The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Tor.com: November 3, 2015
Review source: Free from publisher
The Builders opens with a scene in a dive bar. The owner, a rat who has lost limbs and more in a previous war, welcomes a mysterious mouse called the Captain. The Captain has come to recruit his former soldiers to fight the war again. After the rat, he goes on to recruit a boastful stoat, a reluctant badger, an enigmatic salamander, a scheming mole, and a crazy owl (and possibly others I can’t remember) all having fought previously under his command The resultant war band fights gory, gruesome battles as they win in their quest to overthrow the usurper. As a warning: It’s all about fighting, battles, and war. There’s not much else to the plot.
The characterization in this short novel is well done, and I found getting to know the different warriors more interesting than witnessing the battle scenes. Many of the characters are taciturn, all of them are natural killers, and there are different relationship dynamics within the group.
The bit of a plot focuses on the mouse’s desire for revenge and a slight mystery involving who betrayed the group so they lost the last war, and who is the traitor this time. It suffers at the expense of the page count and the fight scenes. For me, it was simplistic and unexciting, though readers who appreciate bloody battle scenes may appreciate it more. Had it been a longer book, I think I would have enjoyed it immensely, but as it is there are just not enough pages to bring the world into vivid detail or delve into the story, or even to connect with the characters, who, while intricately described, still remain distant.
Think of it like one of those movie shorts that are entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes witty, and never more than 10 minutes. It’s a sketch of a story, instead of a painting. If you think you have time to spend on one a sketch or a short, I do think you’ll have fun reading this story. And, if you’ve started it, and you’re not totally turned off by the violence, but you’re not convinced, do still read through to the end. Although I can imagine some readers may wonder what the point was, there will be others who will appreciate it, and snort with laughter at the end (I’m not saying I snorted).
For the author’s inspiration, check out this post at TOR.com
I’m actually hard-pressed to think of any examples of anthropomorphic animals being quite so nasty to each other, but for sure there are examples of anthroporphic animals in fantasy.
Take my favorite childhood series (I still have copies of Redwall, Mattimeo, Mossflower, and Mariel of Redwall, and they’re definitely on my to-re-read shelf).
Watership Down is another classic, that I read when I was probably too young to understand much of it. Still, an excellent read.
Yet another childhood favorite (actually, in fifth grade, it took me many, many tries to get into this one. And then I loved it, finally). It might even convince you that rats are pretty cool/you like them more than you thought you ever would.
For a more warlike example, read the Basil Broketail series, about a dragon and his boy. From the synopsis, looks a lot like Mario Brothers – two males rescuing the kidnapped princess, trapped in the castle. Also a good choice for dragon fans.