Featured Review | The Builders – Daniel Polansky

About the Book

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.

226 pages (ebook)
Published on November 3, 2015
Published by Tor.com
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Generally speaking, I don’t have time to write two reviews in one day, nor do I like to do so because I have a life and life takes up time. However, I just finished The Builders and I just had to write a review, and I positively couldn’t wait to put it online. Why? Because this book rocked something fierce.

I’ve been involved in some sort of weird, really unexpected, relationship with novellas recently, which is something I never thought I’d say. I have learned that I love them, and that a novella done right can pack one very powerful punch. Furthermore, the shorter length is easier for me to digest between my day job, keeping house, changing diapers, and doing the various other things that keep me busy.

The Builders wasn’t a novella I wanted to read, if I’m honest with you. I had no intention of reading it until an author I admire to a ridiculous extent, Delilah S. Dawson, told me that it was absolutely amazing and I had to read it. I went on Netgalley and got a copy. I decided to read it, and figured I’d get into it about ten minutes before I wanted to read something else.

Let me tell you how wrong I was. There was no putting this down. There was no moving on to something else. This book devoured me. It absorbed me. It ate me whole and left me gaping when it was over. I wanted to read it for the first time all over again.

The Builders is dark fantasy done right. The characters are all anthropomorphic, which isn’t something I’ve ever read before, but I enjoy new experiences, so why not. I expected that to turn me off, but in fact I loved it even more for the fact that these weren’t humans I was reading about. All of their animal traits translated perfectly into flawed, unpredictable characters that really left an impact on me. The salamander with incredible speed, the mole that everyone was afraid of, the mouse who knows he has many weaknesses, but speed isn’t one of them. And these characters all served to build up a really interesting world that I wanted to learn more about. In some ways, I didn’t really feel like this novella was big enough to contain these interesting, dynamic characters and their violent word.

What I really didn’t expect was the fact that I’d end up caring as much about a mouse, a salamander, a stoat and a few other animals as I’d care about any human being I’ve read about in any handful of novels I have fallen in love with.

The plot was just as compelling as the characters. It moves quickly and I was instantly sucked in. It isn’t linear at the start, and the chapters are short as Polansky flits between a few weeks ago (or more), to the night when all the fun stuff really starts happening. There is a genius to this, as it allows the readers to briefly get introduced to each character, and their nature before the plot moves forward. On the flip side, these short introductions mean that some characters will shine brighter than others, and some will feel like they fade into the background a bit more than they perhaps should.

There is a lot of violence, and while it’s obvious that revenge is always a huge plot point, the details of everything that happened to cause such hard feelings don’t become fully obvious until later on. Slowly, slowly Polansky reveals everything that has happened before, and everything that is happening under the surface. I enjoyed how he deliberately revealed important aspects of the plot, and discovered that he did quite a good job at keeping things moving in this way.

The Builders also had me laughing so hard I woke up my sleeping baby at one point. Polansky used this ironic, black humor throughout the book that kept this dark novel from really feeling dark (to me). In some (really unexpected) ways, the humor in this novella reminded me quite a bit of some of the humor I’d find in a K.J. Parker book, and I have to admit that’s a big reason why I loved this book so much. Furthermore, it means something when an author has me cracking up in the middle of some incredible violence. The humor was important, as it kept the book from feeling too oppressive, and kept me interested when I might not have been otherwise.

So, what am I saying here? The Builders was fantastic. Humorous, dark, and riveting, this book shocked me. I started it expecting to put it down, and ended up finishing it in one (very busy) day because I couldn’t detach from it. This novella is released today, and I completely recommend you all read it. You won’t regret it. The Builders was a delightful surprise.


4/5 stars

One Responses

  • Oh wow, a book that will make you wake up your baby, haha, that sounds fantastic. And I’ve been encountering so many anthropomorphic stories lately (Barsk, for one thing), I’m kind of happy that this trope is coming back into fantasy a bit as I miss the good ol’ times with Redwall. Sounds like this is FAR from Redwall, though, but I’m putting it on my to-read list (bonus that it’s a novella!)

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