Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Marking Territory, by Daniel Potter. Illustrated by Johanna T.
El Cerrito, CA, Fallen Kitten Productions, November 2017, trade paperback, $14.99 (381 pages), Kindle $4.99.
Marking Territory is Book Two in Potter’s Freelance Familiars fantasy series. There is no Synopsis or What Has Gone Before of the events of Book One, Off Leash. The Freelance Familiars series is recommended, but if you aren’t familiar with Off Leash, you won’t know what is going on.
For the record, the Kindle edition was published in July 2016, over a year before the paper edition.
The narrator is Thomas Khatt, a cougar who was a young unemployed librarian in Grantsville, Pennsylvania. Off Leash begins with Thomas’s next-door neighbor being killed in a suspicious hit-&-run “accident”, and Thomas being transformed into a mountain lion/cougar/puma. He learns that he has been transported to the “Real World”, and as an intelligent animal, he is expected to become a wizard or witch’s familiar; an involuntary magical assistant – in practice, a slave to a magus.
“Yet one thing had become crystal clear; I wanted no part of this world. Losing my thumbs, my house and my girlfriend in exchange for the chance to be sold off to some pimple-faced apprentice did not sound like a fair deal to me.” (Off Leash, p. 35)
To quote from my review of Off Leash:
“Thomas decides to take charge of his own life, even if he is not familiar with the Real World yet. He faces the dangers of our “world beyond the Veil”, of being a cougar loose in a San Francisco residential neighborhood, and of the Real World, refusing to join the TAU [Talking Animal Union] or to become bound to a magus – or to an apprentice – as a familiar.
“To stay off the leash, he’ll have to take advantage of the chaos caused by the local Archmagus’ death and help the Inquisition solve his murder. A pyromaniac squirrel, religious werewolves, and cat-hating cops all add to the pandemonium as Thomas attempts to become the first Freelance Familiar.” (blurb)
Off Leash ends with Thomas still a cougar, but he’s found and rescued his girlfriend, a werewolf (she’s more like a permanently furry wolf-woman) named Touch, and he’s won his independence as a freelance familiar. He’s become a familiar for hire – and if he doesn’t like his boss, he’ll go elsewhere. He’s satisfactorily bonded as the familiar of O’Meara, a magus who is the Inquisitor (police officer) of the Grantsville of the Real World, but who has been gravely wounded in a magical duel saving his life.
Marking Territory begins six months later. Thomas and Noise – her human name is Angelica – are having dinner at an expensive restaurant “beyond the Veil”, posing as elegantly dressed humans:
“Pity slipped into the waiter’s eyes as I gathered my scattered thoughts. Really, I wanted to savor this moment for as long as I could. Thanks to the Veil that blinded mundanes to any magically-induced weirdness, he surely saw a miserable wretch of a man slumped in a wheelchair despite the snappy tuxedo. I didn’t need pity, for this was a triumph! I sat at the table, instead of hiding under it like a pet. He couldn’t see my smile filled with teeth designed to crush the windpipes of a deer or the huge paws that awkwardly pushed on the armrests of the wheelchair in which I perched. Nobody but Noise saw the nearly three-foot long tail that protruded from the space between the back and the seat of the wheelchair.
No one could comprehend a reason for a cougar to come into their restaurant dressed in a tuxedo and sitting in a wheelchair. Therefore, logically, I must be a man. It was a trick I’d only been able to pull off on the internet or in a dark alley.” (p. 8)
Their dinner is majorly interrupted by a transition. Thomas isn’t experienced with transitions yet. O’Meara’s mental connection saves him from its effects, but Noise isn’t immune to it.
“‘ThoOOOMAS?’ Noise’s voice stretched out into an animal bay as everything around me twisted, including her! I couldn’t turn my head away as black splotches appeared on her skin.
Her eyes, wide with shock, slid to the sides of her head, pushed there by the growth of a heavy muzzle. Horns erupted from either side of her skull, and her dress strained to contain the sudden bulk of her body and breasts. The glass she held shattered, crushed with the strength of a massive two-fingered hand.
Behind her the wall shimmered from plain white into roughhewn planks. The elegant table before us became a barrel covered with a red-checked tablecloth, and the silverware, wooden spoons and knives. The salt and pepper shakers blossomed into shallow bowls with piles of spice.
Noise held a hand up to each eye. Her mouth, a maw filled with blunt teeth and a black tongue, hung open like a dentist had used too much Novocain. She closed and opened it as if to speak, but all that came out was a loud, panicked MOOOOO!
Noise clutched at her muzzle. The waiter, or what had been our water, appeared. He bleated a question at Noise as he effortlessly balanced on cloven feet, wearing nothing but his blue vest. Noise just stared at him, her huge blue eyes flicking up and down the man’s goat-like body. Around us the mundanes, now blended with a reality that resembled a barnyard, continued with their meals, the Veil preventing them from noticing anything unusual had happened.” (pgs. 13-14)
The effect doesn’t last long, but it’s a blatant sign that Thomas, as an intelligent but physically unanthropomorphized cougar, is starting a new adventure.
Thomas, still getting used to life as a physical cougar who’s mentally connected to a magus who has become a wheelchair-bound cripple saving his life, feels personally obligated to getting medical help for O’Meara. To do that, he’ll have to quit being O’Meara’s familiar and earn magic on his own as a talking cougar in the Real World, with only (legally) the help of Rudy, a wisecracking, pyromaniac squirrel. Thomas assumes that they will have to do it in Grantsville. Rudy insists they go to Las Vegas:
“‘Wait on the highway and show some leg [Rudy said]. We hitch a ride to Vegas. There’s trouble there that’s gonna need shooting.’
‘I’m still thinking local. I don’t think the Veil would like us in Vegas.’ I stopped to rub an itchy shoulder against one of my favorite scratching trees.
‘No seriously,’ Rudy said, ‘there’s no Veil in Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Anything magical happens and munds assume it was all a wild bender. Most magical city in the USA. If you want clients to get this whole freelance familiar thing happening, go there. I’ll dig you up a fedora somewhere.’” (pgs. 52-53)
This review is running too long. There are even weirder transitions, a cat-controlled helicopter, and lots more, most of which involves the cougar and the extroverted squirrel dealing with anthro animals of some sort:
“Eight birds stared down at us as Ixey opened her eyes. One was no crow. You might mistake him for a giant raven, but the beak had a wicked curve to it, his talons vicious hooks. This was no scavenger. He was a black eagle, feathers darker than the others, given almost no shine by the glare of their lamppost perch. He hopped forward, gliding down toward us. A single crow followed his lead, her body bursting into a blue light and form blurring as she swooped beneath the eagle, landing as an elegant woman in a white dress. She wore a falconry glove, which the eagle alighted upon as the last of the blue light faded from a ring she wore.” (p. 84)
Marking Territory (cover by Ebooklaunch.com) arguably features magical animals rather than anthropomorphic animals, but what do you care as long as they are talking animals? Decide for yourself whether to read Off Leash first.
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