Fables of Ismeddin by E.Hoffman Price

ismed

 

I have a friend who is a huge fan of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle of writers and after discussing recent books we had read I recommended Karl Wagner to him and his counter recommendation was Edgar Hoffman Price, who had cowritten a story with Lovecraft.

Another Golden Age writer I have never heard of and one that seemed very prolific. I looked at a number of his offerings online and decided on the Fables of Ismeddin MEGAPACK from Amazon. I was a bit worried that the stories might have a strong racist tinge to them as some of Lovecraft’s do. I did not find that to be so. In many of the stories there are no real ‘heros’ in that there is some evil in all, but often it is the westerner that is the worst, such as in Well of the Angels.

There are a number of reoccurring characters and story styles, starting with the title character Ismeddin, a Kurdish holy man that is called a Darvish, an alternate spelling for dervish. Ismeddin is only in about half of the tales but is an interesting character.

dervish

Crafty, devout, wise, versed in ancient lore and an apparent practitioner of magic he is an interesting contradiction. He is also at times a caravan raider, horse thief, guide, advisor to travelers and Amirs as well as a man that deals with the devil. While looking down on the ruling class he often helps them maintain their thrones even when they are obviously cruel and corrupt.

Another reoccurring character is Bint el Hereth or Bint el Kafir, the daughter of Satan, a immortal seductress who entices men to their doom in a way that many men might be willing to follow. You will have to judge for yourself if she is evil or not.

There are a few historical fiction tales and several that does not feature Ismeddin and have westerners as their main focus. At first I was disappointed in this but a number of them are good tales.

I really enjoyed the stories and believe that they aged very well. A couple that stood out for me were Ismeddin and the Holy Carpet and the Girl from Samarcand, for very different reasons. The first shows the cleverness and resourcefulness of Ismeddin, and how quickly he can adjust to unexpected circumstances. The other, almost a ghost story, has a lot to say about day dreaming as well as the importance of hearing an entire conversation.

The stories reminded me in a way of a number of Robert E. Howard’s short stories set in the same area but there are major differences. The first is simply the era. Howard’s tales are mostly around the Crusades while Hoffman’s are primarily around the start of the 20th Century. Another major issue is that the hero in Howard’s stories are all European, while Hoffman’s are Kurds, Persians, Afgans and others from the nations around the Levant.

Hoffman wrote in a number of genres and there is both a Fantasy & Science Fiction as well as a Two Fisted Detective MEGAPACKS available that I will probably invest a buck on in the future. I wonder if his stories in those genres holds up as well?

The Edmund Hamilton Megapack: 16 Classic Science Fiction Tales

spaceship

I loved pulp science fiction when I was younger. I read Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s, edited by Isaac Asimov, as well as several other anthologies from that and subsequent eras in High School.  They had everything a young kid could want, space ships, atomic guns, little green men, monsters with one eye and fifty arms, brave men and women who needed saving.

Nowadays, for the most part, it has changed a lot. The technology is much more advanced, and it seems more reality based. Alien cultures are much more varied and nuanced and in many cases much more frightening than early authors ever imagined. Women are increasingly being portrayed as the star, saving the day for everyone, and for that matter women have become noted authors as well. Reading modern space novels often makes older books seem childish by comparison.

space2

However a few days ago I was looking at a list of eagerly awaited science fiction books for April on The Verge  and came across an interesting entry. It was about a book entitled Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele. It said it was based on a series of pulp Sci-Fi novels focused on a character named Captain Future primarily authored by Edmond Hamilton, and written with the permission of the Hamilton estate. I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, even after reading his bio and with the strong possibility that I could have very well have read him years ago. I went and made my favorite Amazon purchases, a 99 cent MegaPack, this time of his writing.

avengers

Naturally the stories had a very dated feel to them, but some worked and some did not.

In a couple of his stories such as  Door into Infinity and The Legion of Lazarus he uses odd phrasing, as the stories went along his writing seemed to get stronger but he still had the odd turn of phrase. A person that is knocked unconscious is in ‘stygian obscurity” and another person’s hands are “lax in their lap”, another’s eyes were like “burnished crumbs.”

Some of them read like 1950’s sci-fi movie scripts. The City at World’s End about the town sent millions of years into the future due to a super atomic blast certainly did. Afraid of the people from the future (the present really) the simple townspeople are willing to take up weapons in order to protect their way of life, one that is over and the only reason they are alive is because of advanced technology. This is one that did not age well.

Some did, when taken in context. Blasters firing, odd alien parasites, space pirates and ulterior motives in The Stars, My Brothers was good fun although the thought that an heiress would fall for the man that just put her life in deadly peril seems a bit farfetched. But the hero always seems to get the woman in these stories.

I am not sure if the stories in the MegaPack are in the same order in which they were written, but they felt like it. I found the early ones to be far inferior to the later.  The early space stories particularly seemed dated even for the time in which they were written.

The later stories including The Man who Evolved, and Devolution, about where mankind came from, all were very good and I could really seeing them as being forward thinking in their day. He seemed to find his stride in later stories and they were much more readable and interesting, and cover more than just Sci-Fi, such as his The Monster-God of Mamurth that takes place in Africa and The Man who saw the Future that takes place in France and are more fantasy than Sci-Fi.

One thing that stand out, and not in a positive way, is how women are portrayed. Just like in movies where they fall when fleeing a slow moving mummy, woman are frail sorts, with the possible exception of the one in Corridors of the Stars. While she is capable of knocking a man out with a single blow, she is also referred to as a ‘piece’ and other derogatory descriptions. That is the one real standout example, but in the rest of the stories the woman always fall for the man, who is always right.

docs

The odd thing is that one of the reasons that I read the book was to get an idea about the Captain Future books. I guess I should have looked at the synopsis better because there were no short stories in which that character stared. I am always a sucker for serial books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and Pellucidar series, or even Doc Savage by Lester Dent et al, I always like them as late night comfort reading when I really do not want to think. After the first few stories I enjoyed the stories and will look for a Captain Future book to see what that is like.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames

kings

Sometimes it is the oddest things that draw you to a new book, and in this case it was the tag line The Boys are Back in Town. It made me think of Thin Lizzy (intentionally) and so I took a closer look at Kings of the Wyld, and the play on words to imply a rock band was clearly intentional, as is the line “It’s time to get the band back together.”

The book is about a mercenary band called Saga, which broke up more than a decade earlier, when it was the greatest band in the land. One of the members, former lead man Golden Gabe shows up at another band member Clay Cooper’s front door needing his aid in saving Gabe’s daughter, in part by reuniting their band. Lots of danger is involved, band has not talked in years, long hopeless trek; everything you would expect, at least on the surface. They gather the other members, Magic Moog, Matty Skulldrummer and Ganelon. All have aged and no longer have quite the reflexes, stamina and waistline that they once had. Aside from Ganelon who had been turned to stone, that is.

Now the mercenary bands are not like those seen in most fantasy novels. First off they are small, usually five members or so, some larger. They also do not align with nations going to war. Rather they use ‘Bookers” to get gigs cleaning out monsters from location after location. They also have a bard that can chronicle their deeds and immortalize them in song. Oddly, Saga’s bards all die. Sound familiar?

Bands have changed in the years since Saga retired. No longer playing small jobs in the sticks they now play major arenas in the larger towns. Bands often use makeup and precede performances with flashy displays. They often fight caged monsters rather than venture into the forest to fight them.

The book has the most varied animal bestiary than any I can remember. The country that they live in has a huge forest called the Heartwyld bisecting it that is home to all of the monsters. Sometimes bands tour the forest gaining glory and looking for artifacts from an almost vanished civilization.  There are many that I recognize, with trolls, ogres, giants, imps, kobolds, ettins, and others but also many I had never heard of before.

drag

There is a strong rock theme that permeates the entire book. Lyrics and partial lyrics are used, band names sound a lot like modern bands and other names carefully placed to imply songs or bands. There is a ship called Dark Star, Cooper’s nickname is Slowhand, a Syd Barrett, Neil the Young and many more inhabit the pages. However Eames never overplays it. If you were completely unaware of Rock you would most likely not even notice. It is just an interesting and often funny undercurrent to the book. One of Saga’s members is named Ganelon, which I am sure is a tip of the hat to the character by that name in The Song of Roland.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. Good characters and a wide variety of them. Very clear cut personalities and different reasons for their activities. The monsters were not all mindless hordes. You find that an Ettin can be kind and thoughtful and that cannibals like sweets. The humor is omnipresence but done with a nice light touch, often exemplified in the magic. Magic does not always work, and sometimes in strange ways. Another item that I liked was a good map. So often it looks like they asked a third grader to make a map with very vague landmasses and city locations.

I often get the feeling when reading both Sci-fi and Fantasy that the authors take the subject a bit too seriously; The Kings of the Wyld is the opposite. It uses clichés but smiles and laughs at them rather than pretend that it is the first time some type of event has happened in that type of literature. This is obviously the first in a series, hence the Band #1 subtitle, and it looks like the subsequent books will focus on solo careers of the members, and most likely involve the children of the existing members. Well them and the possible rebirth of a demi-goddess who quite likely is insane and might not like the role the band has played in the destruction of her family.

I found this to be a great debut novel. It was not the greatest Fantasy novel I have ever read, or the funniest take on a genre but it was by far the greatest combination of the two that I can think of. I am really looking forward to seeing what direction Eames takes the future books.

Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne

perilous

 

Chapel Perilous does not count as a book review since it is just a short story that falls within Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. I have read the first book in the series Hounded, and greatly enjoyed it and when I found the short story on line I downloaded it and then of course waited months to read it.

The basics of the books follow Atticus O’Sullivan, a 2,000 year old druid, the last of his kind. He has survived the Roman persecution of druids as well as the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to stamp out hearsay in his long lifetime. He lives in modern Tempe, Az. running a small tea shop/occult store. The Irish Pantheon of gods is alive and still active. So are all of the other pantheons, Roman, Greek, Chinese and variations of them.

On the face of it this is not the type of tale that would appeal to me. Aside from the gods there are witches, werewolves, giants and a host of other mythical creatures. But Hearne really makes it work and the books are interesting, fast paced, humorous and educational. I knew nothing about Irish folklore and would look up each mention and found that he has done a great job bringing these ancient stories to life. There are a few issues I felt. The title character is a bit too good looking, clever, powerful etc… Everything seems too easy for Atticus as well. But I suspect that is part of this genre as a whole.

Anyway in Chapel Perilous, the story revolves around the search for an artifact of the Irish gods called Dagda’s Cauldron, something which in later years would become in stories the Holy Grail. Atticus, who is being pursued by an angry Irish god (although he does not appear in this book) is asked by Ogma, another god, to retrieve the grail, in return for a favor. However in this adventure Atticus uses the name Gawain as an alias, which is how the whole grail story starts. If you are a fan of Le Morte d’Arthur you should be forewarned that it does not really have the same plot.

monty
Not your traditional Grail story

This is a short, (30+ pages) story and a great introduction to the Iron Druid series. It should be noted that the telling takes place sometime after the first few books although the events are hundreds of years earlier, so keep that in mind if you like it and go out and read Hounded.

Journey to the Underground World by Lin Carter

zan

 

So after the last Kane novel I was determined to start reading a different genre and I did, but I did not venture far. I had mentioned Lin Carter in a previous post and that got me to thinking about his works. I had read a number of his books years ago but was wondering how much he had written.

While looking at his bio on Wikipedia I found that he had a much larger body of work than I had expected and in more genres. So I was looking at some of them on Amazon and found the Zanathon Megapack, and I mean who can resist a pack, much less a MEGAPACK!!?? It is a series of five books about the exploits of adventurer Eric Carstairs and Professor Percival P. Potter (multiple Ph.Ds) in Zanthodon, an underground world that they discover in the Sahara.

It is much in the vein of a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard and other authors’ lost world type stores. Action comes fast and furious and you don’t have time to think about the last cliff hanger because another one is just pages away. Good mindless fun, aimed at a younger audience.

As with any reader, particularly of Sci-fi and fantasy, I am pretty good at suspending disbelief. If the writer has created a world that has a good overall system where people’s actions make sense, the use of magic follows rules and a host of other items I can believe a great deal in the context of the book’s world environment. I think Carter failed with Journey to the Underground World, the first book in the megapack.

Ok, due to the type of adventure I can believe that they took a helicopter through a narrow hole in the earth and few100 miles straight down. Harder to believe that in a few seconds the pilot trained a non pilot how to fly so that he could take a nap, but ok, it crashes in the end so I can swallow it.

Dyno

Dinosaurs from different periods of the earth. Ok that is part of the basic tenant of the book. Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals living in the lost world. Check. Ice age animals. Ok. Eternal sunlight. Gotcha. I mean it is all context driven and this is really just a fast action adventure story.

However the one item that really threw me was the day that Darya, one of the most beautiful women to ever live (and a Cro-Magnon) has. First she escapes from slavers (Neanderthals), and then is sexually assaulted but fights the man off, to be captured by a pterodactyl and carried to its nest to feed its young. She manages to escape only to be cornered by a cave huge cave bear, from which she also escapes. Then she escapes from the seemingly inescapable mountain that she is on, locally called one of the Peaks of Peril. Ok I can suspend my disbelief for this because it’s this type of action that makes these adventure books flow.

perad

It is what she does next that throws me. Alone, no shelter or food, unarmed in an area controlled by the slavers, an area that she can only have the vaguest idea of where she is and how to get home. What is his first action? Well to strip naked and take a bath of course. And then be captured by Barbary Coast pirates. Nope you lost me there.

Sadly it could just be that I am too old for this type of story. O well, I got the entire MEGAPACK for less than a buck so I think I did get my money’s worth.

Darkness Weaves by Karl Edward Wagner

darkness

Since my buddy had dropped off a couple of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books and I wanted to make sure I returned them in a timely manner (unusual for me) so I read a second one, Darkness Weaves over the weekend. I have seen this book listed as one of five that Wagner wrote, and also as book #7 in the Kane Series, so not really sure which.

It is one of the two full length Kane novels that Wagner wrote, the other being Bloodstones. It is centered on Efrel, a princess from Pellin, one of the many kingdoms that comprise the extensive Thovnosian island empire (think hundreds of islands) and who is plotting a revolt against the ruler.

The story follows Kane as he flees to Pellin, where Efrel is believed to be dead after being tortured by the emperor. She is a sorceress and consorts with dark powers and elder beings who are believed to be gone or not remembered. Kane has a past history with the empire, including evil actions that led to its formation.

The books has what you would expect, magic, warfare, betrayal, naval and land combat, insanity, strange animals, occult rites, elder races, submarines and lasers. Well I really did not expect the last two but they were present. It has touches of a Lovecraft feel but seems to miss the dread and darkness that Lovecraft has in his stories, and Wagner has in later tales

From the start there is an air of inevitability to the story. Kane is hiding out due to some unmentioned evil, but he escapes. He flees by ship followed by faster ships, but escapes. He faces far superior odds in battles and prevails. He betrays his employer and escapes. There are also a few unexplained items that I wish were clearer. A god appears very briefly, makes a few comments and disappears for the rest of the book. Kane is pursued by authorities of the Lartroxian Combine, it would have been nice to know what he did to have it so dedicated to his capture- all of the roads have been blocked for months and it sent two of its biggest and fastest ships in pursuit.

I found it to be nowhere as inventive or original as the short stories but it seems that it is the first book that he wrote on Kane and it is pretty good. It moves smoothly and the characters are well defined and believable. Arabas the Assassin, Imel, Kane, Efrel and others all have real motives for their actions, which I like.

Going forward I will probably move away from Sword and Sorcery for a bit, a term I found that Wagner hated, but seems to have been coined specifically for his writing and revival of Robert E Howard. I do expect to read the others in this series at some time to see how they progress.

Save

Night Winds by Karl Edward Wagner

Frak

 

One of the first genres I became interested in was Sword and Sorcery inspired primarily by  Robert E. Howard’s Conan (with literary assists from Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp) and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, with plenty of help from other authors. I think in part what attracted me was the covers of the Conan books. Done by Frank Frazetta they featured muscle bound warriors with weapons and voluptuous women with veils and in the days prior to video games what could be more appealing to a 14 year old boy?

Decades later I rarely visit that subset of the fantasy genre, but a friend asked me if I had ever read Wagner’s Kane: The Mystic Swordsman books. I had to be honest and admitted that I had not even heard of them and wondered if he was confusing Howards Solomon Kane stories. After a look that implied I was an idiot he went on to patiently explain about the books and offered to lend me one.

night

So that is how I ended up reading Night Winds, a series of short stories about Kane. Kane is based somewhat on the biblical character who has been cursed with immortality after murdering his brother. In parts a wizard and a mighty warrior, he has seen it all and done it all, if all is evil.

In doing a bit of research I found that most everybody compares Kane to an evil Conan. While I could see the similarities I think that is simply trying to shoehorn one character into another’s space. I found him to be very different.  Kane is a much more complex character to start with, willing to argue philosophy with giants and poetry with poets. He is very much the antihero however. His word is not his bond. He murders, rapes and rains ruin on lands as he sees fit. While a mighty wizard, magic in this series is not something that can be quickly or easily used and so when faced with otherworldly foes he often has no recourse but to face them, and then it is luck, not skill that enables him to escape.

Wagner had a close understanding of Howards work, and apparently even wrote in that universe on occasion, but these stories were not just imitations. The first story in the book “Undertow” was much closer to something Jack Vance would have written in his Dying Earth series. Others in the book had a much more horror story bent, leaning towards Lovecraft and that type of story, exemplified by “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” and “Dark Muse.” In both of these Kane is as much an onlooker as a player.

The stories are usually two stories intertwined, and as could be guessed with an immortal character one story is often in the past, but not always. There are very interesting twists in many of the stories and for the most part I enjoyed the writing as well, however at times he seemed a little over the top with purple prose.

I really enjoyed the book, even with the main character such an evil person, with little to redeem him. I am looking forward to reading more and after looking at the high price the books sell for I hope my friend has the complete collection!

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of

My reading this book was a long time coming. I originally purchased The Name of the Wind vol 1 of The Kingkiller Chronicles three years ago. Well the first time I bought the book that is. Then I left it on a train to Seattle after having only read about 30 pages and that so ticked me off I avoided it because it irritated me so. Then last week while looking at book reviews I noticed one by the author for Door of Stone his third, as yet unpublished, book in the series. After reading that awesome review how could I not read the book? Although since I just noticed that the review is five years old and Door of Stone is still not out maybe I should have waited. Then again The Name of the Wind was published ten years ago, so it’s not like I am rushing to read it.

The book’s main setting is set in a small town inn and has a character named Kvothe, locally known as Kote, reciting his amazing life story to a chronicler and his student, in between some interesting events at the pub. Kvothe was an orphan and his life has centered around learning enough: about history, magic and a set of semi mythical characters, to get revenge on those who were responsible for making him an orphan.

While still a young man while relating his history his life is one of legend, and as he recounts it you see that some of the famous events that he is known for are tremendously overblown, often with his help, but not all. He also underplays some of the events as well.

The overall story telling is very interesting. There is the history of the main character, which is peppered with hints at other great and important events that he has performed. Then there is the current world, where some past action of his has caused problems that are plaguing society. There is also sinister events occurring new the inn that may or may not be related to his actions

I have generally disliked stories where the main characters are youths and they stubbornly do stupid things. It often feels like a cheap horror film where everyone in the theater is thinking,” Don’t go in that room!” That was not the case here. While Kvothe made mistake after mistake, they had the feeling of reality. Lack of understanding of women, unable to keep his mouth shut, picking fights he should not have etc…

I really enjoyed how magic is used in the book. Students need to understand energy transfer and mathematic ratios- there is a lot of science intertwined with the magic. No throwing balls of energy around, not that there is anything wrong with that. However the magic that is used by most practitioners is pale in comparison to those who can use items real names, such as the wind. I think that some authors do not put enough effort into the magic that their characters use and it greatly detracts, at least for me, from the overall story.

wise men

The book ends with a number of unanswered questions. It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy and the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear has been out for some time. I will be interested to see how Rothfuss managed to tie up all of the loose ends in just two more books. I read somewhere that George R.R. Martin originally intended A Song of Ice and Fire to be a trilogy and look at the series now.  It looks like Rothfuss plans to still do it in three, but with The Name of the Wind clocking in at over 700 pages I can see how that is possible.

No Honor in Death by Eric Thompson

no-honor-in-death

I am always interested in how an author starts out a book. Sometimes it starts with a flashback, or a long introduction of the main players. No Honor in Death starts you out in a middle of a space battle aboard a dying battleship with its shields failing, its weapons controls damaged, the captain dead and the first officer with major injuries. Nothing like jumping into the deep end.

The central character of the book, and the following two in the series, is Captain Siobhan Dunmoore, who after taking over for the dead captain of the Victoria Regina manages to save what remains of the crew after an ambush by the Shrehari Empire. The book follows Dunmoore as she gains a new command, a troubled missile frigate named the Stingray and tracks her battles with foes and supposed friends.

I found Dunmoore to be a great character. Strong, driven and intelligent, she is also battered, almost burned out and tired. The Stingray has a reputation as a jinxed ship and after having three previous ships more or less shot out from under her; she has a cloud of her own to deal with. Her portrayal is what I like in a main character, an interesting combination of strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to recognize both and work with them. Odd personal note the first time I met someone named Siobhan I managed to pronounce the name She-O-bane. That may have been the last time I blushed.

The surrounding cast of characters was also strong. They all develop, often in directions you do not expect. Some develop into more than you expect and some continue to get worse. This goes for the active enemy as well as the allies.

horry

The book, after starting off in flash bang moves swiftly along. There are a number of themes running through the book that is common to naval combat books such as the Horatio Hornblower and Bolitho books, among others, which in turn were loosely based on real events. I imagine that following similar themes it not due to lack of imagination but that these issues are real life problems for the services. Taking over a divided, unenthusiastic crew after a poor captain’s departure. Check. Unsupporting or actively sabotaging  superiors. Check. A guardian angle in the top brass who believes in you. Check. This is not a criticism, I though Thompson played this out very well.

I also enjoy the layers of the story. The conflict with aliens is just the icing on the cake. New issues arise constantly. Officers that the captain believed she could trust fail her. Others appear to have ulterior motives while helping. Many are enigmas that are slow to show their true colors. Then the enemy has a host of similar if not identical issues.

One thing that stood out for me is the way that the aliens are portrayed. Violent and warlike, but also having many of the same problems that Dunmoore is having. Insulated high command too distant from the reality of combat, lack of focus and prioritization of what is important. An ossified hierarchy that keeps quality officers down if they do not have the correct connections or family back ground. The Shrehari have a feel of Japanese samurai about them, or maybe Kligons.

The arch villain, at least from the acknowledged foe side, has a high level of personal honor and focus to succeed for his nation. He is fighting a command that believes that ships should only fight in one manner, and that his revolutionary tactics, which his foes fear, have to be put aside to follow protocol. This reminded me a great deal of Admiral Lord Nelson’s departure from traditional tactical orthodoxy and the fights he had with high command over his approach.

I have two extremely minor issues with the book. Dunmoore often looks at someone and instantly discerns what is going on in their head simply by looking at their eyes or their expression. It seemed a bit overdone. Also the enemy captain, Brakal, a member of a race that places honor as a very high calling, seems a bit too crude. He rants and insults people constantly. I would thing that someone higher up would simply have him knocked off or that he would be so busy fighting duels that he had no time to command a ship.

I found No Honor in Death a fun action space novel. It moved along very well, had a plausible pot, engaging characters. While similar to others in this genre it was still an enjoyable book on its own merits and I plan to purchase and read the other two books in the series.

Also I am curious about one thing. I read this on my tablet. Does anyone else become obsessed with the little info blurb that tells you how long it will take to finish the book. Wait you mean I just read two pages and it’s now going to take 4 hours 32 minutes when before I read the pages it said 4 hours 31 minutes. Maybe it’s just me.

The Builders by Daniel Polanski

builders

A while back there was a Kindle offer for books for some low price and one of them The Builders by Daniel Polanski had been recommended to me by a friend in a somewhat cryptic message. He had said that if I liked Westerns then I would like this, but that it was a western with a twist.

 

That made me a bit leery because if it was zombies, or steam punk or vampires I was not interested. Even the old west version of Tremors, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins never caught my fancy. On the other hand I had not read a western in years and I really enjoyed them. In college I had taken an English Lit class that was all western stories, many of them that were turned into movies such as Stagecoach and High Noon. It was one of my favorite classes and so I figured why not and got the book.

Then it sat on my tablet for a year, and I came upon it the other day as I once again tried to create some sense of order in the chaos that is my digital book collection. So I opened the book and dove in, which could in part explain why the collection is such a mess.

I loved it from page one. It is sort of a mashup of a number of established themes from westerns but primarily old pros getting together to complete some unfinished business. His gang had been on the losing side of The War of Two Brothers, in which two sides had sought to establish a new ruler for the country, which seems to greatly resemble Mexico. A number of movies came to mind such as  The Wild Bunch, The Magnificent Seven, The Professionals, and a number of others as I read the book, or long novella.

However there is one huge difference. All of the characters are animals. The lead character is a mouse. A tough, feared, hard-bitten, wily, experienced mouse that is always addressed as the Captain.  In one shoot out he survives because being a mouse he realizes that other animals are faster and stronger and that the only way that a mouse can survive is with cunning and foresight. The fastest gunslinger is a salamander. A stoat is a clever killer named Bonsoir and is rumored to have deserted the French Foreign Legion. Oh, the two brothers the war was about were toads.

The gang had been defeated at the point of victory due to betrayal in its ranks, and had suffered losses in the war, which had ended five years ago. It was now time to put that right. The captain gathers an owl, possum, mole and others and heads out.

The surprising thing about it is how well it works. These are not Disney animals.  In some instances you forget they are animals and in others it is that animals characteristics (real or in popular culture) that lead it to its downfall.  I enjoyed the plot, starting with the trek to put the gang back together and giving a back story of sorts on many of the characters. Then their assault on the ‘enemies’ citadel and how each animals strengths and weaknesses play a part reads as well as any such attack. The conclusion was interesting, if not completely satisfying, in part because I was hoping for a different ending rather than any shortcoming in the story.

Overall I would really recommend this book, or novella. The writing is clever with a nice level of sly snark. It goes quickly and I found myself wishing it was longer, or even the first of a series. I have read this type of story by others, minus the animals but same plot, but this is by far the best executed version I have seen and it is not only worth reading but probably rereading.