Author: Frances Pauli
Word Count: 93,128
Page Count: 238
Size: 6" x 9"
Cover Artist: Ilya Royz
Cover Lettering: Wesley Brown
Book Number: 1
Publication Date: March 2020
This title won a 2020 Leo Literary Award, and was nominated for a 2020 Ursa Major Award and 2020 Coyotl Award.
Come forth, for you are special.
Sookahr the architect is just one of many snakes within Serpentia, an underground society where snakes and their rodent companions have lived in peace for as long as anyone can remember. Their destinies are preordained at birth, when they are fit with skymetal bands to enhance the telekinetic powers that aid them everyday.
Given an opportunity unheard of for a snake of his caste, Sookahr and Kwirk, his mouse aid, venture to a recently-destroyed outpost at the far edges of Serpentia, hoping to redesign the structure and prove his skill as an architect. But something watches from the jungle, and whatever attacked the outpost is poised to strike again. Will Sookahr's drive to rise above his station get his team killed? Or will he respond to the call he's heard since birth, and be the hero who can save them all?
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Disbanded is the first novel by Frances Pauli that I’ve read and after finishing it, I definitely want to check out more of her work. The amount of care and detail that went into defining the world that the book takes place in is exquisite. I really felt like the Burrow and the wider world surrounding it were lived in spaces. The opening of the book was one of the best hooks I’ve ever read for a story as well. Using the reader’s familiar notions of snakes to draw them further into the world. I will say, however, that after the beginning section the pacing dropped off for me. I didn’t feel as engaged with the story as Sookahr went about his duties as an architect until the next inciting action kicked in. And I know now, after reading the full book, that those sections were necessary to set up for the end of the story. It’s also one of the few times that I’ve seen a snake take center stage in furry fiction, so there is something to be said of that as well. There are moments of dialog between characters that are extremely well done and that helped to cement their personalities in my head early on. I’d say if you like snakes that this is a must-read!
Disclaimer - I was given an advance copy of this book to review, but opinions are my own.
Sookahr is a young snake just coming into what would be the human equivalent to adulthood within his community within the burrow of Serpentia. He’s tasked his career, which he’s been assigned like every other, but something has always told him that he was meant for more.
Book 1 gets you acquainted with the main character, Sookahr, and his world of Serpentia. There will be snake-based terminology used, but nothing too hard to follow even for those not too familiar (I learned that belly scales are called scutes!) You’ll follow Sookahr, his acquaintances and his friends as their worlds intertwine (snake pun? Maybe) while as they are tasked to make repairs to an outdated security post. But things never go as planned and there is a mystery afoot as they find the outpost abandoned and ransacked. Will you be able to figure out what happened and who is behind it before Sookhar? Can Sookhar figure out what his path is really meant to be? Will you also fall in love with the chonky builder-snake Lohmeer assigned to the post to assist him? Definitely give this one a read asap to find out! I can’t wait to see what happens in book #2.
Snakes aren’t the most intelligent creatures on the planet—domestic snakes especially. Anyone who has kept one as a pet can tell you; even eating—one of the most basic things a creature can do—can be challenging for them. It’s a miracle that they survive at all!
But what if they weren’t quite that stupid? What if they were as smart as people? They’re so drastically different from us physically… how would that difference in perspective manifest in their personalities? Furthermore, what if mice—the most basic food source for just about every breed of snake—lived alongside them? Forget for a moment about how unlikely that might seem, but what if it happened?
Frances Pauli spins a tale in ”Disbanded”, putting just such a scenario into motion. The story stars Sookahr, a young and well-meaning snake who is born into a world that is fundamentally unfair. Their society is a caste system, for starters, and who you will be and what will be your place depends entirely on things you can’t control—be it the type of snake you are, your coloration, or even whether you were born a snake at all.
Whether he picked it or not, Sookahr likes the role he landed into. He’s going to be an architect, and he’s pretty good at it. Fresh out of school, he’s been tapped by his favorite professor with an opportunity to prove himself to the Circlet—the ruling caste. But to do so, he’ll have to go on an adventure to prove himself. And, unsurprisingly enough, his adventure in the jungle doesn’t go well. In fact, it immediately brought the movie ”Apocalypse Now” to mind. All we needed was for Sookahr’s buddy, Lohmeer, to have an uncontrollable shouting fit of ”Never get out of the f’ing burrow! Never get out of the burrow!” and we’d be there.
”Disbanded” does start a little slow. Sure, Sookahr seems like a decent enough sort of person, but it takes a while before the telling proves that we need to care about whether he succeeds. We’ll see that much more is on the line than just whether he will become a successful architect or not, so stick with it. The payoff will be worth the read.
One thing that amused me about the story is that Pauli sets Sookahr up to realize something that we the reader realizes far faster than he does. Each time he wonders about this, the reader ends up shouting at the pages, ”It’s obvious, stupid! How can you not realize this?” He is still a snake, after all. But we get so convinced that this is going to be the story’s ”big reveal” that we find ourselves rolling our eyes at the melodrama. Well, don’t worry, this is not going to be the big reveal. Pauli pulls the ol’ switcheroo on us and the realization we think will be played up as earthshaking-when-it-really-isn’t is revealed almost incidentally. The big reveal actually happens about 2/3rds of the way through the novel and will make you wonder where this story could be going.
Note that ”Disbanded” is told in first person. I love first person narratives, but not everyone does, so your mileage may vary.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that when Sookahr hatches (not a spoiler, this is chapter one) a mysterious voice promises him that he will change the world. By the end of the book, the world really hasn’t changed all that much, but Pauli has already confirmed that book two is in the works, so we can assume that all this world-changing still lies ahead of Sookahr.
Fortunately, Sookahr *does* get out of the f’ing burrow, and he *will* make the world a better place, even if he must do it one down-trodden creature at a time. ”Disbanded” was a good story and I’ll certainly be reading the rest of the series when it comes out too.