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Spirit Hunters Book 2: The Open Road, by Paul Kidd – Book Review by Fred Patten




Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

UnknownSpirit Hunters. Book 2: The Open Road, by Paul Kidd. Illustrated.
Raleigh, NC, Lulu.com/Perth, Western Australia, Kitsune Press, May 2016, trade paperback $25.84 (395 pages), Kindle $7.99.

Spirit Hunters. Book 1: The Way of the Fox was published in September 2014, and reviewed here in January 2015. It contains the first three Encounters of about a hundred pages each. I said that, “Spirit Hunters is set in the realm of traditional Japanese mythology, vaguely around 900 or 1000 A.D.” The Spirit Hunters are a quartet who wander throughout medieval mythical Japan hunting yokai — supernatural spirits. Lady Kitsune nō Sura, a fox woman, and her companion Tsunetomo Tonbo, a huge human samurai with “a solid iron staff longer than he was tall. The business end was grimly studded with spikes. It was the weapon of a monster slayer – a thing designed to obliterate helmets, armour and anything organic that might get in its way,” are “itinerant Spirit Hunters, traveling throughout Japan looking for evil Spirits to kill – hopefully for pay.” Asodo Kuno is a young bottom-ranking samurai who hopes that killing demons will gain him a reputation and higher status. Chiri is a shy rat-spirit who Sura persuades to join them. She is accompanied by two little spirits of her own: Daitanishi the rock elemental, and Bifuuko the apparent insect; an air elemental.

Sura and Chiri are the main characters who make this a furry book. Sura is described in the first book as:

“A fox woman lounged upon a fallen log like a reclining Buddha, eating a roasted chicken leg. Beside her, there were the embers of a camp fire and a pair of backpacks ready for travel. The fox woman had a long, clever pointed muzzle, and great, green eyes filled with humour. Her body was human in size and shape – excepting for its lush pelt of fur, her fox head with muzzle and long pointed ears, and her long, elegant red tail. She wore a priestess’ robes decorated with images of peaches – with each peach missing a single bite. The fox called out to Kuno in a loud and merry voice while she wriggled her black-furred toes.” (The Way of the Fox, p. 12) She gets the quartet into their adventures, blithely assuring them, “Trust me – I’m a fox!”

The animal-people can shift among three forms: human except for animal ears and tail; anthropomorphic, looking human but with an animal head, full fur or feathers, and tail; and fully animal but still able to talk.

The Fourth Encounter, “The Lodge of Doves”, pages 9 to 88, is a humorous one. The four Spirit Hunters meet a rival group of three haughty samurai and a crane woman and end up challenging them to a contest to rid the ruined Lodge of Doves of the ghosts haunting it. They can’t understand why the nearby townsfolk think this is so funny.

This shows Sura and Chiri in fine form:

“Sura settled the cap upon her beautifully furred head. She had changed form into something partway between human and animal – covered with fur, and sporting a fine long muzzle with clever whiskers. She tugged her robes in place, then dusted off her black-furred hands.

Beside her, Chiri also changed form. To her elegant pink tail, she now added a delicate, white-furred rat face. Her long white hair gleamed in the slanting sunlight. Sura fussed about setting Chiri to rights – having to fight with Bifuuko, who had definite ideas about the set of Chiri’s hair. With everything in train, Sura tossed her backpack to Tonbo, then led the way towards the mansion gates.” (p. 37)

The Fifth Encounter, “Honour’s Sacrifice”, pages 89 to 188, is more serious. The Spirit Hunters encounter a formless ghost near a town that is celebrating a “rock festival”:

“The monks swung open the heavy gates, revealing a wide, walled yard. A statue of a samurai stood at the centre – a statue apparently cast from solid bronze.

The Raiden samurai immediately stampeded forward, flooding into the yard. They hurled rocks and abuse at the statue. Rocks flew thick as rain, making the bronze statue ring from time to time as it was struck. Monks helped the crowd fan out, keeping them behind ropes and well back from the statue. Those men who scored a hit were overjoyed, braying in triumph to the other samurai.” (p. 108)

The Spirit Hunters learn that the festival is to heap scorn on a nameless, faithless samurai who was contemptuously ordered by his lord to commit seppuku with a wooden sword. Sura feels that nevertheless, the ghost should be exorcised for honour’s sake. But the records of who the samurai was, and what his faithlessness was, are mysteriously incomplete; and they are deliberately hindered with increasing force in their search by the local Lord and Lady. Sura’s and Chiri’s shapeshifting are used prominently here.

The Sixth Encounter, “Friendship’s Sword, pages 189 to 286, starts out as a murder mystery. It seems to be a natural death at first, except for the look of absolute horror on the victim’s face; then the murder means is determined; then there is a four-page ninja attack on the Spirit Hunters:

“The other woodcutters were already flashing weapons out from hiding – short swords, sickles and short spears hidden in the wagon. Kuno drew his sword in a blinding blur of steel, slicing up through one man and down through another. Tonbo slammed his tetsubo down on the up-thrust end of the cart, catapulting the other end upwards, slamming one woodcutter aside and scattering weapons on the ground.

Blow-darts hissed down from the rooftops above, streaking in towards the Spirit Hunters. But the swarm of air elementals shot up from beneath the eaves, smacking darts aside and sending wild eddies of air whipping past the rooves. Two black-clad assassins on one rooftop staggered, pierced by their own comrades’ darts.” (p. 237)

Sura’s and Chiri’s shapeshifting appear again here:

“Before the maid’s astonished eyes, Sura and Chiri both turned into their animal forms. They glided up out of their clothing, shook themselves, and then slipped beneath the basket lid. Sura’s bright fluffy tail draped down outside the basket. Chiri’s little white rat face peeked out, saw the tail, and then she reeled it in out of sight.” (p. 247)

This is the first Encounter which the Spirit Hunters do not entirely win.

In the Seventh Encounter, “The Forest of Lies”, pages 287 to 395, the Spirit Hunters meet a baby who isn’t quite a baby, and spiders. Lots of spiders. Little spiders and giant spiders. Do spiders hiss and screech in bloodlust? These do. Sura hates spiders. But not all spiders are evil.

Spirit Hunters. Book 2 is as enjoyable as Book 1. Those who like Kidd’s mixture of comedy, drama, and action, in a setting of Japanese traditional fantasy, can relax with assurance of excellent entertainment. Bring on Book 3!

There are no art credits, but the three Encounter headings in Book 1 were by Angie Kae (KaeMantis), so I assume that these four for Encounters 4, 5, 6, and 7 are also. The cover art also appears on DeviantArt, where it is titled The Fox and the Giant Peach by R. H. Potter and is captioned “A new book cover commission”.

Fred Patten

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