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The Fox of Richmond Park, by Kate Dreyer – book review by Fred Patten.


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

51gawTWMoL._SX309_BO1204203200_.jpg?resiThe Fox of Richmond Park, by Kate Dreyer
London, Unbound, July 2017, trade paperback, £11.99 (287 pages), Kindle $1.99.

“If the Animals of Farthing Wood had lived in London and hated each other a little bit more, their story may have been a lot like this one.

‘Get out of the way or get an antler up the arse, yeah? I’m sick of these glorified donkeys.’” (blurb)

Almost all the (British) reviewers have compared this British novel to Colin Dann’s 1979 classic The Animals of Farthing Wood. In it, the woodland community of Farthing Wood is paved over by human developers. The wildlife inhabitants, led by Fox, undertake a dangerous trek to the safety of a distant nature reserve.

The Animals of Farthing Wood is a Young Adult novel. All the animals act together in brotherhood. No one eats anybody.

The Fox of Richmond Park is an Adult novel. Richmond Park is a large wildlife park in London that Wikipedia says is known for its deer. In this talking-animal novel, the deer are the arrogant elite class of the Park’s fauna. When the deer decide they want the lakeside area where several foxes have had their dens for generations, they just tell the foxes to move out. Most accept the order without protest. Vince does not.

“‘Why I should leave,’ Vince snarled as he prowled back and forth in the semi-circle of bare earth that marked the entrance to his den, black ears flat to his head, ‘just because some over-entitled deer want to be near the lake?’

‘It’s not like that. And you can dig a new, bigger den in a day or two. I don/t see what the problem is. Other animals have moved without a fuss.’ Edward tilted his antlers towards the small skulk of foxes several leaps away, who had gathered at the edge of the woodland to wait for the sun to set. ‘And your friends are being very cooperative.’

‘That’s because you’ve told them a load of scat about how great the cemetery is.’ Vince said, the copper fur on his back bristling. He’d had every intention of talking this through civilly with the stag, but his temper had other ideas. Just like last time.” (p. 1)

The other foxes privately agree with Vince, but why bring on an animal war? It’s easier to move. Vince goes on arguing until he says he’d rather leave the park altogether than move to an inferior neighborhood, just because the deer order it.

“‘But I’m not your enemy, Vince [Edward says]. This park is a wonderful place where we can all live together in safety, where humans respect us and take care of us. But there are rules. Just follow the rules like everyone else and you can stay. The last thing we want is to drive anyone away. Be serious, Vince. Do you really want to leave this place and live among humans? Dodging their cars, being kept awake by their incessant noise, eating their leftovers out of bins? Especially after what happened to your father.’” (p. 3)

Vince won’t back down. Besides, he’d always wondered where his grandparents had lived before they came to Richmond Park. Now he’s free to find out.

He’s not alone, either. Rita the magpie wants to join him.

“‘Why do you want to come? I don’t even know where I’m going.’

‘I want to travel with you. See London. Have an adventure!’

‘I’m not going on an adventure.   I’m just looking for my grandparents’ old home.’

‘Sounds like an adventure to me. Come on, I’ve spent too many seasons in this place. There’s nothing for me here and I’m getting old… I want to see the city! Fly to new places and taste new food and hear new birds!’” (p. 13)

So Vince and Rita venture from Richmond Park, where they have always led a sheltered, protected life, into the London metropolis. They have to dodge cars, learn how to cross streets with traffic lights, discover the difference between human pedestrians with cell phone cameras who just want to take their pictures and animal welfare officers who want to trap Vince, and more. A running joke is Vince’s frustration to find out what a poodle is.

Their search for Vince’s grandparents’ den takes them from Richmond Park to Hyde Park, Regent’s Park where the London Zoo is, and further afield. They meet many animals like Sid the badger, Oswald the swan, Frank and Roger the geese, Socks the cat (“Official Feline Administrator of the Hammersmith area”), G, Jonny, and Ra-Ra, the rat gourmets of Soho, Arthur the hedgehog, and more. Some are helpful. Some are murderous. There is comedy, suspense, violence, and tragedy. Vince and Rita are gradually joined by others.

There are hints of romantic complications. Vince has left a vixen, Sophie, back in Richmond Park. Sophie has recently mated with another tod, Jake, but she and Vince still have feelings for each other. Vince and Rita meet another vixen, Laurie, an urban fox, on their travels. Will Vince mate with Laurie, or return to Richmond Park for Sophie? How far will Jake go to ensure that Vince does not return to Richmond Park?

There is also the constant plot to kill Vince before he can find his grandparents’ home.

“‘Why bother? [asks Kara the owl] He’s already gone.’

‘His death will be a warning to everyone here [answers Edward]. They need to be reminded that the city is dangerous and that Richmond Park is the best home they’ll ever have. I have little doubt that Vince will fail on his own, but I’m not risking it. I can’t have him sending messages back, encouraging others to flout the rules or leave or … worse. Park Watch would fall apart. I’ve spent seasons making this park what it is and I won’t have that flea-ridden creature ruin it for me.’” (p. 30)

Dreyer refers at one point to Watership Down, but it’s obvious before then that she is familiar with it. However, The Fox of Richmond Park (cover by Mecob) is completely original. It is a top-quality addition to any library of talking-realistic-animal fantasies. No furry fan should miss it.

– Fred Patten

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