Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ramblefoot Follows In Adams' Tracks

Note: I received a review copy of the following title from its author.

It's funny how some books transform entire genres while others don't. For instance, ever since a guy named John Ronald Reuel published a big book about a place named Middle Earth in 1954, fantasy has flung up worlds populated with dragons and orcs and dwarves. But for some reason, the equally excellent Watership Down (penned by fellow Brit Richard Adams) never left quite the same footprint. Few authors have attempted his feat of blending naturalistic zoology with imaginary animal cultures. But at least some are trying, such as Ken Kaufman with his Jack London-influenced Ramblefoot.

Raspail shouldn't have survived his infancy. The only member of his litter to emerge from the womb alive. Born to an ancient mother cast out by her own clan. Left to wander the wilderness in search of sustenance. Few wolves could've prevailed against such odds, yet Raspail did, even finding a place amongst a new pack. But his woes have only begun. Political machinations from without and private scheming from within will soon force him away from his new family, out into a hostile world where he'll face the most dangerous of predators -- man.

For a first-time author, Kaufman does remarkably well in a difficult genre. Like Adams, he incorporates lots of lupine biological detail, such as wolves' mating habits and dietary patterns. He also invents an interesting ethos for them, making them ancestor worshipers who believe the full moon is the all-seeing eye of the departed. What's more, Kaufman has a good sense of plotting. He layers his characters' interactions with conflict upon conflict. Unfortunately, if Ramblefoot stumbles, it's in its style. An unfortunate tendency to tell and not show combined with a love of adverbs and adjectives rob a number of scenes of their dramatic impact. Still, those who enjoyed Watership Down may find it worthwhile to traipse after Ramblefoot.

(Picture: CC 2004 by Tgrab.)


Scattercat said...

I always loved the talking animal genre, honestly. I think there's a strong perception that it's "for kids," even more than most genre fiction.

The "Cricket in Times Square" series and "Kavik, the Wolf-Dog" were long-time companions for young Nathan...

Loren Eaton said...

A Cricket in Times Square is pure awesome, but I've never read Kavick. The only talking-animal book I never really liked was -- forgive the heresey -- Redwall.