My first official book (or rather, novella) of 2016 was a book about a mouse, an owl, a badger, and a few other crusty critters. I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on it, remembering fond hours of reading Redwall as a kid, and knew that a darker twist to animal tales (I really wanted to write ‘tails’ there, but I spared you) would hit the spot juuust right. And guess what?
The writing was as refreshing as iced tea in a dry, southern heat, and as precise as clipping the hat off your head from a shot a hundred yards back.
A missing eye. A broken wing. A stolen country… The last job didn’t end well.
Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.
I won’t belabor it because this book was a quick read (you could easily devour it in a lazy two days), but this was such a pleasure to delve into. Polansky doesn’t try and breeze over the fact he’s writing about animals, but pricks on just the right details. They may be sentient animals, but their instincts and natures are animalistic after all, and so the shrews are rather shrewish, but you would never call the Captain ‘mousy’–at least, not to his face.
The chapters take us through the Captain recruiting his former band of nasty creatures back for one last job. The descriptions of each new character impeccably describe who that animal is in the few paragraphs given, whether eager to ditch a backwater bar for another shot at mayhem, or stubbornly reluctant to leave an established, quiet life plagued by the sheer number of deaths left in his wake. After the animals are gathered, then comes time to hit their target: The Elder. I’ll leave the plot at that.
There were notes of perfect tongue-in-cheek writing that had me howling every few pages. There were perfect, punchy sentences of dry wit. There were nasty notations of animal thoughts that itched on being all too human.
All packed into a brutish, short plot.
Get this novel into your to-read pile this year. It’s quick, but sharp and clever as an owl’s talons.
With that being said, enjoy this excerpt that illustrates all the above in much less words:
Now a stoat is a cruel animal, perhaps the cruelest in the gardens. They are brought up to be cruel, they must be cruel, for nature, who is crueler, has dictated that their prey be children and the unborn, the beloved and the weak. And to that end nature has given them paws stealthy and swift, wide eyes to see clear on a moonless night, a soul utterly remorseless, without conscience or scruple. But that is nature’s fault, and not the stoat; the stoat is what it has been made to be, as are all of us.
So Bonsoir was a stoat, but Bonsoir was not only a stoat. He was not even, perhaps, primarily a stoat. Bonsoir was also a Frenchman.