“The Captain was halfway to the door when he felt the press of metal against his throat. “I am Bonsoir,” the stoat hissed, a scant inch from the Captain’s ears. “I have cracked rattlesnake eggs while their mother slept soundly atop them, I have snatched the woodpecker mid-flight. More have met their end at my hand than from corn liquor and poisoned bait! I am Bonsoir, whose steps fall without sound, whose knives are always sharp, who comes at night and leaves widows weeping in the morning.”
Daniel Polansky creates an anthropomorphic dark world in The Builders. These are not sweet, cuddly animals; if you try to pet one, you are liable to lose a hand or worse. The driving force of The Builders is revenge, and who doesn’t like a little bit of revenge?
I read The Builders blindly; it was recommended to me by a friend. I told him I was looking for something quick and dark that I could sink my proverbial teeth in to. What I didn’t expect was anthropomorphism. Usually, when you have a story with Anthromophism, it can go one of two ways. Sweet and cuddly, “hey, look the animals are behaving just like us.” Or, “Jesus Christ, the animals are behaving just like us.” It is an excellent way to spell out what we consider the better angels of our nature. Humanity at its finest. Wilbur, the pig, making friends with a spider. We usually are Wilbur the pig getting sold off to the market.
But that is not the world that Polanksy gives us.
There is nothing kind or forgiving about these animals. Instead, Polansky gives us a mouse, a stoat, an opossum, a badger, a salamander, a mole, an owl and a revenge plot dripping with fresh blood and cracking bones for his motley crew. Years after the smoke has cleared, the bodies buried, and the crew separated to make their way in the world, the need for revenge still runs hot, but it might be a dish served cold to their enemies.
Even though each of the characters, the animals, has a definitive personality and viewpoint, kudos to Polansky, the story’s main character and lynchpin is a battle-hardened and scarred old mouse known as the Captain. It is he who travels from place to place and plucks the team members from their lives like bruised apples plucked from a tree. Some of his crew consider this an excellent opportunity, while others have put away violence for good. Or at least until Captain comes calling.
The dastardly antagonists of the story are a skunk and a myriad of vile henchmen. As things often do with best-laid plans, things go awry, and bullets fly across the pages.
I loved this story, and it turned me on to Polanksy’s stories. The Builders is concise and tightly written, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. If the story had only a few characters, I could quickly become attached to them and gain a depth of understanding of their personality. But, because this book has many characters and a short length, some of the characters start to muddle together, which is a shame. I could easily read a 600-page novel with this crew and be very happy. Here’s to hoping Polanksy will write short stories with some of these characters.
The Builders is an easy dark fantasy novel to love. If you like your fantasy revenge filled, furred, and ferocious this is book for you.