Oh, the Humanity; Why Coyotes Howl; The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice; The Little Gentleman; and Seven for a Secret

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2006 Fred Patten

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Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret

Title: Oh, the Humanity
Author: Bill Holbrook
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Sep 2005
Trade paperback, 130 pages, USD $13.95

   Oh, the Humanity is also listed as Kevin & Kell #10: Oh, the Humanity. This is the tenth ‘dead tree’ collection of Bill Holbrook’s popular online comic strip which began in September 1995, which makes it the first created especially for publication only via the Internet.
   Kevin & Kell should need no introduction to Furry fans, but for any neophytes among us: Kevin & Kell Dewclaw are a married couple who live in the city of Domain, in a funny-animal civilization where everyone is a talking animal (or insect, or plant). Despite intelligence, the characters retain many of their animal traits. The Dewclaws are a rare predator-prey marriage; he’s a rabbit and she’s a wolf. The strip humorously plays with the expected contradictions while gently presenting a message of tolerance for our society. For example, Kevin was at first ostracized by his rabbit relatives for marrying a predator, and had trouble getting insurance because insurance companies wouldn’t believe that his wife would not eat him. After ten years, the strip has accumulated a hefty backstory of supporting characters (notably their family: Rudy, Kell’s teen wolf/fox son by a previous marriage; Lindesfarne, their adopted hedgehog daughter of mysterious origins; and Coney, their natural daughter—a carnivorous rabbit) and situations familiar to regular readers. Newcomers might do best to read the first collection first, Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content (1997), also available from Plan Nine Publishing, before jumping into this one.
   Plan Nine produces a Kevin & Kell collection annually, but they have not contained a year’s worth of the strip since it went daily by adding the double-sized Sunday page in 2000. Plan Nine’s book format of approximately 128 pages has room for only ten months’ worth of strips including the Sunday pages, so the books have been falling slowly behind. This 2005 collection presents all the strips from May 12, 2003 through February 29, 2004. (Except for the three for January 8-10, 2004, presumably omitted for format reasons. Completists may want to print these three strips from the Kevin & Kell online archives and stick ‘em into this book at the appropriate spot.)
   Each page contains three daily strips, or one Sunday strip with 1/3 blank page under it; so to print the strip in story sequence the book presents two pages of daily strips (Monday to Saturday) followed by a Sunday strip. To keep the space under the Sunday strip from being wasted, Holbrook has created a new sequence just for this book, Lindesfarne’s Tale, which presents “the complete tale of Lindesfarne’s origins and how she arrived in the world of Kevin & Kell under the first 42 Sunday pages. Its presentation of a single strip every third page is a bit confusing, but better than just a lot of blank space under the Sunday pages.
   The usual story format is a week or so worth of stand-alone humor strips followed by a brief story sequence running about two weeks. There are a lot of those here: Rudy gets a summer job, a member of Kevin’s Hare-Link I.S.P. staff is briefly suspected of embezzling company funds, Kevin attends a Furry Star Trek convention, Rudy’s best friend Bruno is threatened with being thrown off their high school’s hunting team for being a herbivore, a fifty-year-old indiscretion is revealed over the Internet, a new cast member is introduced (Rachel Einhorn, a rhino high-schooler), and more. But there are also longer plots running off and on throughout the book. A prey terrorist group, Rabbit’s Revenge, is discovered to be targeting Herd Thinners, Inc., the company that Kell works for. Kevin’s sibling #29 (rabbits have large families), Danielle Kindle, is introduced and helps to unmask and destroy the terrorists. She dies, but is replaced by Danielle Kendall, her genetic duplicate from the human world. Transformation fans will enjoy the strips showing the former human adapting to her new rabbit body, which retains enough human traits to create some humorously embarrassing situations. Danielle’s situation is ‘outed’ when more humans come to Kevin & Kell’s dimension from another online comic strip: Ki Oshiro and Nick Wellington, from Jeff Darlington’s General Protection Fault. Both Holbrook’s and Darlington’s characters guest-star in the other’s strip for a three-week interlocked sequence in both strips, all of which are reprinted here. The revelation of Danielle’s human origin leads Lindesfarne to finally investigate her own past, which culminates in the special Lindesfarne’s Tale.
   Oh, the Humanity is a must-have book for Kevin & Kell fans (even if it is only in black-&-white, unlike the online full-color strip), for both Lindesfarne’s Tale and the three weeks’ worth of General Protection Fault that blend into the K&K story.

 Note: For the record, there was also a full-color, hardcover edition of Oh, The Humanity for $49.95. But only enough copies were printed for those K&K patrons who signed up in advance for it, so all copies (less than 60!) were presold, and this edition is already out of print.

The Kevin & Kell strip for 29 Oct 2003

Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret

Title: Why Coyotes Howl
Author: Watts Martin
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jan 2005
ISBN: 0-9712670-7-3
Trade paperback, 212 pages, USD $15.95

   It’s said that nobody recognizes a Golden Age until it is over. That seems to be the case with Furry fan fiction. For roughly a dozen years from 1990 to 2002, there was a flood of short stories in Furry fanzines like Yarf!, PawPrints Fanzine, FurryPhile, Mythagoras, Morphic Tales, Zoomorphica, and many others. During the latter half of this Golden Age, hundreds of stories were published on the Internet instead of in fanzines. The Miavir's Treasure Chest of Assorted Furryness website included links to over 2,000 stories at its height. Alas, most of the fanzines have long since ceased publication, and many of the online stories have disappeared from the Internet. The Miavir website itself has not been updated since 2003.
   Watts Martin was one of the most prolific and popular authors during this Golden Age. Now some of his best stories are available again, plus some new ones, in this collection of fourteen of his works. The earliest, Only With Thine Eyes, dates back to FurVersion #14 in 1987. Five are printed here for the first time. Most of the reprints have been revised for this collection, so to an extent all the stories are new.
   Why Coyotes Howl, which opens the collection, and Traveling Music, the last in the book, are both romances about young men driving on isolated roads who meet exotic women; but they are developed quite differently. Tom Hartley in Coyotes picks up a young Native American girl hitchhiking to a tribal reunion. The story’s title will tip off the reader to the secret of Lara’s clan before Tom guesses. How he reacts, and how the tribe of werecoyotes respond to his discovery of their secret, is the story. In Traveling Music, Spencer in rural Florida encounters a girl whose car has broken down—but it’s obvious from the start that she is not from our Earth:

   She didn’t have golden skin at all. She had golden fur.
   And a golden muzzle, with a little black nose on the end of it, big almond-shaped dark eyes framed by her brown hair—mane? Even a long, fluffy tail perfectly matching her hair color. She might have stepped off the stage of
Cats, but Andrew Lloyd-Webber would have killed for make-up that perfect.
   And something told me it wasn’t make-up.
   The tail flicked wildly as the expression on her feline face changed from relief to terror. She screamed—I wasn’t sure which was more unnerving, the almost-human quality of it or the faint growling undertone—and spun on one heel, fleeing into the darkness.
   Cats didn’t stand on their hind legs and wear clothes… did they?
   “You spoke English,” a voice said faintly from behind me. I almost fell out of the car, spinning around again.
(pgs. 182-183)

   Traveling Music is a s-f mystery (what world is Reli from, and how did she get to Earth?) and a romance. Whether it will be a successful romance or a tragedy—whether a human person and a feline person can develop a meaningful relationship, especially on a world where one is a unique freak—is for the reader to find out.
   Only With Thine Eyes also presents a human-cat romance, but in the context of traditional interstellar s-f about the first diplomatic mission between space-going humans and a star-traveling feline species. Eight others are a ’morphically very mixed batch:
   Dreams Are For Vixens—a chubby raccoon coed learns to cope at a college where all the most popular girls are foxes.
   The Fence—Wyidhi and Kisau are bipedal fennecs (alien? bioengineered?) who are considered ‘not really intelligent’ by humans—but you decide.
   Beast—In this futurization of an old fairy tale, Beauty is the daughter of a computer programmer and the Beast is a hideous furry bioengineered terror weapon with a gentle soul.
   The Fox Maiden—Two soldiers, the only survivors of their squad, are rescued in a forest by a magical unicorn girl surrounded by six foxes. Can Smith and Johnson accept safety in her world, or should they return to the war?
   Vertical Blanking—Kiri enters a computer anthropomorphic roleplaying world as a vixen. As her relationship with Paul, a mountain lion, deepens, Kiri worries that they are becoming too withdrawn from reality.
   Daughter of Shadows—In a Native American world, Maharintas, Daughter of Shadows, searches in a dream-walk for her spirit animal. She finds a more impressive identity than she had expected.
   Without Evidence—An original story in Martin’s popular mixed human/’morphic world of Ranea. A human wizard-detective investigating the disappearance of a nobleman discovers a string of murders going back for years, all involving a tall white tigress with long black hair.
   Going to the Dogs—Gregory S. Newfield awakens one morning to find himself turned into an anthropomorphic wolfhound. Is this just a surrealistic comedy, or is there a more serious explanation for his transformation?
   Three of the stories are non-’morphic: Seeing Things, a vampire tale; The Moon in Water, in which a literary fantasy fan seeks real magic; and Still Life, With Espresso, in which a decaying Tampa neighborhood is revitalized. These three are well worth reading; they just aren’t anthropomorphic. (So is it a problem that Martin can write outside the Furry borders?)
   Whether about a Furry world or a lone Furry in a human world, most of these stories are prime examples of great Furry fiction, featuring genuine animal-humans rather than mere ‘humans with animal heads’. From Daughter of Shadows:

   Once more, she looked down, now at herself. Instead of seeing skin where breeches and vest did not cover her, she saw fur—plush, grey fur that shimmered in the moonlight. “Oh,” she whispered, raising one of her own hands and studying it in wonder. The grey fur turned black and thinned out as it approached her wrist; her nails were short claws, and the palm and bottoms of her fingers had become light grey pads. She made a movement she could not have before, and her tail curled around her hips. It was most definitely a fox’s, at least as long as one of her legs, tipped with the same black as her… paws? No, still hands, she decided. (pg. 138)

   Or from Without Evidence:

   I had finished the bourbon and was well on my way to the end of a dark Garanelt ale when a wolf walked in. He stood well over six feet tall, with a scar running the length of his muzzle and fur that managed to match the black leather outfit he wore. The bartender glanced at me and nodded slightly. I made my way back to the bar, sitting down at the wolf’s right. (pg. 146)

   I would have preferred a few more Ranea stories in the book, but Martin explains in his Afterword that most of those were published in Yarf! and are still available in back issues. Why Coyotes Howl contains only stories that are out of print or were never published before, under an attractive cover by Heather ‘Kyoht’ Luterman. If you are familiar with Martin’s writing, you have probably already bought this book. If not, don’t miss this opportunity to discover it now.

Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret


Author: Jean Rabe
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Tor Books (NYC)
Title: The Finest Creation (Nov 2004)
ISBN: 0-765-30820-7
Cover of THE FINEST CHOICE Hardcover, 318 pages, USD $24.95

Title: The Finest Choice (Sep 2005)
ISBN: 0-765-30821-5
Hardcover, 288 pages, USD $24.95

   Warning: The Finest Trilogy, like The Lord of the Rings, is actually one novel in three volumes, rather than three novels. Do not expect to get a complete story unless you read all three.

   Call it the Lone Ranger Syndrome, but I’ll bet you can’t start The Finest Creation without thinking of Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar series—especially her first novel, Arrows of the Queen, in which the young peasant girl protagonist is saved from a life of misery by an intelligent, beautiful white horse. The Finest Creation is a totally original story, but it is in the same ‘magic horses save young girls in a fantasy world like Medieval Europe’ genre.
   Divine horses, actually, since their roles are that of guardian angels. The world of Paard-Peran was created by… well, Rabe’s theology is complex and dropped into the novel in confusingly small pieces, but there are two supreme gods, three other ‘good’ gods, and two evil gods. The good gods created mankind, but when they realized that men were not perfect (being prone to selfishness, greed, hate, violence and other sins), the gods then made the Finest Creations to help them. To quote the jacket blurb:

   Though they resemble ordinary horses, they are highly intelligent, capable of communicating telepathically, and completely moral. They are assigned to bond with individuals of great potential and then protect them from harm while guiding them along a path of virtue.

   These equine guardian angels’ home base is a horsey version of Heaven. “The Finest Court shall be a pasture, with thick green grass as far as the eye can see,” one of the gods is quoted on pg. 137. “It shall be dotted with ponds and streams filled with cool, clear water, and there shall be stands of perfect trees. This is where the Finest shall gather and grow, where they shall learn about men and all the creatures of Paard-Peran, where they shall discover their crucial role in the world and in deciding the fate of men.” There is no indication that humans have a comparable Paradise.
   These divine horses can communicate telepathically with each other, but they are not allowed to reveal their intelligence to humans. They can only subconsciously influence their charges towards virtue while posing as real horses.
   Gallant-Stallion is a young Finest who has just left the Finest Court for his first assignment among the humans of Paard-Peran. He is enthusiastically excited to find himself among the horses of a royal wedding party, and hopes that his charge will be the noble crown Prince Edan of Galmier himself. To his disappointment, he is given as the steed of Edan’s young cousin, 13-year-old Prince Meven, who is a member of the wedding party along with his 10-year-old sister Kalantha.
   When the wedding party is unexpectedly attacked by mysterious assassins, Gallant-Stallion is the only horse who manages to escape, carrying both children. Although shocked by the death of Prince Edan, Gallant-Stallion guesses that his charge must really be Meven, who is now the heir to Galmier’s throne. It looks like his duty is to return Meven (and Kalantha) safely to the remote Temple which is their home. But they find that the vicious assassins are determined to hunt down all members of the wedding party, going so far as to kill everyone in a small village just because they passed through it. The children decide that they do not dare return home for fear of leading the killers there. They hide for almost a year in the mountains, where they would not have survived if Gallant-Stallion had not been more than just a mortal horse. During this time they learn self-reliance under Gallant-Stallion’s surreptitious guidance, although he is frustrated that Meven is much less receptive to his telepathic hints than Kalantha is. Most readers will have figured out long before Gallant-Stallion—known to the children as Rue—realizes that it is Kalantha who is really intended to be his lifelong companion.
   The Finest Creation is designed to go from one surprise to another, so I do not want to give away too many of them; but it is important that would-be Furry readers should know that, about halfway through the book, the mysterious assassins are revealed to be more intelligent animals. They are Paard-Peran’s evil counterparts to the horse-angels; predators given intelligence by the two evil gods to corrupt mankind further. Most of the anthropomorphic nature of the novel lies in Gallant-Stallion’s human-level thoughts and in telepathic conversations that he has with other Finest whose paths he and the children cross from time to time; and in conversations among the assassin birds and between their leaders, Fala the hawk and Eyeswide the owl, and their sinister human master, the true villain.

   Since The Finest Creation is the first volume of a trilogy, it should be no surprise that it ends on a dramatic cliffhanger. The dust-jacket blurb of its sequel, The Finest Choice, gives away the big secrets of the previous volume. Oh, well. Don’t begin reading The Finest Choice, not even its blurbs, until you have finished The Finest Creation.
   The Finest Choice is split between two parallel stories: That of Meven, now Galtier’s youngest king who is under constant psychological pressure to begin a war of conquest; and that of Kalantha (now twelve to fourteen) with Gallant-Stallion/Rue, constantly fleeing in disguise, both to escape being pledged against her will into an austere religious life and to learn who is controlling the evil birds. Gallant-Stallion is now speaking mentally directly to Kalantha, trying to keep her out of danger:

    I killed many of the assassin-birds, Kal, Gallant-Stallion said. On the palace grounds in Nadir, and before that when you were with your cousin in the wedding party, then in the Galmier Mountains. Perhaps the birds no longer threaten you.
   “Maybe. I hope you’re right, Rue. But I have to know about them. I have to.”
(pg. 106)

   Infuriatingly from an anthropomorphic standpoint, Gallant-Stallion remains true to his Finest Court instructions to try to guide his human charge without being obvious about it. So while he offers her mild advice, Gallant-Stallion seldom does much more than a normal horse controlled by its rider would do. And since his mild advice seems little different from that of the well-meaning humans who do not know what is going on, Kalantha usually ignores it. As in the first volume, most of the ’morphic scenes are between the talking horses when Gallant-Stallion visits the Finest Court to report and seek advice, and among the evil birds:

    [Eyeswide the owl] strutted in front of them, slowly, visually measuring them, and noting in the late afternoon sunlight which ones trembled at his presence. Some put on a brave front, puffing out their feathery chests and holding their wings back like knights at attention before their commander. But there was the tremor of apprehension in their eyes, and the owl fixed these birds with his icy stare until they lost the mental battle and looked away. The ones who showed no measure of fear and would not look away were the fools, he thought. Their pomposity could cost them their lives—but not by Eyeswide’s talons. His flock was depleted, and he couldn’t afford to slay any more as an example. (pgs. 123-124)

   The major talking birds in this second volume are Eyeswide and his new lieutenant, Ninéon the falcon, who both speak with humans as well as with other birds.
   As with The Finest Creation, The Finest Choice ends with a surprise climax. The true conclusion to the novel will come with the third volume, The Finest Challenge, due in September 2006.

Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret

Title: The Little Gentleman
Author: Philippa Pearce
Illustrator: Tom Pohrt
Publisher: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins (NYC), Oct 2004
ISBN: 0-06-073160-5
Hardcover, iii + 200 pages, USD $15.99

   When Mr. Franklin, a retired English gentleman living in the countryside, breaks his leg, he anxiously asks his housekeeper to send her young granddaughter Bet to read aloud from a book on earthworms in an empty field. “Cracked in the head, poor soul,” Mrs. Allum decides, “But no harm in him.” And so Bet comes to meet a wonderful talking mole. And the most wonderful thing is that he is (or was) an actual figure, as real as Paul Revere’s horse and considerably (if accidentally) more important in world history.

   The mole spoke as if indeed in mid-flow of neighborly chat: “…And you probably have little idea of how delicious—how toothsome—how scrumptious—they are when eaten fresh. Of course, I have my worm larder–” He corrected himself. “Worm larders, well stocked, but the earthworm pursued, or promptly pounced upon, and eaten fresh—as I’ve said—Ah! The earthworm, there’s nothing like it!” (pgs. 24-25)

   Unfortunately, this is a novel which is difficult to describe in detail without spoiling several plot secrets. Suffice it to say that the mole is several hundred years old and can talk as the result of a curse which he is not enjoying. He is trying to keep his existence secret because he has already had more than enough of untrustworthy humans.

   “You must know,” said the mole, “that during my travels there were others, besides Miss X and Master Y, to whom I made myself known. Each one, I soon discovered, would have betrayed me, usually to make a raree-show of me—to exhibit me publicly for money. Such people were despicable. I fled them. Even your Mr. Franklin would have made me his prisoner—”
   “No! No!” Bet interrupted anxiously. “I was going to tell you: He’s given up the idea of a vivarium. He really has. Really.”
   The mole tipped his head heavenward in a way that suggested some degree of disbelief. But all he said was: “He has a vivarium mind.”
(pgs. 62-63)

   Mr. Franklin is an amateur naturalist who is frantic to protect the mole, and would not listen to the mole’s insistence that he would rather live free and in danger than in the most comfortable and safe glass-walled prison. A good part of the novel is taken up by Bet’s carrying messages from Mr. Franklin to the mole begging him to reestablish their previous friendship.
   Bet is a lonely child, and the mole becomes the first friend she has ever had. She is proud to become only the third human that the mole has accepted as a genuine friend (the other two died long ago). She is therefore distraught when the mole asks her to help him break his curse and return to being a short-lived, unintelligent natural mole. How can she give up her good friend? How can she help destroy such a marvelous creature? Yet if she does not, is she any better than Mr. Franklin or others who have betrayed the mole in the past?
   The Little Gentleman is age-rated 9 to 12, but it is a beautifully written book for all ages about a touching friendship between a young girl and a character who, despite his cute, furry form, is a weary adult. There are a couple of places where Mr. Franklin or the mole ask Bet if she knows the meaning of old-fashioned words like ‘chthonic’, but in general the book assumes that the reader will have an adult vocabulary or know how to use an unabridged dictionary. Pearce presents a realistic natural history of moles through the mole’s own descriptions; no underground imitation human homes here like Moley’s in The Wind in the Willows. Towards the conclusion, when Bet is helping the mole to consciously use the magic in his curse, he shrinks her so she can visit his home:

   She was aware that she had become molelike in more than size only. She had entered the mole’s passageway on hands and knees, but that seemed to change. It was easier and faster to go on all fours, like any other four-footed animal, large or small. And the darkness: she was not sure whether the darkness around her was something she saw or something that was there because her eyes were shut. She was not sure about her eyes. She tried to touch an eye but could not find it. Without alarm, she wondered whether her eyes were now furred over. She was not certain whether she was girl or partly mole—most likely, perhaps, both at once. She found that she did not mind in the least. (pg. 145)

   The nameless mole (names are for humans, and he refuses to be a human) is the only ’morph in The Little Gentleman, but he is such a dynamically memorable character that every Furry fan should enjoy this.

Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret

Title: Seven for a Secret (Never to be Told)
Author: Clive Woodall
Publisher: Ziji/Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd. (London), Mar 2005
ISBN: 0-71563-346-5
Hardcover, 245 pages, UK £17.99
ISBN: 0-71563-394-5
Trade Paperback, 245 pages, UK £9.99

   Can a bad writer write a good book? Well… call this one a guilty pleasure.
   Clive Woodall is a bad writer by the standards of any college writing class. To use one of his own words, his writing is ‘portentous’. Consider the opening:

   The chant filled each branch of Cra Wyd. It resonated through the treetops, and chilled the heart of every creature scurrying and scuttling in the blackness below. It could not be called a song. The voices were uniformly raucous and harsh. The caws and rasps held no music. No melody. Just passionate belief. The monotone was hypnotic, and each repetition increased its power.
   No, it could not be called a song. Songs were for daylight. Sung in joy. In celebration. This chant was meant for the night. Sung by back throats, through black beaks. Black eyes blazed to its dark message. Black feathers ruffled in guilty pleasure, as black deeds from a time long past were brought back to life in the hearts and minds of the black choir. Evil deeds, best forgotten, best left alone, to rot along with their perpetrators. But tonight they were no longer forgotten corpses, pale skeletons, dry and dusty feathers. Tonight they were alive.
(pg. 5)

   Talk about florid overwriting, and incomplete phrases passing as complete sentences. The dialogue is no better. Here are two robins talking:

   “Mother, why are you so troubled?”
   “I am afraid, Olivia my dear. I had thought that we had put the darkness behind us when we defeated the magpies. But evil arose once more when Traska returned and kidnapped Merion and yourself. Then Traska was vanquished, and the light returned to Birddom. But now I fear that a shadow is again among us. I can’t see where the threat is coming from, although I agree with Tomar. I do not trust that owl, Engar. Don’t ask me to explain why. I’m not sure that I could. But he seems false; albeit that he is a fine specimen of a bird.”
   “A fair face hiding a foul heart?” Olivia replied.
   Portia nodded. “Yes, he may have the body of an owl. But I fear that he has the heart of a magpie!”
(pg. 20-21)

   But for all its overwrought melodrama, it is a powerful tale. There is an atmosphere of impending doom from the first page. Even though the characters are strictly one-dimensional, they act intelligently. Unlike bad horror movies in which people wander off alone stupidly, those in Seven for a Secret know it is risky but they are given good reasons to do so. It is genuinely suspenseful to watch a good guy venture into danger while relying upon support from a loyal friend whom the reader knows is already dead. The heroes face such daunting perils that you will constantly want to find out how, or if, they escape. (There is a high body-count.) The villains are so clever that, even with the readers’ advantage of knowing the double-crosses they are planning, their schemes are so plausibly presented that I would be hard-pressed to come up with convincing counter-arguments as to why the good guys should not believe them.
   Seven for a Secret is the sequel to Woodall’s first novel, One for Sorrow, Two for Joy (British edition 2004; U.S. edition 2005). That novel (the film rights to which have been bought by Disney for a six-figure sum, according to the publicity) presents the magpies’ first attempt, led by Slyekin and Traska, to take over Birddom (Great Britain from its birds’ viewpoint) through the genocide of all birds except the corvidae (crows, ravens, rooks, etc), which they will dominate. The songbirds and other small birds follow the guidance of the owls, whose ruling Council is led by the wise tawny owl Tomar. Tomar sends the brave robin Kirrick on a dangerous quest to isolated mountains and rocky seacliffs to enlist the aid of the raptors and seagulls who do not usually concern themselves with the affairs of Birddom’s inland avian species. The second half of the book sends Kirrick’s mate Portia to Wingland (France, or at least the portion of mainland Europe closest to Birddom), and introduces a new menace so great that the songbirds and owls must call upon all insects for help.
   The sequel begins with Birddom believing that all danger is past. However Traska, thought dead at the end of One for Sorrow, still lives and the magpies are plotting a comeback. The normal birds are chafing under the Council of Owls’ agreement with the insects that, in return for their earlier help, birds would stop eating insects. It is hard for the insectivorous birds to force themselves to eat only seeds; and even the omnivorous birds find it frustrating to have to pass up a juicy caterpillar. Traska cunningly plays upon this dissatisfaction by secretly grooming the charismatic but treacherous barn owl, Engar, to make a bid to replace Tomar as leader of the Council. Engar presents himself as a champion of democracy speaking up for the common bird, denouncing the pledge to the insects as unnatural, unrealistic, and no longer worth keeping now that the insects’ help is no longer needed. The now-elderly Tomar’s arguments that the birds’ promise should be kept to preserve their own honor, and that the insects have swelled to such great numbers that they could destroy all birds before the birds could whittle them back down if their truce is broken, is twisted to seem like a stubborn refusal to modernize and cowardice. Engar uses his soaring popularity to also argue for the ‘reformed’ corvids’ acceptance back into Birddom.
   An even greater danger, almost unnoticed by both sides of Birddom, is that the insects have become a plague among Mankind. Worse, the birds have also become dangerous pests as they have been forced to eat more seeds to replace the insects in their diet. Man’s retaliation of powerful pesticides, more widespread nets, and other increasingly deadly devices to exterminate the devourers of crops are equally fatal to insects and birds; and Man’s scientists are developing an even more drastic Final Solution. Tomar becomes ever more isolated on the Council as his remaining supporters mysteriously disappear, to be replaced by Engar’s lackeys. Finally Tomar risks everything to save Birddom from magpies, insects and Man by sending the young robins Merion and Olivia, the children of his old friend Kirrick, to find the meaning of ‘Avia’, a legendary secret held by Septimus the wolf(!?) in the Isle of Storms (Ireland) that promises the mystic salvation of the birds at their darkest hour.
   Woodall’s anthropomorphization of the birds is generally well done. Their speech is full of such avian metaphors as “We will have to force his wing” (pg. 37) and “…a case of the rook calling the raven black!” (pg. 91) The birds usually act completely realistically except for their ability to speak, although there are occasional jarring lapses into funny-animal humanization as when “Engar clapped his friend on the back with his great wing.” (pg. 102) As the final pages of Seven for a Secret approach, the tension mounts with galloping speed until it seems absolutely impossible for there to be a happy ending. The secret of Avia is so audacious that you will either gasp in admiration at Woodall’s imagination, or throw the book across the room in disgust—but you are not likely to soon forget it!
   Seven for a Secret: decide for yourself whether it is a good or a bad novel, but it is definitely worth reading.

Oh, the Humanity Why Coyotes Howl The Finest Creation & The Finest Choice The Little Gentleman Seven for a Secret

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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