This month, I am going wild and doing a lot of animal books for my reviews. Part of how I choose my theme is by which indie book I want to read, and Mr. Headley came up on my blog radar. I am a closet fan of YA, and I really like Redwall. By the description, it sounded like The Longtails Saga was going to be a sort of post-apocalyptic Redwall.
As a whole, my assumption was mostly true. Magic was involved in the story, and the culture of the mice was a combination of modern American and East-Asian rather than medieval English. One of the things I didn’t like about it was it had a lot of references, reminiscent of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I hated RPO, but if you liked both RPO and Redwall, you should DEFINITELY read Longtails. Even with the references, the storyline of Longtails was pretty good, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read such a smooth, well-edited indie book before. It’s a bit pricey but worth the read if it sounds interesting to you. Stick to the end – it’s the twists that make the slow beginning worthwhile.
Longtails: The Storms of Spring
Author: Jaysen Headley
Published April 24th, 2018
I purchased my copy on Amazon Kindle. Headley has paperback copies available, and based on the pictures I’ve seen on his blog, they look pretty well done. You can also read it using Kindle Unlimited, but I wanted to actually buy the book so that Headley would see a small fruit of his labor. Also, screw Amazon’s employee abuse.
Not going to lie, I really liked the book after I finished it, but the first few chapters were hard. It starts off a bit slow, somewhat focused on explaining the universe and the main character. The first half, as well, contains a lot more of the pop-culture references that so plagued RPO and that I despised. However, Longtails doesn’t contain such vapid and useless characters as RPO, and Headley weaves in the references much more smoothly than Cline ever did. I even found myself laughing at a couple.
After about halfway through, the story picks up. The characters know each other well enough to have some semblance of trust, and the main character has started down his journey of self-discovery. At that point in the book, the journey has a goal, and the mystery of what’s going on begins to unfold itself. By about 75% of the way through, I wasn’t going to stop until I hit the end, and the plot twists and resolution are what convinced me that I liked the book. Without spoiling anything, the end of the book leaves off at a great place for a first book in a series. I’m probably going to check out the second book if it comes out on Headley’s planned timeline.
The book was also well edited. The sentences all flowed and read well, and – ESPECIALLY for a self-published book – there were few typos and no egregious errors that I found. If you worry about indie books having terrible quality, I can assure you that this one is very readable. As far as style goes, though, there were several instances where something physical or scientific just… fell flat. It was easy enough for me to suspend disbelief, but there were a lot of instances where I had to do that.
SPOILERS AHOY: Plot Review
Recently turned out of his parents’ home, Del Hatherhorne suddenly shows magical prowess when defending a military band from minks. He reluctantly joins the band that he saved and starts his first mission escorting a traitorous honey peddler back to his home. Once there, an assassin kills the traitor before he can spill the beans. Three members of the band journey to the assassin on a path fraught with danger. At last they arrive at the assassin’s destination, the home of The Blight, only to find that the assassin was the honey peddler’s wife! Kando holds off traitorous Arthur and the assassin, eventually gaining ground when the last member of their crew catches up to them. Del, in the meantime, battles The Blight with powers he found over the course of the journey. Once the battle is successful, they return home to prepare for The Blight’s resurgence.
The story has a nice, linear form. The beginning is a bit slow, but the buildup of information is important for the end. Once the plot twists – Delilah, the honey peddler’s wife, being the assassin, and Arthur, a member of their band, being a follower of The Blight – are revealed, the time spent by Headley building those twists becomes precious. That being said, the chapters before Del joins the band felt… less good. There were two mink attacks in a row, and despite one of them being necessary to foment the other, I didn’t like that.
The Squirrel sky pirates, part of the perilous journey to chase down the assassin, was where it really picked up. When Del receives the mini computer filled with human information, more information about the mysterious Trelocks is revealed. It also shows that Del is going to travel through a journey similar to Aang of Avatar: The Last Airbender over the course of the series. Del’s connection to spirits, as well, echoes the Avatar magic system.
As a whole, the plot was pretty good. I am going to try convincing one of my friends to give it a try.
SPOILERS AHOY: Characters
The main character, Del, starts off incredibly annoying. I imagined him as a basement dweller wearing a fedora ironically, not a mouse with a green scarf. I decided to like him when he called out his leader, Kando, for having terrible mentoring skills – and he was right. Headley didn’t let the crappy training montage turn out well just because Kando was supposed to be wise, and that made me appreciate Del quite a bit.
That same scene also led me to appreciate Kando more. He was gruff, and his Asiatic leanings originally had me eyerolling. I’ve read too many manuscripts where anime tropes are used with stunningly bad effect to just accept Kando’s culture immediately. When Kando’s bad training was called out by Del, he instantly seemed less trope-ish. His character bloomed at that point, and he was no longer just ‘Asian,’ but had a personality to go on top of what became simply a racial trait. I was more ok with Kando than I initially expected to be.
Denya, the female member of the band, was initially very interesting. When she sacrificed her dreams in order to get information about the assassin’s whereabouts, though, I thought to myself, ‘If she doesn’t come back, I’m going to hate this book.’ Luckily, she does come back in a pretty smart, powerful way. I expect more out of her in later books.
The last main character I’m going to talk about is Arthur. He might be my favorite, and not because he was a goodguy. Headley built up his treachery so damn well. After it was revealed, I could look back over the course of the book and see how Arthur’s incredible charisma had led him safely through all tests and gotten him to the end. Up until he turned, too, I kind of let Arthur off the hook for his debauchery because of his quirky, fun personality. Excellent character, just excellent.
Because I would be remiss not to do so, I want to talk about the villain briefly. While the character is mostly presented as a mysterious, faraway power that has just reared its nasty head in the form of a zombie bear, I thought that the interactions with said villain were great. I don’t really get why some of the animals worshipped The Blight, but I don’t think it matters. Cults are cults for a reason, and outsiders don’t get to feel that feeling.
SPOILERS AHOY: Setting
The setting was obviously post-apocalyptic Denver. I can’t think of a better way to describe it, either.
Part of setting, though, is the magic premise. I liked how Headley didn’t focus too much on how the magic worked, but instead is letting his readers learn as we go. He did go overly deep into explanations of the cultural implications and stratifications of the different magic classes in the first part of the book, but after the first few chapters, it went very smoothly. The magical connection Del exhibited with the extinct humans, as well, was interesting.
Another thing I liked was how he wove different conclaves of animals together by giving them separate cultures. I thought that was clever, and I actually thought the racism in Longtails a more relevant and useful tool than the strange interactivity you see in Redwall.
The humans, though absent, have a lot of influence over the setting. It’s pretty clear that radiation accelerated evolution in this universe, thus creating sentient mice, squirrels, minks, bears, etc., but I was not a huge fan of that explanation. I was able to suspend disbelief and let it happen, but I know enough about evolution and exposure to radioactivity that it was a hard thing to put behind me.
Culturally, one of the difficult pieces I had to swallow was how the Longtails just threw Rooks into new bands without so much as basic training. Sure, Del may have been a Trelock which couldn’t be trained, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have a minimal level of physical readiness or survival training. I wasn’t a fan of this choice of the mice and didn’t believe it.
Stay tuned next we turn to The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy! It has been popular since its publication in 2015, and I hope you enjoy the review!