Friday, January 8, 2010

The Guild of the Zeppelin Catchers

It's official, The Guild of the Cowry Catchers by Abigail Hilton (an Abigail, but not the Abigail) is awesome.

The premise: Gerard Holovar is a prince, disgraced by having actually married the blind court minstrel he fell in love with and accidentally impregnated. Gerard leaves home with his wife, Thessalyn, and also accidentally becomes the chief of police of an island where the chiefs of police don't last long. Now he must investigate the resistance movement (the theocratic government Gerard works for is basically a bunch of Grade A prime cut nozzles) who want to kill him, deal his fellow government employee, Silvio, who also wants to kill him, and deal with his seductive employer, the priestess Morchella (played by Kim the Comic Book Goddess, the woman with the sexiest voice in the podcasting universe), who probably doesn't want to kill him. Other inappropriate things, sure, but not kill. The sound effects, voice acting, and general production values are without peer, and the cast includes some real podcast greats.

Of course, that's just the story. There's much, much more to it than that.

The setting is clearly much deeper than I can even begin to express in this post. The world of Panamindorah, where The Guild of the Cowry Catchers is set, is clearly huge, deep, and old, and Hilton has so far done a good job implying the weight and depth of it without bogging us down in needless (and endless) exposition, the way some authors (me) sometimes do.

I'm also tickled by the content of Panamindorah. Remember when I said I longed heartily for more nonstandard fantasy races? The Guild of the Cowry Catchers is an entirely nonhuman fantasy. The characters are shelts - creatures built like the god Pan, with animal bottom parts and human top parts - divided roughly into fauns, panauns, and nauns. Panauns have paws and are higher on the food chain - and sometimes eat - fauns, who have hooves. Nauns, partly sea creatures with neither hooves nor paws, form an even more oppressed underclass. Hilton uses these many intelligent species and their to drive the plot. For example, the grishnards, part-griffon shelts, believe that their physical superiority and tendency to eat those "below" them makes them better suited to rule.

But, the setting isn't what really does it for me about The Guild of the Cowry Catchers. It's the characters. The beautiful, beautiful characters. The last episode in particular had not one, but two awesome moments (both of these could, if you were stingy, be called minor spoilers, so proceed with caution): first, when Gerard unwittingly has a moment of conversational intimacy with the person who is probably his primary antagonist, the resistance leader Gwain, second is when the borderline sociopathic Silvio flirts with Thessalyn and reveals a softer side. A moment of intimacy between people who are actually sworn enemies and the sudden - and so far, brief - transformation of a horrible, petty little shit creature into a real human being speaks a great deal to Hilton's ability to write realistically changeable creature. The perfect management of rising, cresting, and descending tensions in these scenes is also a testament to Hilton's skill.

In closing, no one says it better than the author herself:

When Abigail Hilton flopped, gasping, onto the beach of a tiny, unnamed key off the Florida coast, she was grateful that her audience included only a handful of sea gulls, a raccoon, and one very surprised panther. The panther fled, along with the raccoon, but one of the curious sea gulls hopped over to have a closer look at her. Moments later, now sticky with blood and feathers, she dragged herself into a tide pool. With the energy provided by her sea gull meal, she formed a gelatinous cocoon, where she lay dormant for months. She emerged, looking almost completely human, with nary a scale or flipper. She walked up the beach and into the world, where naturally she entered a medical profession. The scrubs and masks almost completely hide her gill slits.

Beautiful. I recommend The Guild of the Cowry Catchers without reservation. Check it out.


Abigail Hilton said...

Wow. I don't think I've ever gotten such a detailed, thoughtful review from a stranger. Thank you, Mark! I hope you continue to enjoy the story. I'm sure you've poked around the website, but on the off chance that you didn't see it, I recently added a map and, of course, there's also episode artwork. Thanks again for the great press!

Anemone Flynn said...

Great review! I've enjoyed all of Abigail Hilton's podcasted books to date, and am glad to find them heartily recommended by others, as well.