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The Mask of Bone, by Brian Panthera – book review by Fred Patten


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

51asljvRQZL._SY346_.jpg?resize=231%2C346The Mask of Bone, by Brian Panthera
Bloomington, IN, iUniverse, November 2016, trade paperback $20.99 (xvii + 331 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Mask of Bone – which is only Book 1 of the Otherworlds saga – is High Fantasy. Really High Fantasy, replete with lots of footnotes. The first footnote is: “To reduce confusion, calendar dates in the text will use the Universal Calendar (UC), based on the Central Timekeeping System used by the kitsune of the dimension of Escher. 11973 UC corresponds to roughly 2001 A.D. in the Gregorian Calendar used in most dimensional variations of Earth, and 1507 KI in the calendar on most of Tayrik, which dates back to […]” Does that reduce confusion? The world of Tayrik is where the action begins.

“Long ago, the mask of bone was shattered, its bearer slain, the pieces stolen. They were scattered through the dimensions to prevent its reassembly.” (blurb) Xolotl, the Aztec guide to the dead, wants the Mask reassembled, and he drafts Pflarrian to do it. Pflarrian Collifox is a student at the Mirial’s Rock Academy of Magic (and Mayhem) on Tayrik who is slowly turning into a fox. He looks like a gaunt human with “a long, bushy red tail sticking through a hole in his jeans, and a pair of large, pointy, red, furry, fox ears sticking up from under a shock of long reddish-brown hair that was usually pulled back in a rough ponytail.” (p. ix)   Professor Verdigris, who is a dragon, has assigned Pflarrian to do something entirely different, but Xolotl waylays him and persuades him to search the dimensions for the pieces of the Mask before he finishes turning into a fox. Got all that?

Oh, and Pflarr’s girlfriend Marani is a sometimes-impulsive anthro jaguaress:

“She paused in the kitchen just long enough to wash Pflarrian’s blood from her claws before returning to bed.” (p. 78)

Despite The Mask of Bone’s being set in a supposedly predominantly human dimension, there are more anthropomorphic animals than humans in this novel; including gods taking on anthro animal forms:

“It was here, finally, that the goddess [Isis] found the one she had come here to speak with. He stood slightly stooped over as he leaned on the edge of a great carved-marble reflecting pool, gazing at something only he could see. Her quarry [Xolotl] was an impressive sight. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was a humanoid canine like the goddess’s current form, but where she had taken the form of a jackal, he bore the form and shape of heavier-set dog-being, looking more like a rough-coat collie. His fur was a dark, almost metallic bronze in most places, accented here and there with white and bone-colored highlights. Fine robes fit for an emperor draped his body, glowing with the colors of the setting sun. They were resplendent in rich tones of orange and red. His head was adorned with a heavy-looking gold crown of sorts, bedecked with an array of long, brightly colored feathers. They swept back from just behind his canine ears to a point almost two feet over his head. Matching golden bracelets rode his wrists. A chunky, heavy necklace formed of square blocks of gold graced his neck and shoulders, barely visible through the thick ruff of fur about his neck.” (p. xiv)

I’ve quoted that at length to give you a taste of Panthera’s opulent writing style. The book is full of furry references. Isis has issues with cat-headed Bastet. One of a college professor’s assistants is Kalya, an anthro black-footed ferret. Someone mentions getting in a shipment of citrus fruits from the Felinid Empire. “It [a doorknock] was answered by a diminutive female mouse in pale blue student’s robes. She looked up at Pflarrian, who towered a good two feet over her, and blinked in surprise.” (p. 55) “The immortal had rented a private room at the Sign of the Nine Tails, a kitsune-run restaurant of some renown near Temple Road.” (p. 83) “The wide variety of beings that inhabited the city caught the wolf’s attention. Humans, felines, canines, something with long, furless, pointed ears that Dashell figured must have been an elf, and a myriad variety of others!” (p. 49) Pflarr’s turning into a fox is constantly kept before the reader: “With a resigned sigh, Pflarrian knelt on the stone floor, making sure not to kneel on his own tail.” (p. 7)

To cut to the admittedly-confusing plot, the first page of the story (as distinct from the 17-page Prologue) begins:

“Dashell awoke to pain. It filled his head to the tips of his fuzzy black ears, ran down his arms and legs, and caused his furry wolf’s tail to twitch in irritation. It made him feel is if someone had been trying to use him as a pincushion.

In other words, he had a hangover.” (p. 1)

Dashell Grauvolf, an alternating black-&-white-furred anthro wolf, is also a college student (computer sciences major) in his dimension. He is kidnapped by a wannabe-demonic mad scientist in Pflarrian’s dimension, escapes before he can be experimented upon (MUHAHAHA!), and is rescued (kind of) by Pflarrian (they think by coincidence, but not really).

Xolotl, who has been scrying what is happening to Dashell (read the book to learn why), has his attention drawn to Pflarrian. He is shocked to find that the same spell that is turning Pflarrian into a fox has made him Xolotl’s champion, even if no one is aware of it. So he appears to Pflarrian to persuade him to search the dimensions for the pieces of the Mask of Bone. But Pflarr doesn’t go alone! He brings Dashell, Marani, and her big (over 8 feet tall) sister Hakarra with him.

They set sail for the Felinid Empire (and promptly get into a sea battle with anthro animal pirates) on page 107. The rest of the 331-page novel is Pflarr’s & Dashell’s adventures looking for the pieces of the Mask of Bone. They don’t find them yet. To be continued in Otherworlds, Book 2: The Fated Ones.

The Mask of Bone (cover imagery © Thinkstock) is good fun, especially if you like a lot of transformations. Be prepared for one of the characters (a wolf) to have a thick German accent:

“She sighed. ‘I vill explain later, D’shal. Meanvile, ve haf to make sure neizzer Faylarrian nor Zaul do anyzing rash, ja?’” (p. 64)

Fred Patten

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