Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Kotas Reviews Dakrah's Familiar

Greetings, and welcome to another review. It's been a while, but now all our bowls have been supered and I've managed to overcome some pretty nasty bouts of illness, so I can finally write about something I read while I was incapacitated. First off, it's a short story, and second off, it's a FANTASY short story. I know, I know, you were all hoping for another food review but I'm trying to stretch my reviewer legs as it were. 

As you may have gathered from previous reviews, I am definitely a fan of the fantasy genre of literature. I've gobbled up many a fine fantasy novel or story in my day and I can say truly that it is probably my favorite genre...at least it is right now. During my recent incapacitation I found myself wanting to escape my current situation and lo and behold, I had recently purchased such a piece of escapism. Enter: Dakrah's Familiar.

Available in a single bookstore, everywhere.
Full Disclosure: I happen to personally know the author of this book and the person who did the cover art. So my biases might be showing in this one. Scratch that, they probably will. Still, I think it is valuable and entertaining to publish my thoughts on it, especially since I paid my money just like everyone else has to do in order to read it. Yah, I ponied up my $2.99. With that out of the way, let's continue. Be warned, thar be spoilers ahead, so if you want to avoid them, skip down to the last paragraph for the FACE Rating and final thoughts.

If you are looking for a story filled with exciting action, thrilling adventure, and non-stop excitement...well, you should probably look someplace else. I can sum up the entirety of this story in a single sentence: A wizard desires to have a familiar. He acquires one through the casting of a ritual. The End! You can pretty much encapsulate this story within the time frame of what would be something that happens between the chapters of another, more action focused story. This is a character piece that fills in the details of "so, when my wizard got a familiar in Dungeons and Dragons, just what the heck DID happen anyway? It's not like you go down to the local pet shop and buy one am I right?" 

This story opens with our hero Dakrah finally deciding, after much hemming and hawing over not completely understanding just what it is he is about to do, to just cast his "Summon Familiar" ritual already. Dakrah is what every wizard character ever claims to be, supremely confident in his ability to perform magic, loquacious in thought and explanation, and painstaking in preparation. His inner dialogue reveals that these outer traits paper over a certain pensiveness about his actual ability. There is also a pinch of impatience with the "proper way", as displayed in his choice of familiar and its animating entity. "Better the devil you do not know, rather than the stuffy angel you do" might not be the safest path, but it is certainly the more interesting choice.

The ritual casting has two points of failure, and thus the rest of the ritual is glossed over with just a few words. The first is the shaping of the familiar. It is implied that there are standard choices ("You may bring a cat, rat, toad, or owl..") and then there is the more exotic path of Shape Your Own Carnivore. In most fantasy worlds, the taking on of a familiar is often coached as a sizing up of each other, and then settling into a relationship. In this story, Dakrah decides that he literally wants to mold his familiar in the image of his mind's eye, and bargains and threatens ephemeral and dangerous spirits/entities/somethings into doing his bidding. The mental process as described is fascinating, really, especially since it requires a bit of the wizard's own essence to complete the working.

The second point of failure is finding something to provide the spark of intelligence. Modern stories attribute this as a feature of the animal that was always there (Crookshanks displayed a number of distinctly un-cat-like proclivities, if you will recall), but here Dakrah needs to convince a greater entity that this is Worth Doing. Through implication and indirect reference we learn that most wizards call down an angel and say nice things to it. Dakrah chooses to choose the path less taken, simply because he doesn't want to deal with arrogant angels, even though he has no idea what exactly this choice will result in. So much for the careful preparations beforehand eh? 

I won't completely spoil this bit, because it crams a LOT of character building elements into a dialogue with the entity that arrives as well as a number of setting tidbits (dare I say, hooks) that whetted my appetite to learn more about the world of Aurikesh. Dakrah, of course, succeeds in his task, to no one's surprise.

The work has its flaws. It's...short. Shorter than I was expecting, really, which led to a mild disappointment though it could be a feature for some. It's also very, very wordy. And by wordy, I mean there are a lot of words used I had to look up or just sort of gloss over and hope I got the gist by the context. I mean, I'm not opposed to looking up a few words here and there, but 5-6 times within a few pages? I am a simple unfrozen caveman reviewer. The modern world frightens and confuses me. As I type these words, I think "Are there small spirits in the box that draw really fast?" The one thing I do know is that if I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, others may too. 

On the FACE Rating System, Dakrah's Familiar gets a solid 2 smiley faces. I appreciate stories that crawl inside the mind of their focus in order to get a good understanding of what makes them tick, and I enjoy examinations of magic. Definitely worth the three bucks to me. Those looking for a rollicking adventure might leave a bit disappointed, but the setting appears to be rich with possibility. Some of my disappointment with the length of the story was because it left me wanting. If you like fantasy as a genre, this is a good story with some meat, though the word density can be a little intimidating. Crack open your dictionary for this one, but I think it was worth it.

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