“But that is nature’s fault, and not the stoat’s; the stoat is what it has been made to be, as are we all.”
The Builders is Daniel Polansky’s riotous grimdark fantasy western featuring a band of gunslinging anthropomorphized animals bent on revenge.
I have such fond memories of animal adventure stories from my childhood, starting with the classic Old Mother West Wind children’s book series by Thornton W. Burgess. As I got older, I became captivated by the brilliant Redwall middle grade fantasy series by Brian Jacques. The characters all seemed surprisingly human in their challenges and aspirations, making them highly relatable, especially for young wildlife-loving readers.
As an adult, I didn’t realize how much I missed such stories. With The Builders, Daniel Polansky has written the grimdark animal adventure that I didn’t know I needed. Polansky packs loads of fun in this short novel, which clocks in at just over two hundred pages.
I’m not sure how mice became the de facto lead protagonists in anthropomorphized animal adventure stories. Is it because mice are especially vulnerable creatures with no special abilities to defend themselves other than their own quick wits?
Daniel Polansky embraces the mouse-as-lead protagonist trope in The Builders with the Captain, a grizzled mouse soldier, who assembles a ragtag team of adventurers in his pursuit of revenge. Besides the mousey Captain, The Magnificent Seven-style team consists of a stoat, an opossum, a badger, a salamander, a mole, and an owl.
My favorite character, by far, is Bonsoir, who is both a stoat and a Frenchman:
“A Frenchman, as any Frenchman will tell you, is a difficult condition to abide, as much a privilege as a responsibility. To maintain the appropriate standards of excellence, this superlative of grace, was a burden not so light even in the homeland, and immeasurably more difficult in the colonies. Being both French and a stoat had resulted in a more or less constant crisis of self-identity—one which Bonsoir often worked to resolve, in classic Gallic fashion, via monologue.”
The Builders is a fast-paced thrill ride of action as the motley crew face their odious, odorous skunk enemy. The story is instantly absorbing, a testament to Daniel Polansky’s outstanding writing, which is full of dark wit, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Personally, I found The Builders to be unputdownable, devouring the entire book in one afternoon. Daniel Polansky left me hungry for more in this world. I hope he will follow up with more adventures featuring this delightful cast of characters.