A mouse, a stoat, a possum, a salamander, a badger, a mole, and an owl walk into a bar…
…And from that one-note joke comes a pretty damn fine novella. The Captain—a scowling, one-eyed mouse—and his crew lost a civil war, a country, an eye, and a wing. Now the Captain is getting the team—The Builders—back together for a little revenge.
You’ll note that that doesn’t have much to do with the fact that the characters are all (all, no humans to be seen) animals. The animal nature of the characters (the bad guys are animals too, a skunk, a cat, a fox, and a rattle snake, with rats for mooks) informs their abilities and attributes but otherwise largely irrelevant. It’s not much more than an excuse to have a salamander gunslinger, badger muscle, a stoat assassin, and a possum sniper. Not that I will complain, mind you. Polansky doesn’t get cutesy with it and adds what it will when available.
There is a solid yarn underneath. The setting is evocative of civil war Mexico. Polansky borrows heavily from the tropes of heist stories. He stays spare in his writing, with extremely short chapters and no unnecessary narration. A certain amount of narrative distance introduced works because the work is very short and it avoids any need to hide the ball regarding the plot twists (an impressive number for a novella). Much like Miles Cameron (I read The Dread Wyrm directly before The Builders), Polansky is skilled at landing a wham line. It’s dark and bloody and a whole hell of a lot of fun.
Disclosure: I solicited and received an advance copy of The Builders from the publisher, Tor.com.