Review by Thurston Howl
I hate furry sci fi. I've reviewed it in the past (Barsk, Bleak Horizons, and Kismet to name a few), and I've managed to keep a fairly objective stance on these books. I can recognize their talent and skill without having much personal attachment. And that's fine! But this Goal Publications' title, Tristan, by Sylvain St-Pierre, blew my f***ing mind.
I won't go into detail with my usual gripes about formatting and copyediting. Instead, I want to present you with a list:
The Eight Reasons You Should Read Tristan:
1. Even though the story is about the typical rogueish Byronic hero (think Drizzt or Han Solo, for example), the author dispenses with the tropish clumsy, goofy, and charming personality and instead infuses him with cold, hard manipulation. From the beginning when Tristan awakes from a ten-year cryosleep, having been tricked and imprisoned, we see him become heartless and ruthless so fast. He is not the noble trickster we see so often. He actually does just want to survive; he's not just saying it and then joins a damn political rebellion (yes, I'm looking at you, Han).
2. The pacing is so tight on this book. We have segments where each chapter has Tristan advancing the plot super fast, and we have segments where he has to wait, and so do we. And we get so much character development here.
3. The side characters are actually well-done. In the sci fi books I mentioned above, I could not tell you anything about the side characters from memory, but the side characters here will stick with you. I will always remember Miranda. I will remember Alex. Satan below, I will remember Alex.
4. As an action book, it does a great job. It has equal parts violence and suspense, so those payoffs are just great. I know that goes back to pacing, but it really is so artfully done here.
5. Alex. I will try not to make any spoilers here. But there is an M/M romance in the book that twisted at my heart so bad. If the author is out there reading this review, thank you for having Tristan do what he did instead of what his instinct was telling him. That said, this is not a romance book, but when it appears, it appears well and is handled quickly.
6. World-building. For me, good fantasy/sci-fi worldbuilding is actually simple. I don't want a whole Redwall or Star Trek universe each time I pick up such a genre read. And that's coming from someone who read the entirety of Wheel of Time! For a novella, this was just delightful. Most of the world-building was generic and didn't require a lot of memorizing a million proper nouns. I could keep up with it and be super immersed. No, it wasn't the most unique sci fi setting I'd ever seen. But it's the most unique furry sci I've seen anyway.
7. So what makes it unique? It's plot definitely. While we are dealing with a sci fi rogue, we are not dealing with corporate scandals like in most furry sci fi right now. It instead tackles questions of just surviving, family drama, and even finding meaning in the world. I will say, using the TRADITIONAL meanings, not the currently in vogue ones, this book is more of a romance than an epic (that is, we follow one character's personal journey and internal struggles, rather than being a large-scale battle of good versus evil [cf. the Solo movie is a romance; the main Star Wars episodes are all epics]; romance doesn't have anything to do with love necessarily). And for me that worked a lot better. I was so invested in the characters, and I didn't want their interpersonal struggles to be given grandiose stakes magically. I appreciated the simple stakes of surviving, completing jobs, having revenge, etc.
8. Furry elements. You never once forget this is a furry protagonist. Now, for the life of me, I couldn't tell you what kind of furry the MC is. The blurred cover conveys it's an antlered mammal of some kind, but I couldn't tell you more than that. (And I just pasted the cover above in this post. I swear the printed version has lower contrast and is glossy, so it's a lot harder to tell what it is. I swear I'm not crazy!) But I never once found myself caring. It matters a lot in the book that the character is an anthro animal, but the species never really matters. In this world, he's labeled as Other from just his animal features generally, and that label matters. Thankfully, the author treated that Othering as so much more complex than something like Skyrim does. People hate him because he's Other, yes, but others fetishize him for that.
If this isn't enough, then I don't know what else to tell you. Get this book. We need more sci fi like this. Best furry sci fi I have ever read.