Review by Miles Reaver
Species: Foxes was published in 2018 by Thurston Howl Publications and edited by Thurston Howl himself. The anthology holds thirteen short stories centered on one of the the cleverest species, the fox! The book opens with the first and oldest tales about the fox. It is from those that we can see where the myth of the cunning and clever fox originates—a kitsune tale, a story of Reynard, and an Aesopian fable—before coming to the modern furry stories, starting with Mary E. Lowd.
“Fox in the Hen House” by Mary E. Lowd is where the fox stories turn to modern authors, though the story’s exceptional quality could easily mark it as a classic. Henry, the newly orphaned fox, is adopted by Henrietta and the other chickens in her coop. The story tackles the nature of a fox and raises the question of can we really choose to become anything other than what we are? Told with a nostalgic style, this story reads like a modern fable or folktale. It is easily one of the best-written in the collection.
Next is “The Harvest Moon Ceremony,” written by NightEyes DaySpring. The first time reading the story left me confused, though a second reading managed to clear things up. The story shifts between perspectives of Maleekie and Rata, and it is not distinguishable right away who we are following, as the time also shifts between past and present. Coming from the White Moon tribe, Maleekie is Rata’s rival, a fox capable of magic and a protective brother. Tying their paths together is their love of Aki, a songstress. After forbidden love ends in tragedy, it splits the two foxes even further apart. While the shift in perspectives and time skips are troublesome, I say the story itself is worth a read.
“A Part of The Family” by Kittara Foxworthy was an interesting story. It’s a futuristic story, though that’s not immediately apparent. While it doesn’t do much for the story besides the setting, a sentence about a fourteen-year-old bearing a child made me pause, just from the sheer lack of set-up. Victor and Terry return from a family trip with their kits to discover that Terry’s grandmother has passed away in their absence. Being gay and therefore the black sheep (or fox in this case) of the family, Terry and his partner are distanced from the family. Though a nice story, with a message of love and acceptance, there wasn’t much reason why it centered on foxes.
“Face Value” by Jasen Devlin Jaden Drackus is set in the era of the the Mafia bootlegging business. Sam, a fox thief, is hired to disrupt Salvatore Russo’s, who is top of the gangster food chain, ball and allow for Caprio to take over. Sam however has other plans. In the true nature of the fox archetype, the story holds a cunning twist. The author himself was clever to use animal senses to lead to this story’s reveal.
“A Trustworthy Fox” by Colin Leighton leads the reader into the story by playing the “untrustworthy fox” card but keeps the reader in with twists that follow through until the very end. Another art thief, this time by the name of Lesley Delavinge is preparing to make his name as a member of the Granger Gang. Gaining the trust of Alec Granger, the master thief, Lesley has to lead the thieves into Lord Redmayne’s estate and make off with his artwork. The story stood out to me because, just when you think you have the plot figured out and the story is about to end, it keeps going for another jerking twist and leaves the reader satisfied by the end.
“Songs in the Garden” by Matt Trepal is written as delicately as a painter’s brush movements on a canvas. The world in which it takes place appears alive and pops out of the pages with its details. The construction of the story made me feel that there was more history to the work than presented, like it was part of a novel. Brolio, a traveling musician, is invited by the Duchess herself to perform at the palace for the Summer Festival, where an evil plan is to be enacted. While the story’s plot is simple, it is well-written and satisfyingly executed.
Taking a slightly different and darker turn, “Street Fox” by SignificantOtter surprised me for its theme and how it dared to be different. Maple is a con artist, forced by his addict father to hustle on the street with his games and sleight of hand. A change happens in Maple’s life when Danny offers to team up with the fox and save enough money for a better life. The story deals with abuse, addiction, and hurting yourself to protect the ones you love. I thought this story was not only relateable but also memorable for its boldness and satisfactory for its concept.
“The Fox-Man” by Amy Fontaine is the only story in the anthology to feature humans, though the story is not to be taken lightly. Muties, animals with the ability to turn into humans, are at war with their creators. Hidden under a force field in an abandoned theatre, the group of actors practice and perform plays for an invisible audience. The Fox-Man has a unique plot and fits well with the theme of the anthology. It holds fragments of a Greek tragedy, and the story is written like a play that could be performed by the actors themselves.
“Pictures” by TJ Minde calls the phrase ‘love thy neighbour’ to mind, and it makes me mad because we all know that one person who is exactly like the character Frank Jones in this story. Jack Thomason’s story is told in a time shift between past and present. We watch the fox find joy and lose it. Jack holds onto memories through his photographs, the present reminding him of his past. When Frank Jones turns out to have alternative motives, I found myself rooting for the the main character, hoping that they would find a way to win. TJ Minde does a fine job in making the reader care about the characters and the crosses they bear.
Species: Foxes features many good stories, and, while they vary in quality and memorability, they all make for an enjoyable read. Most stories play on the stereotype of the trickster fox, the clever one who is always trying to put one over everyone else, but others only scratched the surface of that idea and instead focused on going in a whole other direction. Thurston Howl from Thurston Howl Publications has done an excellent job in picking the featured stories and editing the anthology, and I am sure he will continue to do so in the future.