Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Hunters Unlucky, by Abigail Hilton. Illustrated by Sarah Cloutier. Maps by Jeff McDowall.
Winter Park, FL, Pavonine Books, July 2014, trade paperback $19.99 ([9 +] 672 pages), Kindle $9.99.
“He walked in darkness. How long he’d been there, he could not say. Occasionally, he distinguished the silhouettes of rocks or faint light reflecting off pools of water. He stayed well away from the water. Sometimes he heard noises – rustling, the rattle of pebbles, a soft sigh like fur over stone.
I will not run.
But he walked faster. He was looking for something … something he did not think he would find. He heard dripping, and that was normal, but then he heard a sharp patter, like an animal shaking water from its fur. Another swish, closer this time.
I will not break. I will not run.
Somewhere in the darkness, something began to laugh. ‘Hello, Arcove.’
Then he ran.” (p. 112)
Hunters Unlucky is a collection of Hilton’s five separate novels in that series; Storm, Arcove, Keesha, Teek, and Treace. They were also broadcast on her podcast beginning on November 10, 2014 and serialized two episodes per week through July 2, 2015. But they flow together smoothly into a single novel. Arcove, for instance, ends with a real cliffhanger. Get them all together in one handy book.
Hunters Unlucky has been compared favorably by many reviewers with Watership Down, The Jungle Book, the Warrior Cats series by “Erin Hunter”, and practically every dramatic natural talking-animal fantasy. It is different in being devoted (at first) to two groups of fictitious animals on the large island of Lidian; the ferryshaft, basically intelligent omnivorous furry deer or llamas, and the lion-like creasia cats. Other intelligent animals include the large foxlike curb, the eaglelike fly-ary, the telshee and the lishty, both sea mammals roughly analogous to furry sea lions. There are also many dumb prey animals such as sheep, rabbits, frogs, and turtles, which are sometimes eaten as well as grass by the omnivorous ferryshaft.
The story is an excellent example of the term “action-packed”. The first chapter of Storm is a battle to the death between several ferryshaft and creasia. Storm, the ferryshaft protagonist, is born in Chapter 2, twelve years later, on the same night his father is killed; licking blood rather than suckling milk as his first drink. Storm is the tale of his youth. He grows up as a runt whom his herd expects to die. Only his mother So-fet and a wise elder, Pathar, pay any attention to him. Storm gets his own first associates when he joins a small clique of other youngsters who are all outcasts together; a few other males and one female. Their relationship is a combination of intelligence and instinct:
“However, he [Storm] did speak more frequently to Tollee. As the summer wound down, they developed a genuine friendship.
This provoked a certain amount of teasing from Tracer and Leep, especially as the fall season brought mating to the front of everyone’s minds. ‘Better watch out,’ said Tracer. ‘You’ll be fighting Mylo for her.’
Mylo did, indeed, fight off three male foals who challenged him over Tollee’s status, and the entire clique helped fight off two adults. Storm knew that, had she been alone, she would have dealt with constant harassment. Mylo’s status as clique leader entitled her not only to his protection, but to the protection of his entire clique. […]” (p. 73)
Storm is not only the story of Storm’s growing up. It introduces the reader to the social dynamics of ferryshaft herd life, and to the fatal subservience of the ferryshaft to the creasia cats. It concludes with Storm’s first act of what can be called leadership.
Arcove is both the title of the second part, and the name of the leader of the creasia cats; the ferryshaft’s enemies. Treace, the title of part five, appears here as another creasia cat; Arcove’s rival. Arcove is a “noble adversary”; Treace is ruthless. (The cover by Sarah Cloutier shows Storm being circled by Arcove and Arcove’s second-in-command, Roup. Pay attention to the round blue stone around Storm’s neck. It’s important.) Storm can respect and work with Arcove; Treace can’t be trusted. Arcove introduces the reader to the creasia cats’ social structure. It also brings another of Lidian’s species into the story; the curbs, in particular the young curb warrior Eyal.
Storm’s exploits are so harrowing that it’s almost a spoiler to reveal that he keeps escaping and surviving. There are two phrases to remember here: the book’s blurb, “He’s not bigger. He’s not faster. He’s not meaner. So he’d better be smarter.” And the proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But Storm needs to do more than trick the furryshafts’ enemies into fighting each other. He needs to win the ferryshafts some real allies.
These are the first two parts of five. Although Storm remains the main protagonist, important characters emerge among the other intelligent species of Lidian: Arcove, Roup, and Treace among the creasia cats; Keesha and Shaw among the telshee; still others. The story becomes complex, with major surprises for Storm and for the reader. Hunters Unlucky is well-enough written that, even at 672 pages, you’ll be reluctant to put it down until you’ve finished it. Definitely recommended!