Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Mist, by Amy Fontaine
Knoxville, TN, Thurston Howl Publications, September 2017, trade paperback, $10.99 (168 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $2.99.
Mist is more like a traditional fairy tale than a usual furry novel.
“‘Where am I?’ said the five children. They startled all at once at the sound of each other’s voices.
They peered at each other through the swirling mist, slowly piecing together each other’s appearance. A broad-shouldered girl with brown eyes as fierce as a hawk’s stood firmly, locking eyes with each of the others in turn and staring them down. A much younger, much smaller girl trembled as she gazed into the mist, twirling a golden curl of hair around her finger. A boy with short-cropped, dirty-blond hair smiled kindly at the others. A tall, lanky boy with messy brown hair glanced all around himself, assessing his surroundings. A pale boy with pointed ears frowned at the others. They all seemed to be teenagers of varying ages, except for the quivering little girl.
‘Who are you?’ the children asked each other.” (p. 1)
The five children do not remember their names. They are in a forest of tall trees shrouded in mist. They find a giant redwood with a treehouse containing shelves of books. A book on a candle-lit table is titled Transformations.
“The book had two parts, ‘Part One: Changing Yourself,’ and ‘Part Two: Changing the World.’” (p. 3)
The five children learn that they each have two animal forms (only one of which is revealed immediately to the reader), and they can all talk telepathically, in their animal or human forms. Since they do not know their names, they take new ones. The hawk-eyed girl, who can become a wolf, becomes Karen Starbroke, their leader. The boy with the gentle smile is Samuel Reed, a red deer. The little girl is Tessa Opal, a golden mongoose. The messy-haired boy is Jack Walsh, a lynx. The pale boy with pointed ears, a python, will not show the others what his other animal form is, and only reluctantly chooses a name when pressed by Karen: Loki Avila.
“‘Well, now that we have that established, we can go and use what we can do to be heroes.’” (p. 5)
All during this the mist is swirling closely around them, as though it is watching, listening, and embracing them. Suddenly their apparent adversary appears.
“‘Before the wolf could finish her sentence, a bloodcurdling roar split the night in two.
A quarter-mile away, at the spot from which the roar had come, two slanted yellow eyes glowed in the darkness.
The yellow eyes belonged to a large, ugly, reptilian face. Its scales melded into the darkness. The big, distinctly split scales made the face seem cracked like ancient mud.
The eyes had risen because the jaws had parted, and the creature’s cavernous mouth now loomed open. Karen saw the ghastly gleam of long, sharp teeth like ivory sabers, with strings of spit clinging like cobwebs to the inside of the gaping maw. For a moment, she stood motionless, watching the creature.
Suddenly, the creature disappeared into the mist.” (pgs. 6-8)
But it turns out that everyone sees the monster differently.
And so it goes. Plenty of exciting events happen, but for no apparent reason. Whenever anyone does ask a reason, it pointedly is not answered.
“Karen blinked rapidly, staring at nothing. Then, she looked at Jack. ‘Let’s wake everyone up. We need to keep moving.’
‘Why?’ asked Jack. Karen wasn’t listening.
After everyone was awake, they took another quick stop at the brook and headed on their way, following Karen toward … well, no one knew where.” (pgs. 13-14)
Karen is friendly toward three of the group, but is constantly berating Loki, usually for being the last to arrive when she orders them to change into animals and dash off.
“Karen returned to human form and glared at Loki. ‘Well, look who decided to show up.’
Loki stared blankly at Karen. ‘What?’
‘Why didn’t you follow us right away?’ growled Karen. ‘If we’re going to be a pack and work together, we have to all stay together. We only have each other to rely on from now on. We might have needed your help to fight that … that thing. And you weren’t there.’
Karen and Loki glared at each other.
‘What about you, Karen’ said Loki. ‘You charged off and left us without a second thought. How was I supposed to keep up with you all in those swift forms of yours, anyway? I can’t match your pace, as a snake or as a human.’” (p. 8)
The forest, which turns out to be called the Ethereal Forest, seems to be a typical fairy-tale (i.e., European) forest, but its wildlife is North American: coyotes, mountain lions, and so on. There are wondrous things in this world, and the five children have wondrous adventures, yet I get the impression that this was a mistake. Or was it a deliberate effort to bring the magic of Old World fairy-tales into New World settings?
It doesn’t matter.
“In her very soul, Karen felt a yearning as profound as the heavens. Somewhere, a voice was calling her, with music soft and mysterious, lyrics as old as the sea. The voice was without her, yet there within her, too. She might have felt strange, seeking something that was right there inside her, but the urge to wander was too strong. She knew then more than ever that she would fulfill the call no matter what it took. Her emotions a wild dance of red flashes in her head, she was wound up, unable to contain herself, so overcome with feeling. Without realizing it, she had become the wolf. She threw back her shaggy head and let out a powerful, spirited howl. It was so full of lonely longing, so otherworldly and unreal, that the loud, carrying cry seemed alien to all those who heard it. It was so full of strange potentials difficult to grasp that it was like the mist in its ambiguity. The howl that Karen let loose was indeed a thing truly ethereal in nature.” (p. 50)
Mist (cover by Scott L. Ford) is, like most tales of this sort, at heart a teaching experience, for the five children and for the inhabitants of the Ethereal Forest alike. Who is the teacher? What is the mist? Read the book and find out.
Only four will survive.
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