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book review: "Foxhunt!" by Rich Hanes [Jul. 11th, 2009|11:40 pm]
Foxhunt! coverFoxhunt!, Rich Hanes' debut novel (Arkham Bridge Publishing, 2009) is, yes, a furry story. But don't let the anthropomorphic animals scare you away; you'd miss out on an enjoyable read.

Sebastian Valentino is a veteran of interstellar war, a mercenary who had it all. When he loses his assistant captain and best friend Adrian on a botched infilitration mission, he begins to unravel, mishandling Adrian's sacred funeral rituals and berating his new first officer in front of his crew. Matters grow worse when Sebastian's favored target, weary of his constant attacks, declares a bounty on his head. With Sebastian struggling to survive as an interstellar pariah, and an old enemy with a vendetta in hot pursuit, the Foxhunt! is on.

Set in a distant, furry future of spaceships, mecha combat, and rock bands, "Foxhunt!" follows Sebastian Valentino, a genetically-engineered humanoid fox, as his life as the captain of the galaxy's top mercenary unit falls apart.

Taking place in Hanes' "Wildstar Universe," Foxhunt! introduces a number of space-faring civilizations, all based on human-like animals: foxes, wolves, dogs, raccoons, and more. But this is no silly yiff story; the furry creatures here are deadly serious, caught up in a very human (or humanoid) story of loyalty, greed, and revenge.

Each civilization is fleshed out with a surprising amount of detail that walks the fine line between stereotype and archetype, rarely faltering. Foxes are tricky, canines are ever-loyal, coyotes are the ultimate survivors, and the rare human is able to view the "animals" with a detached objectivity, but none of the characters are slaves to their creature instincts.

A lot is packed into the 342 pages of Foxhunt!, including space battles, family drama, robot mecha fights, spirituality, and personal introspection, but Hanes mostly manages to avoid the long, clumsy information dumps found in bad sci-fi. A romantic subplot is somewhat skimpy and rushed, but it works to emphasize just how disconnected Captain Valentino is from his own feelings.

The supporting characters drift in and out -- this is Valentino's story, not theirs -- but they leave their marks on the story and on Sebastian's soul. They're complex enough to avoid being stock characters, and they manage to maintain their own voices -- including a young, precociously gifted child, and that's always a hard trick to pull off right.

Hanes does a good job of delving into the main character's psyche -- twice, literally setting the scene in Sebastian's head -- and also writes vivid fight scenes. Foxhunt! is a page-turner with a good sense of rhythm, and I'm recommending it to my friends who are science fiction fans as well as those who are furry fans. I'm definitely interested in reading more from Hanes, and watching him develop further as a novelist.

(Full disclosure: I gave Rich Hanes some early critiques of old drafts of this novel, but I hadn't read the whole thing until today.)