Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/07/2016
A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn't end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain's company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain's whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.
Starting in January 2016, I went on a bit of a novella-binge. I picked up a bunch of them, and found some gems in the process. The Builders is one of those.

The Story:
"A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn't end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain's company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain's whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score."

The Review
I immensely enjoyed The Builders. The cover and synopsis alone had me interested enough to pick it up, and I wasn't disappointed with the actual contents of the book.

This novella is all about a gang of anthropomorphic animals coming back together five years after they lost the civil war. Their Captain, a mouse with a soft voice yet grim demeanour, goes to call on his old trusted lieutenants for what seems like a suicide mission for revenge against their old enemy. Who happens to be a skunk and now rules the kingdom as the toad-king gets high. I'm not even joking.

The first part of the book is introducing all the characters one by one, both in how the Captain went to convince them to return, and their arrival at the inn that their leader has chosen as their base of operations. This fills up quite a lot of chapters, 12 to be precise, followed by the gang's members chatting about the plan (very ambiguous to the reader at this point) and their last mission. A traitor, seemingly still not caught, had ratted them out to the enemy general on the cusp of victory.

Now, the chapters are mostly very short. Some of them are barely half a page! But as there are 53 chapters total, this is not a bad thing at all, and goes a long way to keep up suspense and gives us just enough to stay invested in conversations or suspicions. I know it had me wondering who of the group may possibly be the traitor. The witty, funny chapter names also helped: There are, for example, five consecutive chapters all titled "Later...", "And Later..." etc.

The humor is strong in this novella, and it struck just the right tone with me. It wasn't ever over the top for any given situation, and mostly revolves around the narrative style, who tends to harp on things, or goes on to assume our knowledge of a certain topic yet still recounts and details for our benefit regardless. It was very clever writing in my eyes, and kept the mood from slipping into too dark territory, as the story itself is very, very grim taken on its own.

These animals aren't cute. They are killers, ruthless, highly skilled and cold-blooded - especially the revolver-carrying salamander Cinnabar the "Dragon", or the stout who is also a frenchman and an assassin "Bonsoir". Even the good-natured badger Barley carries a big assault cannon that devastates the enemy. No, this isn't a nice story for kids at all. And I loved that!

You rarely see anthropororphic animals in adult stories I feel. Those things are reserved for children, and as such, there are many themes that aren't really explored. Murdering oppossums, underground-running moles or mobster armadillos are a rare thing indeed.
To be clear, most of the story would have worked had the characters been human. But it would have lost the bulk of its charme, and the contrast between the various animals made for good reading.

Honestly, I devoured this book. It could have been a full novel and still I would have asked for more. But then, it ended where it needed to, took as much time as required and managed to leave off where it probably should have.
It is a quick, enjoyable read that I will surely come back to in the coming years, just to get another taste of it.

The Builders on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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