A mouse, a badger, an owl, a salamander a mole and stout…. walk into a bar. So begins Daniel Polansky’s Novella The Builders, part of Tor.com’s new novella imprint.
The description above is not a setup for a joke but the beginning of Daniel Polansky’s awesome novella, The Builders. It tells the story of a group of not-so-cute woodland animals seeking revenge. It starts with the familiar “getting the gang back together” scenario and then we watch as they head out to seek revenge for something that happened 5 years before.
This is a gritty story, the animals smoke and carry guns that they clearly know how to use. They have scars from past skirmishes and betrayals and indeed we know that within Captain’s group there is still at least one traitor.
The Captain is just a mouse, but somehow manages to be the scariest character among a group of scary animals. Every scene with him is tense, masterfully written. He is the Clint Eastwood of small rodents.
The writing is excellent. I had expected this book, a novella, to be just a bit of silly fun, but found instead a book by a writer who treats the characters with respect. There are funny moments in the book, but the characters are never to be laughed at.
Here is a passage where we see the badger, Barley, doing a bit of what he does best; killing with a big rotating gun.
And in the meantime Barley continued his work, rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat. And to find an equal to his tally, to do that bloody arithmetic—if one was inclined to do so, if one’s mind ran in that sort of direction—one would have needed to compare him against disease, and time, and heartbreak.
There are quite a few passages like that, passages that made me realize that I had underestimated the quality of writing that would found be in a story about anthropomorphized animals fighting other animals. I will not underestimate Mr. Polansky again.
It’s been a long time since I read anything with so many scenes that were just… cool.
The Builders is a fantastic book. It should be given to teenagers that say that books are boring to show them that no, books are not boring. Books, as The Builders show us, are awesome.