I have had a number of entries with unique hooks that hit you in the face early on… this was definitely one of those books; there are dancing burlesque racoons on page one. Clearly, this was going to be a different kind of entry.
This read like a fantasy world in a similar way that Bojack Horseman is a fantasy. The beings that inhabit this world are the animals we know today but just… sentient and living the way humans do. There aren’t just dancing burlesque racoons, there are leopards, bob cats, sloths, rabbits, foxes, boars, deer etc. There’s been a ban on eating anything sentient which sounds like common sense, but there were complications that came with this law since some cultures believed in the ritual of eating their dead to release their spirits, (or something similar I can’t quite remember). By placing an outright ban on eating meat with no exceptions, many people who weren’t criminals before are now criminals of the worst kind, and are called Flesh Eaters. If caught, people who eat meat are sent to horrible prisons which could be considered a fate worse than death.
The main character, Coal, is a fox. He’s found himself in quite the predicament. He can’t find any legitimate work anywhere because he’s been accused of killing his father (not true). Despite the fact he’s a non violent fellow, he’s found himself in the company of a crime syndicate running odd jobs for them… e people aren’t supposed to die, but they do.
He has to come up with eight thousand dollars or he won’t be able to get his record scrubbed and live a normal life. There are bounty hunters who are after him and there’s no chance they’re going to stop. This need for a big lump of cash leads him to enter into a spiderback race… yep, mm-hmm. Giant spider racing. There are various species of spiders used for treetop racing and terrain racing, and different species excel at different types of tracks and races. It’s one of the more fun aspects of the world building, and I’m not even a huge fan of spiders.
I’ve read a few of other Riddle’s books and I haven’t been disappointed yet. They are all fascinating and unique, and this was no exception. I’ve never read anything like it — but I have seen things like it in movies/tv, with Zootopia and Bojack Horseman also using animals as their main characters in a ‘real world’ setting. I wish there had been a bit more exploration to what that would mean for the cities architecture and everyday use items and needs like public transit. There was a little bit of that, but the focus of the story was mostly on the main character and his issues. I really did like the spiders, they seem like docile horses since there was no mention of having to break them in or violent tendencies… a little weird since we would be prey for a spider that size, but ya know, who cares, it’s a fox riding a giant spider through the trees.
The writing in this was so fluid and breezy that I read this book in just one day despite it being about 400 pages; the easy to follow plotline paired with breezy prose made for quick reading. Because of the smaller cast and low-stakes plotline this had an intimate feel to it that sets it apart from books that set off to save the world from the dark lord, or start a rebellion against the nobility. Don’t get me wrong, the MC has a lot at stake, but there’s no world-ending catastrophe to prevent; the tension is very much so based on Coal’s personal problems.
I would absolutely recommend this to people looking for something totally different, to those who like books with a wrapped up ending, non human POVs, and quick reads.
- Plot: 10/15
- Characters: 11/15
- World Building: 12/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 13/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 77/100