The Wildings: book one of the Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy
Ever since Watership Down, I’ve looked for other books that tell that same kind of tale; I’ve found some that succeed in doing so and a lot of others that approach it but fall short. The central question is, do these animals feel like the animals they are supposed to be, or are they just humans in animal suits? It’s a nice bonus if the story has a slight tinge of magic, like Fiver’s visions, but that’s not absolutely necessary.
Roy presents us with a colony of feral cats in Delhi, India. Proud, wild hunters, for the most part, their peaceful existance is shattered by the arrival of a powerful new Sender, a cat able to project her thoughts into the mind of any other cat (and many other creatures as well) at great distance and with greater presence (as though she was actually there). She is disrupting things and upsetting the local wildlife and so must be brought under control: educated or eliminated.
The situation becomes complicated when it turns out that the Sender (perhaps the most powerful ever) is a tiny kitten, and a housecat to boot, named Mara. She can be trained to use her powers properly, but will she be interested enough to learn? A powerful sender also usually only emerges when there is a threat to the local cat population coming. Has this anything to do with the mysterious Shuttered House?
There’s a decent adventure here, with a large cast of characters of a variety of species. Mara’s powers are clearly drawn for us, making her solution to the danger almost ingenious. While Roy seems to have put some thought and research into how the cat society works, though, she doesn’t seem to have done the same for cat hunting, which is unfortunate as there is a “teach the kitten how to hunt” scene that falls flat as a consequence.
All that being said, this is a medium-weight contender for the Watership title. Mildly recommended.
We Will All Go Down Together: stories of the Five-Family Coven by Gemma Files
Files writes dark-fantasy/horror and has produced a number of absolutely brilliant stories down through the years. This volume brings together a group of those stories, related to each other by dealing with the sub-titular group: the Glouwers, Rusks, Devizes, Druirs and Rokes. And normally I would spend some time telling you about the various stories herein and how they add up to a total much greater than their individual parts — a story of betrayal and revenge from far, far beyond the grave, with witches and fairies and angels that did not exactly fall — but anything I say would be spoilerous and if you’re going to read this you should get to discover it the way I did.
Be warned: this is dark, dark stuff with occasional bursts of light; not for everyone. If you’re interested in horror, though, this is highly recommended.
Hunter’s Death by Michelle West
Hunter’s Death is the sequel to Hunter’s Oath (here), and part two of the Sacred Hunt Duology.
As Gilliam and Stephen make their way to Essalieyan, led by the seer Evayne and hunted by demons along the way, in that state’s capital city of Averalaan Jewel “Jay” Markess lives in poverty in one of the worst sections of the city. Like many in that area of the city Jay has assembled a “Den” (gang) that serves as her family now that her blood family is gone. Jay’s Den is small and not particularly violent, so they rely on a series of tunnels beneath the streets that few people know about to avoid the more violent Dens and the officers of the law. Unfortunatly, the tunnels have lately become dangerous, several members of the Den having recently vanished in them recently. Everyone hopes they are all okay, but Jay is sure that they are not.
She can be certain because Jay is a nascent Seer. She needs safety for the survivors of her Den, though, so she goes to see the man who taught her about the tunnels and, when it seems he has been replaced by a superpowered evil version of himself, is forced to flee. The Den barely escape from him and Jewel has nowhere to go (he knows all their hideouts) so she goes to deliver his final message, to the leader of House Terafin, one of the greatest of the great noble houses of the Empire. There is no real reason why the Terafin should even see Jay, never mind help the Den, but aside from the message from a dead man Jay can offer her seership (once she figures out it’s something valuable) and her knowledge of the tunnels, but the value of those is limited: everywhere she goes the tunnels are just gone. Someone seems to be just erasing them from below the city.
It soon becomes apparent that demons, who are not supposed to be active in the world, are up to something beneath the city. Something which Jewel and the Huntbrothers* are uniquely suited to deal with . . . if they can reach it in time.
I’m having a hard time summarizing this book; it’s where the Essalieyan cycle really launches and so it’s not only thick but big. It originally, as I noted with the first book, wasn’t one of my favourite West books; that started with the next series, The Sun Sword (which we will get around to, eventually), but this re-read really helped me appreciate it more. Highly recommended, but you have to read Hunter’s Oath first.
*Jewel and the Huntbrothers is the name of my Jem and the Holograms cover band