by David Clement-Davies
Recommended Age: 14+
Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, has called this book an “anthropomorphic fantasy.” His own book is another example of the type: fantasies that get inside the minds of animals, that explore their relationships and experiences as if they were people - yet in a grown-up, semi-realistic way. I mean, the animals act mostly like animals. They don’t walk on their hind legs, wear clothes, drive cars, and so forth. But they talk to each other, have feelings and beliefs and conflicts, and draw you into their world of mystery, danger, and adventure.
Adams did it for rabbits in Watership Down and for dogs in The Plague Dogs. But now a new master has come, whose “anthropomorphic fantasy” about red deer is a tale filled with dramatic power, lyrical beauty, and a deep dark thread of myth.
Fire Bringer is a story about the red deer of the land we call Scotland. It focuses on one young stag, born with a white mark shaped like an oak leaf on his forehead, and born on the night of his father’s murder. From the first moments of his life, Rannoch is hunted – hunted by a Lord of the Herd who aims to destroy the natural, old way that deer have lived, and to create a new Great Herd ruled by reason, power, and fear. Hunted because his very existence is a reminder of the old ways. Hunted because his escape is an embarrassment to the powers that be. Hunted because of a prophecy that describes just such a fawn with an oak-leaf mark, and that makes him a direct threat to the tyrannical, hornless stag named Sgorr.
In this tale you will meet and love many animals including, first and foremost, the deer. But a seal, a wolf, a raven, and even a human will have parts to play. You will enjoy the stories told by the old deer to the young, including a really unusual variant of a human holiday favorite. You will thrill, and sometimes cringe, at the battles and violence. Your heart will thud with disbelief at the sight of a savage ritual. And you will be captivated by the tragic romance, the suspense, and the sense of impending destiny that fills the final pages of this extraordinary book.
And then, like me, you will rush out and buy Clement-Davies’ second “anthropomorphic fantasy,” which is about wolves, and is titled The Sight. [UPDATE: Since I first wrote this review, the same author has also published books titled Fell and The Alchemist of Barbal.]