Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Wrath of Trees, by Bard Bloom. Illustrated, maps by Tod Wills.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2011, trade paperback $16.95 (268 pages), Kindle $2.99.
“The lakku philosopher wagged her tails as she hammered nails into my trunk. Not pleasant, companionable wagging, but wagging them so that they cross each other: the gloating of a victorious predator. I was small at the time, and three of the nails poked out of my bark on the opposite side. They ached, of course, but a plant does not feel her body as acutely as an animal would. Nothing had eaten my fruit, so I had no way to resist her, or even complain.” (p. 14)
Thus the opening paragraph of the story. If anyone wonders why the story begins as late as page 14, the preceding pages are filled with three maps of the world of Kono and the island of Naoth, and a seven-page “prependix” of the characters, language and vocabulary to be encountered.
How to summarize the summary? The lakku, the main characters of Kono, “are generally humanoid, but with some aspects of dogs and birds” (p. 9) with two tails and fur, so they’re furry. Naoth has several social/political factions. Pyzot, the nail-driving philosopher in the opening paragraph, is a member of the Rorojro faction which has recently lost its Great Faction status. She intends to use questionable and illegal methods to regain that status, which will also advance herself in Rorojro’s hierarchy. She has obtained two offworld maraleni trees, which look like regular Kono trees but are sentient and can mentally control weak minds that eat their berries. Bringing any offworld plants to Kono is a capital offense, so Pyzot, her husband Saet, and Rorojro’s kotanay (leader) Utsusei are playing a risky game. Pyzot is brutal, as shown by hammering the nails into Melylunnu (Melyl), the tree, who is the book’s narrator. Melyl hates Pyzot, but what can a speechless tree do? especially when, if she is discovered by anyone else, she will be uprooted and burnt?
“‘The method is this [Pyzot said]. maraleni are intelligent trees. Whatever eats their berries is thereafter subject to the maraleni’s observation and influence, through subtle currents. […] By ‘influence’ I include mental control – of small animals of only minor intellect and will. […]
Saet continued for her, wagging his tails in parallel. ‘In short words, we feed our enemies some maraleni berries. Then the maraleni can look and listen in on our enemies from afar.’
‘I see [Utsusei said] the traditional Pyzot cleverness at work here! Or perhaps the traditional Pyzot insidiousness. How do we get reports, though? Can the trees talk?’
‘Again, there are many variations. A bird can be compelled to peck at a board of letters and words to spell out a message. Or I shall eat a berry myself, and endure direct mental contact with the maraleni.’” (p. 17)
It is clear that Pyzot, Saet, and Utsusei do not consider Melyl as an individual but as a tool to be used. This is their first mistake. They decide that it is too risky for Pyzot to eat a berry to get into mental contact with Melyl; who knows where the division between a weak mind and a strong mind is? Instead they need a fourth lakku, but one who they can be sure is under their control. They pick Ffip, a young olpi (lakku slave) who is used to being ordered around.
“Ffip was not particularly impressive – not that I had seen more than a half-dozen lakku men. He was no more than five and a half feet tall, and a bit chubby. He was still a foot and a half taller than most women, and not nearly as plump, but he did look distinctly effeminate. Most men are at least six feet, and wiry. He had only two crests, which is not a rare thing of itself; Utsusei also has only two. But one was trimmed short and the other trimmed shorter yet, and he looked lopsided and perpetually confused. His fur, at least, was a respectable reddish-purple, with thin purple stripes on his shoulders and legs, just like Saet’s patterns.” (p. 24)
Ffip is extremely nervous about being put in mental contact with Melyl:
“His tails were flat in dread; he clearly had a very good idea what was going to be asked of him.
‘I need someone to serve as my liaison to Melyl,’ said Pyzot. I can’t be running out to Letse [where Melyl is planted for spying] every time I want something investigated, and I can’t carry on a decent conversation with someone who talks only by commanding a bird to scribble in the sand.’
I suppose I could have seized that moment to volunteer that I had other ways of talking. I can create illusions of sound at an immara [something in mental communication with a maraleni], and I was sure that with some practice I could make spoken words. […] In any case, I chose to keep my powers secret.” (p. 25)
Melyl is already planning to escape Pyzot’s control:
“‘Nothing or next to nothing. My best instruments can barely sense a thing! This is excellent, Utsusei. A few cleverly-placed berries nd we can spy on the other factions,’ said Pyzot at last. ‘Now, try to compel Ffip to, oh, write ‘yes’ in the sand.’
This seemed an excellent time to seem as weak and unintimidating as possible, and an excellent time to betray Pyzot. It would not be the last. I knew that even my best direct control would not work, rather in the same way that a lakku knows without trying that he can pick up a chair with some effort, but not a full bookcase. Still, I used my weakest spell of compulsion rather than my strongest, sufficient perhaps to persuade a beetle to eat one treat rather than another. The spells I used on the songbird were stronger. ‘I think I felt something,’ said Ffip.” (p. 27)
Melyl slowly enlarges her knowledge of Letse, and of Naoth, as songbirds and mice eat her berries, become her immara, and she sends them out to explore for her. When Pyzot’s adolescent daughter Etefi and her best friend Nyzhi become immara, Melyl doesn’t dare try to compel them to do anything; she uses them to eavesdrop only and learn about lakku social life.
The Wrath of Trees gradually turns into a picture of lakku society, its politics and religion, and finally of Naothian warfare against the rival island of Kepez. Melyl at first merely observes:
“‘The maraleni experiment runs the risk of getting us all lynched if it is discovered. What risks do the others run?’ asked Saet.
‘Various risks, all small. Ffip might end up mindless if one of them works badly. Another might turn our fur into ice needles. The other experiments are all fairly noticeable though: anyone with a Pesamimaan Butterfly will know that something is up. The thing that pleases me most about the maraleni is that she’s unnoticeable.’ I unnoticeably worried that Pyzot would realize that I was listening to her as she decided whether or not to kill me. At least, Ffip didn’t notice it.” (p. 76)
Then she tries to silently influence things. Things get complicated, on Naoth and beyond. The Wrath of Trees is truly unique in its planet, the physiology of its furries, and its rooted, thorny heroine; but the reader is drawn smoothly into it all. It’s a very Different but nevertheless enjoyable read.
The cover by Tod Wills shows Saet (holding the birdcage) and Pyzot standing below Melyl.
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