x5" format. Not all the strips are here. Some of the earliest ones which were out of sequence have, probably wisely, been omitted; mostly Sue’s in-group ‘replies’ to then-current events in online MUCKs (which would be meaningless today), and her sarcastic opinions of movies she had just seen (with the movie characters drawn in, which could generate copyright problems). She quickly learned to tailor her strips to make them simultaneously topical, timeless, and safely generic, such as her 2002 commentary on seeing Attack of the Clones. However, one type of topical commentary which has fortunately been retained are the obituaries; Sue’s feelings on the passing of such cartoonists and animators as Charles Schulz, Jeff McNelly, William Hanna, and Dan DeCarlo. These emotional strips have given A Doemain of Our Own a poignancy missing in most other strips.
   Susan points out in her Introduction that she decided not to redraw her earliest strips. “I feel it is important to show humble beginnings. Everyone begins somewhere and, in the beginning, it’ll look like crap. That’s ok. It gives you a reference point for later progress.” The progress is fast; her art style goes from rough to polished in less than a year. An important change that Sue did make is to reletter all the speech balloons and captions in her early strips. You would not believe how much more attractive good lettering can make unchanged art (but if you want to find out, just compare the first strips in this volume with their counterparts in the Archives on the Internet website). Amazing! Thanks, Sue; it was well worth all the work you put into it. It should probably be noted that the book is in black-&-white, which means that the color is lost from the occasional strips which were in color on the Internet. That is too bad, but the color strips were few & far between, anyway, so the loss is not significant.
   Sue and Eric Buckland are introduced (with their five cats) as newlyweds moving into a suburb of Fillydelphia. There are getting-settled and meeting-the-neighbors jokes along with the deer-animalicity humor. Sue helps an old friend move to New Yak, resulting in both Big City putdowns and some mildly raunchy girl-talk. “When are we going to start a family?” jokes abruptly become unfunny when Sue has serious gynecological problems. Eric becomes a computer programmer at Sentience, Inc., leading to the main fantasy-adventure sequence in which co-worker Dan Furvine (ferret) is crawling through the building’s drop-ceiling to install new wiring, is captured by the army of a rat kingdom, sentenced to death by Queen Futura, and saved by Princess Zapf. There is lots of Northeastern humor about hot-&-sticky summers and cold-&-snowy winters, with an emphasis on how these affect deer. Sue’s eye surgery is turned into ‘deer caught in the headlights’ jokes. Sue’s parents are a deer father and a cougar mother, which does not seem important when they are introduced but may be significant in the sequence that starts just as the book ends, in which Sue seems to be developing feline tendencies. Hurry with vol. 2, please.

The A DOMAIN OF OUR OWN comicstrip for 9 March 2001
The A Doemain of Our Own strip for 9 Mar 2001

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of VOLLE, by Kyell Gold
Title: Volle
Author: Kyell Gold
Illustrator: Sara Palmer
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jan 2005
ISBN: 0-9712670-8-1
Trade paperback, viii + 317 pages, USD $19.95

Cover of PENDANT OF FORTUNE, by Kyell Gold

Title: Pendant of Fortune
Author: Kyell Gold
Illustrator: Sara Palmer
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jan 2006
ISBN: 0-9769212-3-5
Trade paperback, xi + 303 pages, USD $19.95

Notice on the publishers’ website: Volle is a romance novel intended for an adult audience only and contains some explicit sexual scenes of a primarily Male/Male nature. It is not for sale to persons under the age of 18.

   Kyell Gold explicitly describes Volle in his Author’s Note as ‘anthropomorphic gay erotica’. It and Pendant of Fortune are also arguably the best anthropomorphic novels yet written. The writing is of high quality; literary yet naturalistic, never becoming esoteric or pedantic. The setting is a well-thought-out, detailed anthropomorphic civilization in which species characteristics such as scenting are major plot elements. The homoerotic subplot in Volle (which ranges from lyrical to unpleasantly brutal) becomes the key to the murder mystery in Pendant of Fortune, where its anthropomorphic nature is especially important. Readers must decide for themselves whether the very strong homoerotic theme is to their tastes; but these novels are too well-written to be simply ignored.
   Volle (rhymes with ‘wall’) is a young red fox in a multispecies early 19th-century civilization dominated by the neighboring unfriendly kingdoms of Ferrenis and Tephos. Born on the border but raised in Ferrenis, he is trained as a spy due to his intelligence and aptitude, despite doubts caused by his casual attitude toward authority and his blatant homosexual nature. When Intelligence picks up rumors of a plot against Ferrenis, Volle is reluctantly sent into Tephos as the only spy capable of passing as the lost heir of a long-dead red fox nobleman, which (it is hoped) will gain him entry to its royal palace and enable him to socialize among its top ministers.
   Here are some examples of Gold’s detailed descriptions. Volle and fellow spies Reese (hare) and Seir (mouse) are on their way to Tephos’ capital city, Divalia:

   As they emerged from the woods late in the third day, they saw the land rise up ahead of them, and got their first view of the land of Tephos. The mountains rolled gently across the landscape, lower, softer, and greener than the Red Mountains of Ferrenis. This was the northern edge of the range; to their left, the mountains stretched away southward. To the north, they subsided into rolling hills and then flatter farmland.
   The open area the carriage was now entering sloped down to a river valley across a grassy plain. The river wound in tight curves through the plain, but to the north, where it fed the farmland, it widened and ran straighter. Volle studied the river with indifference. He could see a building where the road met the river, and supposed that would be the inn where they were staying, and the border post into Tephos.
   “The Otrine,” Seir said, leaning past him to look at the river.
   “I know. And those are the Ancient Hundred.” He indicated the mountains with his muzzle. “How closely guarded is the border?”
   “Here? Not much. We're still going to use the disguise for you, though.”
(pg 14)

   A detail from Volle’s first royal banquet at the palace in Divalia:

   There were, by his quick count, about a hundred place settings at the table. They were filling in rapidly, as each guest entered, paid his or her respects to the royal couple, and were seated. He looked curiously to see whether the herbivores had their own section. At the Academy, they'd been seated at a separate table, because the smell of meat made some of them ill. Here, he noticed deer and goats sitting beside bobcats and wolves. Either it didn't bother the nobles here, or they had gotten used to it. (pgs. 41-42)

   Volle later prepares for a private dinner party:

   After the brushing, Welcis [Volle’s personal attendant, a skunk] brought out a scented powder, more expensive than the common powder used in the baths, and brushed Volle lightly with it. It smelled of lavender, but the scent was so light that even Volle's sensitive nose had trouble detecting it further than a few inches away. The powder absorbed some of the moisture from his fur and neutralized most of the strong smell it gave off. It was considered impolite to conceal your scent, but foxes, mustelids, and other strong-smelling animals often muted theirs at formal occasions, out of consideration for others. (pg. 120)

   Volle attends services at the cathedral of the Panbestian Orthodox Church, in which each of the six Houses (Canid, Felid, Ursid, Mustelid, Rodent, and Herbivore) under Gaia, the Great Mother, have their own priesthoods:

   Volle sang more confidently with the services now. Even though Fox wasn't mentioned by name here, he held Fox in his heart and knew that his prayers to Canis were heard by Fox as well. He joined in the song at the end confidently, and ended the service suffused with a feeling of protection and well-being.
   The Canids and Herbivores had been placed together at the end, so Volle had to look around to find the Felid Cantor, a slender bobcat. It wasn't until the cathedral was mostly empty that he spotted him talking to another bobcat, a noble Volle didn't recognize. He walked over and waited patiently until the noble was finished and left.
   “Yes, my brother's cub?” The bobcat turned peaceful eyes on him.
   “Father's brother,” Volle said respectfully, ‘I wonder if I might ask you a favor.’
   “If it is within my power to grant, I will be delighted to help. But why not ask Cantor Juvicius?” He indicated the coyote who was the Canid Cantor, walking back towards the back of the cathedral.
(pgs. 177-178)

   Gardens, churches, inns, and other establishments are all described in great depth, with frequent comments on the richness (and importance) of the scents as well as the sights to the animal populace. The first half of Volle, describing Volle’s settling into social life of Tephos’ nobility, has the lush indolence of a Furry Regency romance. The second half swings over into politics and espionage. Volle makes a mistake with shockingly fatal consequences to his friends. While he tries to redeem himself, a personal enemy accuses him of treason at the Tephosian court, threatening both his mission and his life.
   There is a jarring and major plot leap between Volle and Pendant of Fortune. The latter opens six years later with Volle, traumatized, back in Ferrenis with a new gay lover, Streak the white wolf. This is because Gold originally created both Volle and Streak for a novella, The Prisoner’s Release, serialized during 2004 in the first two issues of Heat. Instead of incorporating it into one of the other books, Gold then wrote Volle as a prelude and Pendant of Fortune as a sequel. Readers frustrated by the discontinuity will be able to find the missing story when Sofawolf Press publishes Gold’s collection The Prisoner’s Release and Other Stories, in January 2007.
   Pendant of Fortune is a murder mystery. Volle had become a respected Tephosian noble after the events in the first novel, marrying and fathering a cub (despite his sexual preferences) to continue his line. The events in The Prisoner’s Release threw his estate into disgrace. Volle feels a responsibility to his mate and child to redeem the Vinton family name, so when a trusted friend assures him that he can be cleared of the weak charges against him if he will testify in person at his hearing, he and Streak return to Divalia. Volle’s exoneration is undercut by a murder for which Streak is immediately imprisoned. Volle is faced with the choice of returning to safely in Ferrenis by abandoning Streak, or remaining to try to free his lover, thereby giving his old enemy time to frame new crimes against him. It is always clear to Volle and to the reader who the real killer is. The mystery is how he is committing the murders, and planting seemingly irrefutable evidence against Volle and Streak.
   Volle is the winner of the 2005 Ursa Major Award for Best Anthropomorphic Novel of the year. The award is deserved, but readers should not be misled by this G-rated review into forgetting that these are both adult-only graphically homoerotic novels.

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of CREATURA, by Paul Lucas
Title: Creatura
Author: Paul Lucas
Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory (Amherst Junction, WI), Jul 2005
ISBN: 0-7599-3948-9
Trade paperback, 244 pages, USD $12.95

   Shana (Rakshana Feles) is a Felinoid Creatura, one of the animal people that were bioengineered to replace humans during the last desperate decade before humanity became extinct in the Great Pandemic of the mid 21st century. It is 300 years later, and Shana makes her living as a relic hunter, searching the ruined human cities for valuable artifacts that she can sell in the new Creatura civilization of the 24th century.
   Usually, anyway. This time Shana has joined the mercenary company of Roadkill (Faanr Chien). Roadkill, an old friend from Shana’s time in the Militia, is a scraggly brown-furred Lupinoid who is a bitch in the roughest sense of the word; a tough commando who does not mind operating outside the law, but is not totally without ethics. Roadkill is hired to waylay and scare off a scholarly expedition en route to the ruins of the University of Buffalo. Unfortunately, Roadkill’s anonymous employers really do not want any survivors. She, Shana, and their Felinoid medic/computer expert Twilight find this out the hard way when the merc Frostbite and his pals kill the other mercs and boast of how they have been paid to double-cross her. Roadkill and Shana are supposed to live only long enough to be gang-raped, but Shana kills one of the Lupinoids with her own commando skills and helps her friends escape. The novel follows Shana, Twilight. Roadkill, and their new ally Ulex Baker (an Ursoid) as they race ahead of Frostbite’s killers to find the ancient computer disk that was Professor Musteldae’s goal, and try to decrypt it while hiding after they are framed throughout the Creatura Coalition for the slaughter of the Professor and his friends.
   Creatura is full of the action and violent drama associated with PG13- and R-rated movie thrillers. It is well-enough written, though the plot is mostly formulaic. What is really imaginative and interesting are the history and descriptions of the Creatura society dropped into the action in bits and pieces. A description by Shana of herself:

   I looked at my own features, reflected in the glass, […] Angular, half-feline head, topped with triangular ears and a high-arcing Mohawk brush of black and gold stripes that merged into a flowing pony-tail. A small muzzle radiating whiskers, terminating in a small, glossy black nose. Green, slitted eyes. The striped fur which covered me from head to toe was matted and tangled with the sweat and grime from our flight. (pgs. 42-43)

   Sweat has already been covered by this point:

   The humans who created the Creatura, as revered as they were, did make one universally-acknowledged mistake: they gave us fur and sweat glands. […] We all knew the humans’ sense of smell wasn’t that great, but still, what were they thinking? (pg. 18)

   Her tail appears in a scene where she and Twilight find an ancient clothing store with some well-preserved human dresses:

   Within minutes I had the dress wrapped around my body and was admiring myself in the mirror. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it wasn’t a bad one, either. The biggest problem was my tail, which I had to curl around my leg so it wouldn’t flip up the back of the skirt. (pg. 50)

   Twilight is genetically engineered from a dark gray-furred housecat, but it is not clear whether Shana is from a tiger-striped housecat or from a tiger itself. The species names cover all variations within that species:

   Like all Lupinoids, [Frostbite] possessed an angular wolf’s head, made proportionally bigger than nature intended to support an enlarged bioengineered brain. He walked upright, like all Creatura, but stood with a slight stoop to compensate for the digitigrade stance unique to his race. A bushy tail poked out of his fatigues just below his belt. He clutched his assault rifle hard in three-fingered hand to contain his boiling rage. (pg. 7)

   It seems plausible to bioengineer Lupinoids from wolves and large dogs, but late in the story Phreak appears:

   Phreak was a short-furred, constantly-shaking Chihuahua of a Lupinoid […] (pg. 199)

   Does this Chihuahua also have a wolf’s head? How much use would a humanoid Chihuahua be, anyway? As Shana says earlier, what were the humans thinking?
   There is an offhand comment that the humans bioengineered only thirteen species of Creatura before becoming extinct. Less than half have roles in this story—Lupinoids, Felinoids, Ursoids, Myotans, Sciurans. and Lapines—with others like the Vulpines and Equinoids only mentioned in passing. Another major character, Griffon, is a GENI (Genetically Enhanced Natural Intelligence) dog; a slobbery hound with human-level intelligence.
   The first Creatura emerged in Boston, bioengineered at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the beginning of the ‘year of the Six Billion Martyrs’. The last scientists lived long enough to educate humanity’s successors. The Creatura spent their first century building up a stable population base, and their second century sending expeditions around the world to search (without success) for any surviving humans. Now they are ready to repopulate the world, starting from the East Coast of North America on a planned enclave (city)-by-enclave basis:

   After three centuries, the Creatura had grown into a population of five to six million, depending on which figure of the number of unregistered sooner colonies one believed. It was enough to sustain a reasonable facsimile of an advanced industrial society in the thirteen enclaves and allow for a modest rate of expansion. (pg. 59)

   The ‘sooners’ are those Creatura who do not wait for their Coalition of City-States government to officially expand into another city, but start an illegal colony in one of the numerous empty towns, which after 300 years have mostly rotted into dangerous deathtraps. Coalition society has modeled itself upon the human civilization in the cities they are reclaiming, whether for religious reasons—many are members of the Humanist faith who revere their departed creators—or just to take advantage of all the cultural artifacts they have inherited. Shana’s Sciuran friend Zen in the Montreal enclave owns a bar:

   Zen’s Place was a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It said so on the faded sign in the window. Zen got the quote from some old human flatvid and liked it so much he made it the bar’s catch-phrase. He even had it printed on all the napkins. (pg. 109)

   Opposed to this practice are the Go-Backs who believe that they should go back to nature “and not borrow everything from the dead human civilization and culture.” (pg. 153) This attitude is most popular with the bat-derived Myotans, who, because of their delicate build and large wings, are the least able to use human artifacts. (Only their small children are light enough to fly, and then only without restricting clothing, so all Myotans have grown up with a casual attitude toward nudity.)
   Many more details of this world are embedded in Shana and her friends’ running quest through ambushes, betrayals and firefights to learn the secret of the humans’ lost Project Mausoleum which Frostbite and his goons, and their unknown but seemingly all-powerful employers, are eager to kill for.
   The book does have some of the annoying flaws typical of vanity/print-on-demand publishers. Sentences abruptly
   jump to new paragraphs like this. There are grammatical errors and misspellings that an editor at an established publisher should have corrected, notably the frequent references to guass rifles and pistols. (“Guass weapons are the most powerful personal firearms ever developed. The small, four-gram, needle-like bullets scream through the air at over 5000 meters per second.” Etc.; pg. 222. Gauss guns are well-enough known that this misspelling should have been easily caught. See “Coilguns in science fiction” in the “Coilgun” entry on Wikipedia for a quick briefing.) But these are minor flaws in a generally well-written novel. Whether you like the complex Furry background or the fast-paced gritty action, Creatura is a good read.

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of FANGS OF K'AATH II, by Paul Kidd
Title: Fangs of Kaath II: Guardians of Light
Author: Paul Kidd
Illustrator: Monika Livingstone
Publisher: United Publications (Keston, Kent, UK), Jan 2006
ISBN: 0-9537847-1-1
Trade Paperback, 337 pages, USD $17.99/Brit £11.99

   Kidd’s Arabian-Nights Fangs of K’aath (United Publications, April 2000 though serialized in fanzines almost ten years earlier) was one of the first novels from the new Furry specialty publishers. Now Kidd has followed it up with the further adventures of Shah Raschid of Osra (jackal), Sandhri the storyteller (wingless bat), Yariim the dancer and Itbit the gamin (mice), and their friends; plus many new friends—and enemies.
   Kidd has created one of the most poetically satisfying rationales for a world of anthropomorphized animals. To quote the opening of one of Sandhri’s parables (in her Hill Country accent):

   “Long ago, after Adamah and Ewah left the garden of Eden, many off the animals also ate from the Tree of Life. The bats persuaded the others, and so t’ey all came to eat the sacred fruit. Everything v’ith fur and paws came scuttling up the tree to take part of the power that had made Adamah and Ewah lords of the Earth.
   “Still! Some animals missed out on the whole experience! The hooved animals and the fish could not climb the tree, and the birds slept late and missed the whole affair. The insects v’ere perfectly happy as they v’ere, and also refused to eat from the tree. But the other animals changed and grew. T’ey rose up onto two feet, and they knew lust and fear, passion and glory. But t’ey also knew love, and for this, God treasured t’em even though t’ey had disobeyed his command.
   “God could not release t’ese new Peoples of the Tree onto the Earth, and so he made a new v’orld for them, ‘Aku Mashad’. A gate v’as opened, and all the animals who had eaten of the tree v’ere sent forth from Eden to found new lives.”
(pg. 14)

   This is why canines, felines, ursines, mustelids, rodents, and most other non-hooved mammals became humanoid and of comparable size for a joint civilization, but not the beasts of burden.
   Six years have passed since Shah Raschid secured the throne of Osra with his friends’ aid in the first novel. (FK II is complete in itself; familiarity with FK I is not needed.) Osra with its capital city of Sath have become paradises of the Middle East:

   Sath’s streets were paved with stone and lined with trees. Besides the gates, huge fountains offered rest and drink and shade to every weary traveler. The tall buildings were latticed with covered balconies, shaded by awnings and filled with restless, brilliant life.
   The market crowds headed into the great open squares of Sath. Jugglers and balancing acts performed for the crowds. A huge puppet theater entertained an enthralled throng of children, all of whom had fresh-scrubbed faces and a little loaf of bread.
(pg. 8)

   The description goes on at length. To summarize, Shah Raschid provides for the poor and has established hospitals and orphanages. He enforces religious tolerance so all Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and others may live in harmony. He is building schools and universities, and has generally created a Civilization of Light. The beggar-girl Sandhri and the harem dancer Yariim, who became best friends in FK I, are both Raschid’s wives and Queens of Osra in a joyous and open ménage à trois, and Sandhri is expecting:

   “I’m pregnant.”
   The mouse stared at her in shock, in joy. Silently, worshipfully, she drew Sandhri against herself. Their hands clenched tight—the grip had a silent, perfect joy. Yariim kissed Sandhri’s belly and laid her face against her silky-soft fur. Her fingers clenched into Sandhri’s backside.
   She held Sandhri tight, sure she could feel the life inside her. Caressing her, the mouse lifted up her face, her eyes bright with tears.
   Hybrid children were rare—so rare that they were spawned only by true love. Rare enough that it had been impossible to hope.
(pg. 52)

   Unfortunately, not all Aku-Mashad is as enlightened as Osra. To the north lie the steppes, the home of nomad warriors and the independent cities along the Silk Road connecting the Yellow Empire of the far east to the Frankish kingdoms of the far west. And recently a warlord, the Tsu-Khan (arctic fox), has risen among the nomads, whose goal is to conquer the whole world in as cruel a manner as possible:

   And now, the last of the City States had fallen. Hadat—the treasure house of the Steppes. The storehouse that would buy more soldiers, more blades, more arrows. All the strength of the ages would be needed to drive the great vision onwards toward glory.
   Hadat died as a blood sacrifice to the purity of that vision. It had rebelled against him, refusing its tribute—and now it died as a lesson in terror. Half a million inhabitants had dwelled within the city by the wells. By the end of the night, half a million corpses would lie splayed across the grass.
   The soldiers were at work. A hundred thousand men could liquidate entire populations in a single night. Each man had a quota of five heads to reap. Each officer made sure his men brought in their trophies for the count.
(pg. 23)

   The Tsu-Khan’s gory empire is far from Osra, and he could strike next to the east or to the west as much as to the south; but since his goal is to dominate the whole world he will march south eventually. Raschid, a peaceful scholar-king, must decide whether to remain at peace for as long as possible and hope for the best, or to mobilize sooner and support Osra’s neighbors before Tsu-Khan’s empire grows larger and stronger. But Tsu-Khan is already plotting to weaken the distant lands which he is not ready to attack directly yet. His plans to neutralize Osra involve the two Queens and Rashid’s unborn heir.
   Over half of FK II involves bloody battles between the armies of the anthropomorphic equivalents of the Mongol Hordes, the Chinese Empire, the early Russian kingdoms, the Crusaders (who have decided that Rashid is the prophesied Prester John), and of course the Muslim East at its height of Arabic culture. There is plenty of sorcery as well, since Tsu-Khan is actually an undead necromancer whose goal is to destroy both Aku-Mashad and our Earth in the guise of conquering them. The scheming and counter-scheming is clever enough that more details cannot be given without giving away too much; but in general FK II is great fun.
   Fun? Yes, in the tradition of the old cliffhanger movie serials or the James Bond movies. No matter how desperate the dangers that Rashid, Sandhri, Yariim, Itbit and the other heroes keep being thrust into, the reader is never in doubt that they will get out of them safely. And like the old movie serials that casually included tigers among Africa’s wild animals, Kidd’s florid pulp prose contains several eyebrow-raisers. “They were led by two cat-people; leopards with a rangy, limber build. The male was a young man with jet black fur, faintly marked with darker spots.” (pg. 45) What is darker than jet black? One of the new good guys is a panda scholar from the Yellow Empire, Tsau-yi Meng, called Sixteen-Volume Meng because of the sixteen books of Oriental learning that he brings to Osra. Aside from the incongruity of placing of the patronymic last (a very recent Western-style practice) in a story set in Aku-Mashad’s equivalent of the 13th century, Meng introduces himself as: “I am Sixteen-Volume Meng, of the family Tsau-yi.” (pg. 36) Nope. If Kidd wants to pretend that Chinese given names and family names are reversed in Aku-Mashad, he should have said so. Occasional errors like these do not really interrupt the flow of an enjoyable Furry pulp-style melodrama on a vast scale of tens of thousands of armored, sword-waving bears and tigers and foxes and jackals and red pandas and raccoon-dogs and other European and Asiatic mammals. (Kidd does properly omit any North American mammals.)
   FK II has 27 chapters, each introduced by an illustration by Monika Livingstone. The art is very good, but it would be better if it did not show the fuzzy pixelization of too-obviously downloaded computer files. Very-good art should be given better reproduction quality.

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of MILK TREADING (1st ed.), by Nick Smith
Author: Nick Smith
Publisher: Luath Press Ltd. (Edinburgh)

Title: Milk Treading, 1st edition (May 2002)
ISBN: 0-946487-75-8
Trade paperback, 196 pages, UK£9.99/USD $19.95

Cover of MILK TREADING (2nd ed.), by Nick Smith

Title: Milk Treading, 2nd revised edition (May 2003)
ISBN: 1-84282-037-0
Trade paperback, 246 pages, UK£6.99/USD $12.95

Cover of THE KITTY KILLER CULT, by Nick Smith

Title: The Kitty Killer Cult (Oct 2004)
ISBN: 1-84282-039-7
Trade paperback, 192 pages, UK£9.99/USD $13.95

   My thanks to Roz Gibson for calling my attention to these two Scottish anthropomorphic novels.

   In the gritty feline city of Bast, Julius Kyle is a former writer of popular thrillers whose talent ran out a decade ago. Since then he has survived as a crime reporter at The Scratching Post. Julius has been drifting into creative burnout, until the suicide of his best friend among the Post’s reporters shocks him awake. Determining to finish Mick McClough’s last assignment as a tribute to him—an investigation into a developing rumble between Bast’s rival gangs, the Wildcats and the Clutes—Julius discovers that his editor, Morris Erson, considers him a has-been, only worth keeping for the value of his past reputation. Julius’ journalist girlfriend Camilla also doubts his ability to get the story, while the attitude of the police boils down to ‘so let the punks kill each other off. Who cares?’ But when the lovely white-furred Moira Marti—“statuesque and porcelain-white. She had curved pink strokes shaved into her fur at patterned intervals, rippling as she moved.” (1st ed., pg. 17)—begs him to get her kid brother out of the deadly gangs before it is too late, Julius’ creativity comes to life. He is inspired to both resurrect his fictional P.I., Tiger Straight, in a new novel, and to turn himself into a real-life Tiger Straight by uncovering the link between the gang bosses, the dog slums, City Hall, and Bast’s religious leaders. Julius’ discovery, and his determination to keep it from being covered up, blows the city apart in a bloody ‘night of long claws’.
   Luath Press quotes a review in the Las Vegas Mercury that, Milk Treading is equal parts Watership Down, Animal Farm and The Big Sleep.” Emphasize the comparison to Chandler and throw in Dashiell Hammett. As in their novels, almost everybody is no damn good, trying to use Julius or the gang warfare as fall guys for their own agendas.
   The frequent descriptions of the feline metropolis of Bast are what make Milk Treading more than just a formulaic hard-boiled thriller with everyone wearing cat or dog suits:

   The city created a heat trap, the surrounding skyscrapers acting like huge breeze blocks protecting the citizens from the gales beyond. Conditioning fans the size of a ship’s propellers blew cool air across the streets, lest the cats fall asleep in a sunpatch halfway to work. When the fans failed or the summer was at its height, the cats’ fur matted with sweat and they spent more time washing themselves than working at their desks. Some blamed the city builders for poor planning; others were happy to be sheltered from the harsh winds outside Bast. The city was older than history; no one knew who’d built it. (1st ed., pg. 67; 2nd ed., pg. 81)

   Tarquin was used to receiving abuse. He was asking for it. He was stuck-up, well spoken, reedy, and an Abyssinian. A rare caste in the city of Bast, Abyssinians had been mistreated by other breeds since their integration. Most had taken low-level jobs deep in the bowels of the metropolis; Tarquin was the exception. Private secretary, advisor, confidant to Otto, the mayor of Bast. (1st ed., pg. 14; 2nd ed., pg. 18)

   Julius was passed a tall yellow menu, the waiter remaining a leg’s length away from the diners at all times. Camilla grabbed the menu as quickly as etiquette would allow and sniffed it appreciatively, reading it with her nose. She licked at one section, a brief taste test that helped her to make up her mind.
“Help yourselves to the smorgasbord.”
Camilla was at the buffet before her partner. Over her shoulder, he saw something moving among the salad and dressing. The food was alive. The table was laden with small rats, mice and insects, trapped in tubs and bread rolls. The Grand Canary was a swanky place, but the smorgasbord was a free-for-all, cats grabbing their food with paws or teeth before it could escape.”
(1st ed., pgs. 19-20; 2nd ed., pgs. 23-24)

   Beneath his desk the floor rumbled steadily. In the basement lurked the printing presses, cranking out the early edition, hundreds of tiny nozzles spraying scents onto the newspapers; sensational aromas to accompany the text. By the time the scents dried, the papers would be bundled up and ready to ship out for the public to smell. (1st ed., pg. 27; 2nd ed., pg. 33)

   When Julius dusts off his fictional hero, Tiger Straight, for a new novel, The Kitty Killer Cult, he tries to make it real literature, more serious than his previous potboilers. This gets it ripped apart by the establishment for daring to criticize the feline status quo. The socialite mother of lion mayor Otto Canders is invited to review it on a TV talk show:

   “Nothing less than a disgrace,” was Bridget’s opinion of the book. “The sort of narrow-minded, anti-establishment liberal claptrap that leads to decadence and corruption. Now, I don’t hold with the kind of sensationalist violence this author’s previous books revel in, but at least they had simple, solid villains to teach youngsters patriotism. We all need someone to hate. It brings the group together.”
   “This is the first time cats have been presented as bad guys,” Swampie pointed out. “Is that your problem?”
   “Don’t know, I haven’t read the book. But I’ve heard enough about it to be sure that it shouldn’t be in the stores, within easy reach of tots.”
   “You’re saying you’d prefer impressionable kittens to grow up hating dogs and wolves, rather than learning that cats are also capable of being a threat to them?” (1st ed., pgs. 119-120; 2nd ed., pgs. 147-148)

   Both editions of Milk Treading are currently in print. Judging by an admittedly superficial comparison, the only difference seems to be that the second edition has been reset in larger type for easier reading.
   Milk Treading has been successful enough that Nick Smith has followed it up with The Kitty Killer Cult for real.
   In Nub City (very like Bast), somebody is killing cats apparently at random. When the four Hant brothers, vermin exterminators, are offed with their own pesticide, their sister Connie wants famous P.I. Tiger Straight to find their murderer. She hasn’t any money, but Tiger is past his prime and hasn’t worked in a long time (in fact, he’s just been evicted), so he takes the case and moves in with Connie as his payment.
   Tiger calls back his former secretary, Natasha ‘Bug’ Lindsay, to help him. Their investigation is soon cluttered by two rival detectives. Cole Tiddle is a millionaire dilettante who solves crimes as his hobby, so his interest seems natural; nobody knows that he has been blackmailed to take this case. Inspector Bix Mortis is the policeman who has to solve the murders because it’s his job. Mortis is also a mouse, the token rodent on Nub City’s police force; nobody knows that crooked Chief Inspector Bowyer wants the investigation to fail. The final dame is Jo Madrigal, a makeup artist at the TV studio where producer Joel Venet is one of the victims of the Kitty Killer Cult. Three detectives, three dames -- and at the conclusion only three survivors.
   The additional descriptions of Julius Kyle’s world makes it clear that the animals are realistic except for their ability to talk and wear clothes. Tiger Straight is past middle age:

   He could feel himself growing older by the hour, by the minute. Each morning he would check his face in the bathroom mirror, find a new white hair or a wrinkle on one of his pads. He was twelve years old—he could kick the bucket at any time. His brother had dropped dead at the age of ten. Tiger wondered why cats bothered to build anything when their life was so short. (pg. 104)

   [Straight’s father, Ike] was only a year older than his son yet he seemed as ancient as a peat bog. (pg. 110)

   When the only witness to cat farmer Scrumpy Dean’s murder is his cow Nut, Bix Mortis orders her to stick close to him for safety. Smith milks the humorous imagery of a mouse protecting a cow for all it’s worth:

   If it was for her protection, there were safer places to be than the [police] station. Cut throats and scoundrels with more guts than a violin wandered in every day, and that was just the cops. Mouse had left her in his office several times as he followed up lines of enquiry—a drowned kitten, a missing surgeon. She saw how wary he was around cats, scampering past them, nose atwitch. It took big balls to work for the police force whatever species you were. (pg. 123)

   [Bix] was unable to reach the windows. Many other things in his office constantly reminded him of his titchy stature. He used a miniature stepladder to reach the seat behind his desk. (pg. 126)

   Ultimately these descriptions only call attention to Smith’s inconsistencies. If the animals are all physically realistic, how would they don clothing? If cats can be parents at one year old and are elderly at thirteen, then mice should be dead of old age before they could achieve any employment seniority. But if you don’t read these too deeply, Julius Kyle’s animal world is a colorful one.
   Nick Smith is reportedly writing his third Julius Kyle novel, Isle of Dogs. According to his bio in The Kitty Killer Cult, Smith has also appeared in a stage version of Milk Treading.

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Cover of DRAGON CHAMPION, by E. E. Knight
Title: Dragon Champion (The Age of Fire, Book One)
Author: E. E. Knight
Publisher: Roc/New American Library (NYC), Dec 2005
ISBN: 0-451-46047-2
Trade Paperback, 371 pages, USD $14.00

   This Tolkienish novel does an excellent job of presenting dragons as sentient, talking predators. Imagine if lions could talk and figure out strategy. Due to their carnivorous nature, they might be forced to eat humans or prey on humans’ domesticated livestock. But they would also be able to negotiate with humans, to offer their services as guards in exchange for being fed. Knight’s tale follows the dragon AuRon in his adventures among the animals, elves, dwarves, humans, blighters (roughly a cross between dwarves and humans) and finally other dragons in this equivalent of Middle Earth.
   The nature of dragons is presented in colorfully dramatic detail. Dragons live through three broad stages: hatchlings, from their emergence from their eggs until they develop the ability to breathe fire; drakes, until their wings grow out; and dragons once they can fly. (Their names are not accented on the second syllable until they become dragons; hence AuRon is only Auron for the first two-thirds of the story.)
   Auron is born as one of five hatchlings of a pair of dragons who are apparently the last of their kind in the Red Mountains of Hypat (as shown in a frontispiece map). His earliest activities are purely instinctual:

   He had only just discovered a new world in the slow awakening, one so different from the muted patterns and colors, muffled echoes and stale tastes of the old. He had been snug in his dark little space, drowsing and dreaming, when sharp, cracking noises had woken him. He’d suddenly hated the enclosure in which he’d floated for so long. Instinctively, he tried to uncurl his long neck. He had jerked his chin upward, feeling the growth on his nose strike the inner surface of the hard cocoon. Three more taps, and the shell had cracked. (pg. 3)

   The three male hatchlings instinctually attack each other, so only the most fit should survive. This should not be Auron since he is ‘only’ a rare, scaleless gray rather than a hardier, scaled red or bronze or copper dragon (all the females are green). But grays have advantages as well as disadvantages. They are free from the hunger for metals necessary to grow scales, and they are less dominated by their instincts which makes them more intelligent fighters. His father comments:

   “Grays are different, my son. It means you must be careful: your skin will be pierced more easily. But on the other sii, having no hunger for gems and gold will allow you to live in the Upper World and far from men if you wish. Other dragons must seek heavy metals out in the Lower World, where there are dwarves and blighters to deal with—or steal it from men or elves above.” (pg. 20)

   This review could be overly filled with just the details of the dragons’ natural history. Briefly, Auron and one sister are the only survivors when his parents are attacked by dwarf slavers. They are separated, and Auron has several individual adventures while in his hatchling and drake phases. The most ’morphic of these is when he briefly joins a wolf pack. It is a dragon’s nature to understand the ‘languages’ of other animals:

   The howling at night fascinated him. The wolves told each other stories, claimed territory, negotiated hunting rights, and prayed to the Moon for game and healthy offspring all at the same time.
   “My pup Deep-Eyes Feather-Tail made his first kill todayyyyyyyyyy, O My Cousiiiiiins!” a faraway voice called.
Honor and Praaaaaise!” a distant pack answered.
   Blackhard could stand it no more. He stood, crossing his front legs on a stone to elevate his head. “Hard-Legs Black-Bristle, last of Dawn Roarers heeeere! I hunt with an Outsider, one who spared my life and the life of my pack, and asked to hunt with meeeeee. This Outsider is a drake named Aurrrrooooon!”
    ‘Whaaaaaaaat?” came many cries from afar, as the forest wolves took in the news. Consternation broke out as others spread the word.
   “You call your name, Auron, there’s a good wolf,” Blackhard said.
   “You mean howl?”
   “Yes. You speak the tongue well enough. Just make it good and loud.”
(pg. 96)

   Auron’s goals during his wanderings are to be reunited with his sister Wistala, and to discover why dragons—such almost indestructibly deadly beasts—are on the verge of becoming extinct. One obvious reason is that all the hominid species are hunting them. Dragons may be superior to all others in one to one battles, but dragons are hostile to each other while elves, humans and others work together in hunting parties to slay dragons. Despite his growing strength, Auron’s meetings with the various hominid dragon hunters are little more than a series of narrow escapes, until he meets the dwarf trader Djer:

   “Remember what I said about money? We pay our way east, rather than fight through the Ironriders. Bribes. Hiring guards. There’s a money wagon that we pay expenses out of. Usually we guard it with strong warriors, men hired at great cost. Funny how trustworthiness costs more than muscle. A dragon would be better. Ideal for you. You’d have nothing to do but ride with the treasure and look fearsome whenever we open it to pay the Steppe Kings. You’d eat rich and travel in style. What say you, Auron?” Djer finished a sausage and tossed Auron another. (pg. 128)

   Auron learns to work alongside dwarves and humans as equals, thanks to Djer’s loyalty despite several episodes of treachery and anti-dragon prejudice from others. But eventually Auron returns to his personal quest, now searching for the legendary black dragon NooMoahk who is said to know the secret of a fatal dragon weakness. After many years and further adventures in the wilderness, AuRon (now in his full dragonhood) learns that humans have begun a war of extermination against all other hominids, using enslaved dragons among their shock troops:

   “Hominids killing each other off, even in race war, is nothing new. I know your history.”
   Hischhein shook his head. “This is not a kingdom or two. This is war on a scale never before seen. From the rolling ocean to the west to the myriad isles to the east, he
[the Wyrmmaster] means to clear the land for the sons and daughters of men. Elves, dwarves, blighters, and yes, I believe even dragons are to be swept away.”
   “I thought he used dragons.”
   “He does,” Hazeleye said. “As slaves. As warhorses. The dragons he has have no more free will than … than …”
(pg. 282)

   AuRon’s climactic adventure is to infiltrate the Wyrmmaster’s human-supremacist stronghold on the Isle of Ice, maybe to sabotage him but certainly to learn his secret of controlling masses of dragons who should be savagely fighting each other. Dragon Champion ends with a definite conclusion, not a cliffhanger, but there will be further adventures since Dragon Avenger, Book Two of The Age of Fire, has been announced for December 2006 release.
   Dragon Champion should not be passed up by anyone who enjoys High Fantasy adventure. That its hero is a non-human talking, flying, fire-breathing, four-legged warrior is a bonus for ’morph fans.

A Doemain of Our Own Volle & Pendant of Fortune Creatura Fangs of K’aath II Milk Treading & The Kitty Killer Cult Dragon Champion

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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