Log in

No account? Create an account
Zia McCorgi by Cooner

"Spill it, Short Legs!"

The Journal of Zia McCorgi

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Smiley and the Hero: A Review
Zia McCorgi by Cooner
So Last night about four days after starting it I finished Smiley and the Hero by Ryan Campbell (AKA toob) and I figured I'd give my thoughts.

[As a disclaimer FurPlanet the publishers of Smiley and the Hero published my book Save the Day. I doubt this gives me a bias but hey best to know.)

Now then onto business: Mr. Campbell has written a solid novel here with well designed characters who develop over time, technically well executed, engaging situations, and a very solid plot. Overall good command of tension, action, dialog and anything else that can make for a fun and enjoyable read. Very well done. I'd recommend Smiley and the Hero to a lot of people. In fact I can think of a lot of my friends who would enjoy this book. I had a good time reading it and you might too. Though it is rather gory and violent in parts so if you dislike graphic violence in your books, to the point where you'll stop reading for a few hours like I had to, I'd give it a miss. If that isn't a turn off or you can ignore that sort of thing then you'll find Smiley and the Hero not only a good book but probably one of the strongest and most entertaining showings for 2011 from the furry writing set.

Lets talk about what you'll first see when you pick up Smiley and the Hero. The cover is a very eye catching and has a very original quality to it. It look different from a lot of other books and the aesthetic style has a fun flair. If you think the cover looks amusing and you like the brief description on the back (Campbell seems to take the statement Brevity is the soul of wit to heart unlike this corgi) then you're well on your way. The book itself has six interior illustrations done by Cooner (a very accomplished artist who most furs will remember from Buffalo Wings and Kyell Gold's Waterways). Anyone who knows my particular taste in furry art knows that is a big seller for me. The images are a very nice black and white and they all look very cool.

The book itself is under 200 pages so it fits into the novella category I suppose. It is markedly cheaper then my book and I could see paying more then the cover price for this. Its good quality.

So the basic premise of Smiley and the Hero is that the young rabbit Johnny lives on the island of San Fernando an island essentially under the complete control of a wolf named Sean "Smiley" O'Hannigan. A freakishly huge, strong, possible immune to bullets, sadist. Smiley has had the town under his thumb for as long as Johnny has been alive essentially runnign roughshod over any law enforcement that attempts to curtail him. Its bad enough that the economy has crashed substantially (this is brought up fairly well throughout the book with little details like people over the age of 16 now having to pay for their final years of school and that several areas now refuse to trade with the small island city). Johnny himself is trying to make ends meet, as a delivery boy, with his mother who works two jobs. They are not succeeding. His mother has become desperate and its finally time to sell a prized clarinet to the pawn shop to make rent.

Johnny is a young rabbit, full of the bravado of youth even if he is a bunny. He was raised on stories of his father rescuing people from the ocean. His father has been dead many years but he's a constant presence for young Johnny. His friend Rab, a chameleon, gives Johnny a key he stole that will get the rabbit into the heart of Smiley's fortress. No one should be stupid enough to steal from Smiley but Johnny decides he needs to for his mother. Its there he meets Tess, Smiley's sister, and his heart goes all a flutter. This sets off a chain reaction of events that leads young Johnny to discover a lot of things about his past, battle a huge wolf, discover something of himself, and attempt to understand what it means to be a "hero." It works extremely well because of Johnny's age as he's leaving his boyhood and learning about the complications of the real world. He has real struggles with the morality of what he is doing and they feel very real to the character. If that sounds even remotely interesting you'll probably enjoy this.

The climactic events that we all can guess will come at the end of such a novel don't disappoint Mr. Campbell fires with all guns and he writes a very enjoyable action scene. He also keeps the characters very nicely in tune with who they are and everyone does what you'd expect them to do in such a fight. However its the denouement where the book really shines. The ending is not only satisfying its rewarding to read. It ties things together very for me and it really was enjoyable to read. Tess herself was probably the most interesting for me. Everything she did made perfect sense. She's a complicated character and I liked her the most in the novel. I feel Johnny's naive opinions, which fit his age, came off well there too and I think he might have affected her more then she'd ever admit. I highly recommend this book simply because this ending is phenomenally well done. The rest of the book is good the ending is fantastic.

I've heard, somewhere, that this book has a strong thread of the fairy tale genre in it. I'm not sure who said it to me but I think that fits Smiley and the Hero exceedingly well. Now I admit perhaps I read that into the book. I love fairy tales, mythology, cuentos, and folk tales and I read them as often as i can find them. So perhaps i was wishfully seeing it in the book but I can't help but feel Smiley and the Hero uses the conventions of that genre. It uses them very well and correctly to make an entertaining story but I do have that feeling of a fairy tale in it. One of the good old ones before they were sanitized for being "too scary." Johnny seems to be very much a classic youthful fairy tale hero. He's motivated by wanting to help his poor mother, he runs into a violent monster, there is a damsel who may be in distress who helps him, and so on. Where the book deviates from the conventions of the fairy tale mythos it deviates in inventive fun ways that keep the reader going on. If you enjoy fairy tales and myth stories this book has enough of that in it to be enjoyable and is original enough at the same time that you will be surprised.

The setting itself is ahistorical. Though it has a distinct western european feel to it. Theoretically its the modern day but this could have been set in 1910 just as easily. There is a strong attempt to keep out a lot of technology and keep from mentioning the time period and that timeless feeling contributes to that fairy tale thread I felt before and the approachability of the novel.

That all said there were things that didn't work for me. One of them was the violence. There was a fairly horrific torture scene early in the novel involving some fountain pens that caused me to put the book down for two days due to its graphic and unsettling nature. Another character, one we don't know extremely well, is tortured in a sadistic manner. Granted neither of these are seen directly but they are unsettling. There are alluded to scenes that are not described in full including one involving a clothesline, as well as violence against children of an unknown age, and other rather disquieting images. None of it is gratuitous. Every one of these several acts of extreme violence serve to move the story along and make sense in the context of the story. I've often said sex in a book needs to be there to move the story along and the same goes for violence. Here it moves the story along and doesn't waste time. So I can't really honestly complain about these scenes. That said I did have to stop reading the book at times because of them. I'm not really sure Smiley and the Hero can be considered general audiences considering the amount and type of violence in the book. This isn't Joker sadistic nightmare fuel but I found it difficult. I suspect of course i am the minority and most people will not care. After all Jack is theoretically far worse and its a bestseller furry media wise.

Another problem is repetition. There are several points in the book where it feels like Johnny repeats himself for no reason. Or, and I don't know the proper name for this, we have scenes at the beginning of the book that set the stage and then maybe a quarter of the way through those stage settings, such as Johnny and his Mother's past and their money woes, return and are amplified. As one example early on we are told Johnny is poor and this is underscored by him returning to the shabby apartment and the lack of veggies in his diet and so on. A decent set up but then after the first adventure of our hero we get another page discussing how poor Johnny is again, this time discussing how he used to live with his mother in a nice home and now they do not, and I'm not sure that is a good use of my time. I get that he is poor and hey of course Mr. Campbell need to set up him going back into danger but it felt a little overused for me. That might just be me though.

My final problem is something that took me out of the narrative a lot. It is also why I sadly can't claim this book transcends the furry genre. You see I'd be happy to give this to nonfur readers. Especially geeks and nerds who would enjoy this (gamerchick and chucklemagne) but they're people who would understand the genre. Putting this in a random bookstore would have a problem. I'm talking about what I like to call the shepherdwolfdiety paradigm (such as my friends a link to explain that) sadly Smiley and the Hero falls into that hole. Every time someone said Gods (and I started to count them) I was pulled out of the story a bit and left a little out. I get that there isn't time to really explain the religions of this world but a lot of the style and art evokes a western european/north american feel. Our stage is set with a somewhat monotheistic cultural trappings and yet we get a polytheistic society? With no trappings or other signs of their polytheism? Do they have temples? Where are they? What gods do these people worship and why do they call out to the general pantheon. I realize not everyone would question this but it bugged me. At least with the Hallowed Walls series by Cyanni we got a pretty good idea of the theology of that world and it really added to it. Further the characters invoked specific gods if memory serves. Similarly with Volle we got a good idea of the theology that set the stage. There is a reference to The Meadows which I guess is supposed to be an afterlife (like the Elysium Fields?) and that works nicely but it also left me wanting to know more. Considering he brought it up it would have been nice for Mr. Campbell to explain this bit. Or he could have found a different expletive. It get that it is a short novel, that is part of the charm, but this did put me off.

But these are niggling small problems. The book overall is extremely well executed. Furplanet has done an excellent job with binding and the typeset. Mr. Campbell has done a technically very good job on the writing aspects. I'm not good at noticing typos or grammar mistakes of course, I'm awful at that, but I didn't see any. The story is good too. Good enough that I could ignore these minor qualms and just sit back and enjoy myself. I had a great time reading this and a fun time. I enjoyed myself in other words and the novel is really good to read

So my final vote says get Smiley and the Hero by Ryan Campbell. You'll find it not only an enjoyable read. I'll probably go back and read this again sometime soon. I really think this is a strong book and a good one. When people talk about encouraging good furry literature this is what they're talking about. Buy this book to encourage more writing like this. Smiley and the Hero is an excellent read. I sincerely recommend it to anyone with $10.00 who wants to get a great book they'll read again and an enjoyable adventure.