The Builders: A delightfully unexpected mash-up

The Builders Kindle Edition by Daniel PolanskyThe Builders by Daniel Polansky fantasy book reviewsThe Builders by Daniel Polansky

I’m a huge fan of Daniel Polansky‘s LOW TOWN series, so I might have claimed that I wouldn’t have bought The Builders if he hadn’t written it, but that’s not completely honest because there is something appealing about a story that features personified animals. I’m sure I’m not the only adult man who hasn’t outgrown them.

As it turned out, this novella is one the wildest stories I’ve ever read. I can’t explain it any better than to quote what other authors and reviewers have already said:

The Wild Bunch meets Watership Down.” ~John Hornor Jacobs

“Nobody does dark like Polansky. The Builders is Redwall meets Unforgiven” ~Myke Cole

“..it’s as though Brian Jacques and Quentin Tarantino went drinking one night” ~Publisher’s Weekly.

For anyone that has ever watched a Sam Peckinpah Western, you can easily see the influence. (If you haven’t seen a Sam Pekinpah Western, you should.)

The Builders is a deliciously twisted kinda fun that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a kid’s animal-themed novel or animated movie — like An American Tail or Charlotte’s Web — the same again, but I’m okay with that.

~Greg Hersom


The Builders by Daniel Polansky fantasy book reviewsAs Greg mentions, The Builders is a delightfully unexpected mash-up of a revenge-themed Western with a child-like (though not for children) story featuring personified woodland creatures.

We meet this gang of benign-looking but actually ferocious animals as they congregate at a tavern after being summoned by a mouse they call “Captain.” Little by little we learn that the gang suffered a defeat five years ago during a coup that deposed their leader. Now they want revenge… and it’s going to be ruthless. This story is full of dark scenery, betrayal, and brutal violence, but it also has an appealing black humor that lifts the mood nicely. Here is a scene in which Puss, a pretty white cat, is gloating about his victory over another creature:

Puss laughed uproariously and turned to the rats that he had brought as backup, who laughed as well, less because they got the joke and more because you laugh if the creature above you laughs — at least you do if you are a rat, who are creatures not unpracticed in obsequiousness. Puss giggled and guffawed, Puss chuckled and chortled, Puss cackled and tittered and howled, Puss all but ruptured his diaphragm in amusement.

It was a very loud laugh. It was not, however, the last one.

The short chapters and the engaging voice of the slightly intrusive narrator also lend the story an almost comedic feel. Here is our narrator, after several pages of describing the personality and actions of the shrewish (both figuratively and literally) train conductor:

The conductor had never before tried to enter the front carriage, had never even acknowledged its existence. That was against the rules, and the conductor, in case you had somehow missed the point by now, was the sort of creature who liked following them.

Corey Gagne, the narrator of Macmillan Audio’s 3.5 hour long audio version, did a great job. I also love the cover art by Richard Anderson.

You’re going to have to suspend disbelief for this one — don’t bother wondering how animals without opposable thumbs are handling swords and automatic weapons, don’t worry about their size differences or the animal instincts which dictate that certain species think of other species as prey. Don’t worry about any of that. Just enjoy the wild ride.

~Kat Hooper

Published November 3, 2015 by Tor.com. 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.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. I started chuckling at “… the rats he had brought as back-up.”

    Sounds like a fun, wild, bloody ride.

    • Gregory Hersom /

      It’s a blast Marion, and the ending is kinda creepy in a fun way.

  2. Definitely sounds like it’s right up my street. Thanks!

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