A mouse, a stoat, a salamander, a possum, a badger, a mole, and an owl walk into a bar...
Sounds like the start of a very odd joke, right? Nope, it's the start of Daniel Polansky's fabulously fun and bloody tale The Builders.
The Captain is getting the group back together for one last job, one that promises vengeance for the betrayal they all suffered five years ago. Many of them have been in hiding since that time, but none of them have forgotten how they were wronged. They lost compatriots, friends, and lovers - some to death and some to the other side - and now it's time for payback.
So the premise is this: two brothers (twin toads) set to inherit the throne fought for the title for five years. The Captain (a mouse) was a soldier for the Elder's side up until half his team double crossed him and his inner circle in a massive battle. The Captain was thought dead (by the other side) but really he spent five years planning his revenge. And now it's time to execute that plan.
Polansky takes readers along as The Captain tracks down his former men (and women), convincing them to join in. Some are gung-ho while others have fairly enjoyed the quiet life and need a little more convincing. All of them are tired, grizzled, and war weary. And none of them is entirely sure who turned half their team the first time around. This becomes a fairly large part of the tale as the various characters wonder amongst themselves who the turncoat could be considering they'll need to trust one another yet again for a battle that's sure to end in death for more than a few of them.
The Builders is quite a lot of fun. First of all, the characters are all animals but this is definitely not a kiddie tale. They're crude and rude weapons experts and hard core killers, as are the animals they're up against. And while the story has moments of levity, it's also got more than a few sad moments as well. All in all it's a pretty spectacular action packed adventure!
Let me just say, too, without spoilers - THE SKUNK! Worst way for anyone to die ever! That was definitely a part that ripped me to pieces. I was at once sad to see that character go and feeling awful for laughing at the WAY that character went. So awful!
I loved The Builders! Love it! I've not yet read any of Polansky's other work but if I can expect the same combination of whimsy and dark, the same excellent character and world building, and the same overall enjoyment, I'm definitely down for more!
I do hope I've sold you on this one. The novellas coming out from Tor.com Publishing are phenomenal and I want everyone out there to check them out. If I haven't convinced you, though, you can check out an excerpt of The Builders here.