Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den, by Aimée Carter
NYC, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, February 2016, hardcover $16.99 (307 pages), Kindle $6.99.
Besides furry fiction, there is a category of children’s fantasy about human children learning that they can talk with animals, and that the animals have civilizations of their own. The best of these include the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, in which human children discover a large fantasy dimension. Average examples include the recent Secrets of Bearhaven, Book One, by K. E. Rocha, where 11-year-old Spencer Plain learns that his parents can talk with bears and they have helped the bears establish a secret bear society hidden within our own. And then there is Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den, by Aimée Carter.
Simon is 12 years old and miserable. He’s picked upon by school bullies and he has no friends. He shares a cramped NYC apartment with his scarred Uncle Darryl. Nobody will tell him why Uncle Darryl is horribly scarred, or why his father is dead, or why his mother has been gone for a year on a zoological assignment – she sends him frequent “I love you” postcards from all over the country that don’t really tell him anything.
Or why he can suddenly talk with animals. He doesn’t tell anyone about this because Uncle Darryl apparently hates animals, even though a mouse he names Felix has become his best friend, and he could prove that he can talk with pigeons easily enough.
Then a one-eyed golden eagle tells him he’s in terrible danger, and his mother suddenly reappears, and Simon discovers that his mother and Uncle Darryl have been hiding the secret that they can not only talk with animals, too, but can change into them, but there’s no time to explain anything because they have to escape RIGHT NOW from an army of rats who want to kill them, and he’s really a hidden prince of all birds, but not the crown prince because he has an older twin brother that nobody told him about, and …
It’s all too much high profile adventure. There is lots of action, but it’s all meaningless. Nobody can tell him anything! Nobody notices anything! You’ve never seen such a string of interruptions and oblivious people.
“The eagle turned his head so he could see Simon with his good eye. ‘You’re in grave danger, Simon Thorn. If you don’t come with me at once –‘
‘Simon?’ said a rough voice outside his door. ‘Who are you talking to?’” (p. 5)
“Out of all the things the eagle could have said, this was the one Simon least expected. ‘You – you know my mother?’
‘Indeed,’ said the eagle. If you would come with me –‘
A snarl cut through the crisp air. Startled, the eagle took flight, and Simon cursed. ‘Wait – come back!’” (p. 14)
“‘They are coming for you, Simon Thorn, and if they find you, they will kill you.’
‘Kill me?’ he blurted. ‘Why?’
‘There is no time to explain. They are closing in as we speak. If you would come with me –‘
Another snarl cut through the air; exactly the same as that morning. Startled, the eagle took flight. ‘Run, Simon, before it is too late!’” (pgs. 28-29)
“‘Where have you been, Mom?’
She frowned. ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. Work’s been so busy –‘
‘For a whole year? You didn’t take a single day off?’
‘I –‘ his mother began, but the door burst open before she could say anything else.” (p. 33)
“Darryl landed hard on the asphalt and began to kick the swarm of rats out of the way. Simon scrambled after him. Rats immediately began to climb up his legs again, and though he brandished the blade threateningly, he couldn’t bring himself to kill them. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Even as another flock of pigeons dived from above to fight the rats, Simon could see that there had to be hundreds, if not thousands by now, coming relentlessly for them. They were trapped.” (This is in the middle of a New York City street in mid-day, and nobody notices anything. p. 51)
“‘Hey!’ yelled the doorman, but Simon was already running. The rats had nearly taken over the sidewalk, but seemingly oblivious pedestrians had formed a path through the battle, and Simon jumped from one clear spot to the next, narrowly missing several tails.” (p. 78)
“Vanessa stepped out from the crowd and blocked his way. Behind her, another half-dozen human members of the pack appeared, forming a semicircle around them. Tourists and families stepped around them easily, not seeming to notice the intrusion, but Simon stopped cold.” (p. 254)
I could go on, but you get the idea. The action gets increasingly desperate, and increasingly bland since Simon, who doesn’t know what’s going on, always easily wins. When he’s forced into a magical duel with Ariana, a girl who can turn into a black-widow spider and who is famous among the Animalgams for never being beaten, Simon easily beats her. The shapeshifting is not even pretend-plausible; it includes clothing and size. If a boy or girl turns into a mosquito, a shark, an alligator, a butterfly, or an elephant, the change is instantaneous and the Animalgam is ready to go. There are the stereotypically helpful sardonic tomboyish girl his own age, and the comically awkward glasses-wearing nerd who becomes the protagonist’s only friend – here it’s Jam, Benjamin Fluke, a boy weredolphin
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (cover by Owen Richardson) does not say that it’s Book One of a series, but the inconclusive ending leaves no doubt that a sequel is coming. Buy only if you’re really desperate for talking-animal books.