As a child, I loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and I couldn’t help but think back to those books when reading Polansky’s novella, The Builders, although they have little in common apart from the animal protagonists. The Builders is how I imagine Redwall might have turned out if penned by Quentin Tarantino. And many of Tarantino’s trademarks can be found within the pages of The Builders – the ensemble cast, the non-linearity, the theme of revenge and an ever increasing number of violent deaths.
Years ago, the Captain and his crew were on the verge of winning a politically motivated war when they were betrayed. The crew went into hiding – their survival dependent upon their ability to maintain a low profile. But now the Captain sees a chance to take revenge.
The novel starts as he gathers the old crew around him – a seemingly rag tag bunch of creatures that have their own skills, each with their part of play in the mission ahead of them. Not that it will be plain sailing – they were betrayed before, and we know that there is a traitor in their midst today…
The Builders is a bleak and darkly humorous tale that works perfectly as a novella – any longer and I think it would have been too drawn out. There’s sufficient background detail given so that we understand their motives, what occurred previously and what their revenge means for them. My only criticism would be that some of the characters were a little underdeveloped.
And the characters retained their archetypal behaviours, despite being given human voices and ambitions. I won’t go into detail, because discovering each character was part of the joy of the novel, but I’ll give a special mention to Bonsoir the stoat, who was as perfectly, stereotypically French as you can be.
I really enjoyed The Builders, and I thought that the animal protagonists were a refreshing twist, even if it’s not a wholly original idea. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a short, dark fantasy or just for something a little different in the genre.