Series: Stand Alone Novella
Publisher: Tor.com (November 3, 2016)
Length: 226 pages
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Never having experienced any story penned by Daniel Polansky, I was concerned about reading this novella. Why? The anthromorphic animals. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate talking animals, but they aren’t among my favorite fantasy denizens. A few of them go a long way in my opinion. So the idea of a dark fantasy populated by fluffy, talking animals scared the hell out of me.
I shouldn’t have been so worried though: The Builders turning out to be an amazing novella, which mesmerized me in a way few fantasy tales have. Daniel Polansky to be saluted for turning what could have been a more mature Redwall into a fantasy version of epic western tales of the past, filled with memorable characters (who were far from cute and cuddly) swept up in a fascinating tale of bloody revenge.
Telling the story of a band of ex-mercenary soldiers bent on vengeance, this novella begins by following along behind the Captain; this rugged, quiet creature traveling around getting everyone back together for one last mission. Each new character receiving their own short introduction; all of them immediately oozing charisma, sculpted with unique traits, and exhibiting their animal nature in many subtle ways. This groups’ interactions with one another so realistic, so snarky, that the camaraderie radiated from the pages, making me almost instantly feel a bond with all of them.
Interspersed into these intros and reunions, brief interludes explained the history of our band: who they once were, how they were betrayed, and why they intend to put their enemies in the ground now. Their case for being “good guys” in this grand drama gradually slipping away as their true pasts and present motives are revealed. Their enemies shown to be not so different from them, more mirror copies of the Captain and his band than true opposites. All of it combining to build anticipation for the final confrontation of the Captain’s band and their former friends. Who was right or wrong in the betrayal long ago no longer really mattering, but, rather, who will survive their collision now!
Then finally the Captain’s scheme is unleashed. Revenge to be served cold. Betrayals and bullets fly off the pages. Double-crosses occur. More and more twists cloud a readers’ eyes. And the vile skunk and his henchmen finally appear in their brutal glory, seeming to have the upper-hand. Yet the Captain is so confident, so self-assured of vengeance. The running fight between these groups leading to an epic conclusion filled with violence and sadness in equal doses.
Honestly, I have to say I loved every aspect of The Builders. The western flavor. The camaraderie. The mystery. They scheming. The violence. Hell, even the damn anthromorphic animals turned out to be great. But, at its heart, this story is about friendship and loyalty, no matter the personal cost. The Captain, Bonsoir the Badger, Cinnabar the Salamander, and all the rest exhibiting these qualities perfectly; each choosing to participate in a scheme sure to leave many (or all) of them dead. Their reasons for doing so the fear of letting down each other as well as a deep desire to punish those who broke this sacred bond so long ago. The success of their venture not as important as the fact it was undertaken together.
As for criticisms, I have none. Yeah, that is right: I can’t fault a thing about this story. It was damn near perfect.
Fun, brutal, humorous, and sad in perfect measure, The Builders is a brilliant story from Daniel Polansky. Its anthromorphic animal cast worming their way into your hearts, making their quest for vengeance yours as well, and rapidly taking you on a simple yet intricately choreographed trip to an incredibly violent and startling ending. So, yes, I do recommend you read this novella.