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Zia McCorgi by Cooner

"Spill it, Short Legs!"

The Journal of Zia McCorgi

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Winter Games [A review]
So I've been traveling the past few weeks and now I'm back home. No more trips for me but it did give me time to catch up on some reading and my furry book pile had been building up.

So naturally I got a new book to read first and foremost. Kyell Gold's new cupcake Winter Games and I finished it within a day of starting it. I think I clocked in at four to five hours tops. It was truly a page turner for me.

In brief I supremely enjoyed this outing by Mr. Gold. I think this might be his strongest cupcake storywise and a fun novella in general. I think it is excellent and worth a purchase even if you're not a fan of Gold's work.

More detailed thoughts and spoilers after the cut but here is the basic idea: A guy makes a terrible mistake in his final year in high school which affected him and those around him deeply. Fifteen years later he has the rare chance to come to a resolution for a mistake that has scared him.

[Disclaimer: Furplanet published my novel Save the Day and I often work behind the Furplanet table at conventions. If you feel that unfairly tinges my reviews or makes me less trustworthy in these matters then you are free to disregard my opinion. I received no remuneration for this review and I purchased the book myself]

Winter Games continues a recent style of playing with time that Kyell Gold has embarked upon. Green Fairy also played with time in a more fantastical way. Winter Games however is a story based upon memories of a past events and the characters dealing with that story. We see the repercussions for events before we see the events play out. We have a story set in 2012 [now essentially] in three narrative parts and we have a story set in 1997 in essentially three parts.

In this case it works extremely well and there are a lot of ways it could have fallen apart. We slowly see the reveal as Sierra Snowpaw, often called Si which could be confusing considering the use of accents and European locals, looks for someone from his past. Someone he clearly cares for but who he either wronged or did him wrong and the relationship ended. We can easily figure out early on that he's looking for a coyote named Carmel (Carmel is always called Carmel Coyote but I doubt that is his true name). The revelations of their relationship, and their lives is done extremely well teasing out to the right moment the revelations and not stretching the reveals to the point of annoyance. Slowly the complicated event of their lives are pealed back to show the inner core of tension and the two characters. The culmination of these events is done extremely well and it works as a story on a lot of levels. I was honestly interested and unable to put my book down for the last chapter as they began honestly talking to each other.

The modern day story starts with Sierra Snowpaw, a snow leopard, coming to a ski resort/lodge. He's there looking for someone from his past. A coyote. He's clearly interested in men considering he hooks up with a pine marten (a squeeky top where have we seen that before... oh right He's drawn looking for someone due to a clue left in an alumni news letter and we spent a solid part of the book in Sierra looking for this coyote. It is an intriguing part as we see Sierra craftily manipulating people for information and working the system to his benefit

In the story set in 1997 Sierra in his senior year of high school is sent to a European school by his military base parents. The reason why they send him there is not shown at first but we know Sierra made a mistake. There he meets a fellow snow leopard named Natasha and a coyote named Carmel. As this is an European school it has a clientele of diplomat children, rich children and social climbers. Sierra falls in with Natasha quickly who sees him as a fellow snow leopard as being excellent eye candy, interesting, and a social status symbol. Sierra is not opposed thinking of his parents and he has some attraction to her. Carmel's early interactions shows amusement and craftiness one expects from a coyote but its hard to know what he truly wants. A major hang out for the teenagers is a ski resort/lodge.

At this point I figured the novella was going to go the path of Dangerous Liaisons/Cruel Intentions: indolent rich children play their games and Sierra is caught in the middle. The leopard used by the rich and powerful for their amusement then callously tossed aside.

That is not where the book goes but it does give a certain aura throughout the novella of not being sure of Carmel's intentions in full. He's shown even early on to be a disrespectful manipulative trickster. We also can not sure how honest Natasha is about her past with Carmel. The tension of how much Sierra might be manipulated by others keeps the book interesting as we delve into the mystery of what happened.

The setting of ski lodges and snow plays heavily with the characters for a lot of the book. One could read into the word the idea that snow can blanket blemishes, the cool feeling of snow, and the way its used to evoke moods at different points. The fact that ski lodges are considered romantic destinations and there is a certain charm to both lodges works well. The first scene where Sierra and Carmel spend time in a lodge together sets a tone.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this book is how well the con games, confidence men, and trickery works. The effects are really funny and amusing and Winter Games feels like its gotten Kyell Gold's sense of trickster humor down. As Carmel starts to teach Sierra in one part and you start to understand how Sierra in the first book learned how to work people to get what he wants you see an interesting tension for Sierra. The most engrossing part is when Sierra and Carmel work to trick a business man into giving them a huge sum of money. Not just for the trick but how Sierra quickly falls into like with Carmel despite a 15 year break this scene more then any other underscores how close they once were and once again builds tension for the event fifteen years in the past.

I'm not going to say what happened. That would spoil the novel too much. I will say it builds correctly and the event fits the novella's tone extremely well. You read those events and I am left wondering how honest Carmel truly is and how far he has really gone as a person.

Carmel is to me a character I should despise but I can never seem to get around to disliking him. He's a griffter and a manipulator who uses laws and social expectations like a scalpel get what he wants. Carmel Coyote is very much in the vein of the classic coyote trickster. He'd be a jerk except that he is so charming. He constantly pushes Sierra into new ways of thinking forcing the leopard out of his complacency and into new more daring directions. Carmel's love of stories and using words and lies to define reality. Carmel is not a fox and could never be a fox in my mind as he fits the coyote archetype extremely well. Even at the novella's end I was not completely sure if the coyote was sincere in his feelings or if he was playing with Carmel as he had done several times in the novella (despite Sierra's stated view he was only lied to once its very clear the coyote at the least manipulated him).

Kyell Gold to me in this novella has perfectly captured a guy slowly falling in love with another. Sierra's slow realization that he loves and lusts for Carmel is intriguing as the feline starts to realize something he has not wanted to admit to himself. Unlike my problems with Samaki from >Waterways Carmel is clearly a complicated and flawed person for Sierra to fall for and it makes it all the more real and interesting when Carmel explains his own sexuality to the curious leopard. We know that Sierra has an affect on Carmel as his attitudes do change and later on int he present day setting he admits to several changes in his own life after the event that separated them.

So I am intrigued by their relationship which is crucial as the entire book is built around that aspect. Their romantic interests and their personalities causing conflicts is always interesting and I really like the ending. It has a familiar feeling with a lot of Gold's works: you get satisfaction but you know there could be more of a story. The characters leave off at a spot where you can imagine several different scenarios for how things will work out. I have done just that myself spending inordinate amounts of time thinking what could happen to the two of them. A part of me doubts the ending in the long run but the romance of the scene and getting a second chance after messing up and making a huge mistake resonates with anyone.

I am noticing a distinct pattern with Kyell Gold and some of his female characters. Natasha, like Kory's mother or Mrs. Forrest from Science Friction, is very focused on social expectations and image. These women are often thrown for a loop after a male close to them starts pursuing a gay relationship. These women also use heavy handed tools to manipulate these men in their lives. They all behave in a vindictive manner at some point. None of them get any end of story redemption. It is becoming a theme for this set of female characters. Natasha is here clearly to set the bar of normalcy that Sierra is comfortable with and underscore that he is trying to behave himself and thus amp the danger and exotic nature of Carmel. I don't really think she did anything unreasonable and unlike the other two characters I listed she actually tries to warn Sierra away from some deeply questionable behavior considering his past.

I actually empathized with Natasha a lot, shock I know, but here is this girl who has a history with Carmel. She's excited for a large social event (a dance) and she finally has a fellow snow leopard to attend the event with her. Further she's been dating him for several months. If I were in her place I'd of course feel territorial especially considering she is right to feel territorial as Carmel really is seducing him away from her. Carmel ensures that Sierra will not go to the dance with her despite her own sexuality and promises for Sierra. This was an event she regularly mentions and says she looks forward to and Carmel and Sierra screw with her on that front. She is left for teenagers to mock for her date falling for another guy and then the drama of the big event, and that can not be comfortable.

I blame Sierra more then Carmel when he started realizing his feelings for Carmel he should have ended things with Natasha instead of stringing her along. I think he gave her false expectations and as much as she started to realize the issue I don't really blame her for the full events as they occur or what she did. She didn't cause the mess Sierra got into, that was completely Carmel's fault, and the worst she did was act angrily towards Sierra when he was leaving which is justifiable. Its played off as a game between Natasha and Carmel for Sierra's affections but clearly it was sincere emotion on Carmel's side so I can just as well assume it was in Natasha's or at least her concern for social standing was sincere. Again is this a theme Mr. Gold is running with here?

My only major problem with the book is how it tries very hard to redeem Carmel. This is trickster character who manipulates, lies and steals to have fun. He's a libertine. But its okay because he's into art and wants deep satisfying considerations about history and wants to make the world better. We find out that in his adult persona his tricks have turned into less selfish acts and more acts for charities and causes... but he still tricks people out of their money and acts as a confidence man. As I said I like Carmel as a character but its hard to reconcile the manipulative liar in with the sensitive regretful coyote who screwed up in high school and wants to make amends. No matter how bad his victims are one has to wonder how much he's manipulating other people like Sierra. I almost wonder if a more interesting story would be for Sierra to find a broken and sad coyote who had walled up his life after realizing what he had done to someone he loved. Becoming a cheap male prostitute to fill the void of his mistake a broken shell of a guy thanks to regret. The two meeting and reconnecting their broken lives

My only other complaint is that Carmel is a little creepy in that he's been leaving these hidden messages for Sierra for years and has been essentially spying on the snow leopard and knows he sold all his things and quit his job recently. At that point shouldn't he have just approached Sierra directly instead of spying? To me this comes up as a red flag of maybe using Sierra as a mark (but then that is another possible continuation from that delightful ending).

Winter Games has changed my opinion on the cupcakes line. A change in a more positive direction. It was amazing and I loved it. The use of regret, romance, trickery, humor, the setting, and the use of time made for a great novella. Winter Games is not only a good story with some great ideas but its the right length this seems like the quintessential novella. I loved the characters and could imagine and enjoy more but I was left satisfied.

Overall I loved Winter Games and I give it my highest rating possible. I think it might be my favorite Kyell Gold book. I had a great time with this story and I recommend it to everyone who has a chance of reading it. This is a fantastic book. I loved the ending and the style of this novel and the characters. Who doesn't regret some of their acts in high school?

Anyway I loved this book and I recommend everyone reading any of this entry to get a copy.