Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
D’Arc: A Novel from the War With No Name, by Robert Repino. Illustrated by Sam Chung and Kapo Ng.
NYC, Soho Press, May 2017, hardcover $26.95 (386 pages), Kindle $14.99.
I don’t usually quote other writers’ blurbs, but how could anyone resist this from Corey Redekop, the author of Husk, on the front cover:
“Think The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with advanced weaponry, Charlotte’s Web, with armed combat, The Wind in the Willows, with machetes. D’Arc is all this and way more besides.”
S-f author Paul DiFilippo compares D’Arc to Cordwainer Smith’s Underpeople, David Brin’s Uplifted dolphins, Puss in Boots, and Brian Jacques’ Redwall. If I looked hard enough, I could doubtlessly find many comparisons to Animal Farm and Watership Down as well.
D’Arc is a sequel to Mort(e). Almost the first thing that you learn in D’Arc is a big spoiler for Mort(e): yes, Mort(e) the cat, the renamed Sebastian, does find Sheba, the pet dog who he was searching for all through that novel.
The first chapter, though, introduces Taalik and his Sarcops. They will appear again later. They are not Changed animals, but a new mutation. To quote a later description of them: “Part fish, part crab, part cephalopod. A bulbous head. Black eyes. Segmented armor on the spine, with four tentacles unfurling from within. Two jointed claws extending from the shoulders, with longer ones at the pelvis that could be used for walking. A long tail with spikes on the end of it.” (p. 54)
Mort(e) and Sheba appear in Chapter 2. Mort(e) does not join either the Changed animals or the remaining humans. He strikes out on his own – with Sheba. The “strange technology” of the ant Queen that Changed all natural animals into anthropomorphic animals in Mort(e) was actually a pill that the unnoticed ants inserted into each animal; and the Queen had not given this pill to Sheba in order to control Mort(e). After the Queen’s death and the disintegration of the Colony, Mort(e) and Sheba sail up the Delaware River, where Mort(e) gives Sheba the pill that Changes her. They continue past the abandoned ruins of Philadelphia, and finally leave the river and trek into the Pocono Mountains.
Here Mort(e) and Sheba are eating the remains of a giant Alpha warrior ant around a campfire:
“‘I didn’t go looking for you so you could be my pet,’ he said.
Sheba stopped fiddling with a leg and placed it in the fire.
‘You’re free now,’ he said. ‘I can’t be your mate. I won’t be your master. I’m your friend. I don’t know how many lives I have left, but they’re yours, if you need them.’
When she did not respond, Mort(e) took her hand. ‘There is a whole world out there, but I’m going deeper into the forest tomorrow. Do you want to go with me?’
Sheba gazed beyond the flames, out to the mountains rising like black monoliths.” (pgs. 28-29)
They become ant ranchers, domesticating the brainless Alpha giant ants left over after the Queen’s death; a herd that slowly shrinks as the Alphas gradually age and die, and are not replaced.
Many years pass. Chapter 3 introduces Falkirk, a husky officer of the Department of Tranquility of the animals’ growing Sanctuary Union. He is sent from their capital of Hosanna (“a big city with many different species”) to Lodge City, a beaver community. He finds that the beavers have evacuated their city for a refugee camp nearby:
“As they crested one final hill, with the sun going down, they crawled on their bellies so they [Falkirk and two beavers] could peer over the ridge without being seen. Booker followed, though he stopped short of the top. Castor pulled the goggles over his beady eyes.
From the hillside, Lodge City sprawled out before them in the failing light. Several buildings from the human era survived, all built from stone – a post office, a high school, a fire station. Around these decaying structures stood massive mounds of earth and tree branches, the lodges that the beavers preferred.
From his perch on the hillside, the town seemed out of focus to Falkirk, as if some gel had been smeared over his eyes. He pulled the binoculars from his satchel. Through the magnified lenses, he stared at the town for a long time before he could accept what he saw. ‘Why didn’t you come to us sooner?’ he asked.
‘Why did Tranquility send only one agent?’ Castor replied. ‘We need an army.’
Unable to answer, Falkirk looked again, panning more slowly this time. He could make out the contours of it: a spiderweb, consisting of millions of strands, draped over the town like a snowfall suspended in midair.” (pgs. 34-35)
Falkirk and Castor contact Mort(e) and Sheba and ask their help against the spiders. The Battle of Lodge City is brutal but successful, though not in the way that the reader expects. But then Falkirk asks their aid in more cases. More fights.
“‘Let me put it this way. The case number I’m working on for this spider attack is 0519. That means there are 518 cases before mine.’
‘Cases. You mean mutations.’
‘Yes. Most of them are harmless. But we don’t have the resources to address the ones that aren’t. And it turns out that the world is a big place. We have both a country and an ocean to explore. But we’ve been out of touch with the other continents for years. That’s what the expedition is for.’
‘What expedition?’” (p. 109)
Mort(e) isn’t interested. Sheba is. On page 144 she leaves Mort(e), takes a new name as he did – D’Arc, for Dog Joan of Arc – and joins the husky on the Sanctuary Union expedition.
“But her most important question was why. Why would people leave the fragile civilization in Hosanna to explore?
Falkirk put it this way. ‘We want to meet a panda who speaks Mandarin.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We want to see who’s out there. We want to hear their stories. We want to tell them ours.’
She smiled. He gave her the best answer she could have asked for. ‘What about a lizard speaking Arabic?’
He laughed. ‘Or a silverback gorilla speaking Swahili?’
This made her giggle. ‘How about … a kangaroo. Speaking … Australian!’
Falkirk furrowed his brow. ‘Australian’s not a language.’ D’Arc laughed. ‘It’s not,’ he said.” (p. 160)
D’Arc (cover by Sam Chung) is less than halfway through at this point. Read it to find out what the two uplifted dogs and the expedition discover. There are marvels. There are dangers, external and internal. The story never gets boring. So far, D’Arc is my choice for best anthropomorphic novel of 2017.
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