The Navigating Fox by Christopher Rowe (book review).

Quintis is the only navigating fox. The only known ‘knowledgeable’ fox in existence. Alchemists have raised many animals to sentience from baboons to parrots but Quintis is alone and has no memory of who or why he was chosen. He also has no idea why he is the only one that can travel the Silver Roads that compress the space and time of a journey.

Only Quintus returned from the last expedition he led. Sixty souls lost and a navigator left in utter disgrace. Now he has been offered a new commission that, if successful, will save his reputation and just maybe provide a clue as to where he came from. All he has to do is lead a team of people who mostly hate him to the doors of Hell so a priest can close them and end death forever. He has his doubts.

I blame ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy,’ but I read ‘talking raccoon’ and I immediately geared up for some zany, perhaps even some kooky, definitely some hi-jinx if not downright shenanigans. Instead, I got bizarre in the ‘I have some questions’ sort of way. How were the people selected for this quest and why? Straight from the text it appears that they, except for Quintus, we’re just the last people to leave after a meeting and, bam, they are the lucky chosen few.

More than how, why do they go? It’s like I stood up in a cafe and said we’re all off to go get coffee beans from the source which is on the banks of the Styx and have everyone say, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ So Quintus is taking a bison ambassador, two raccoon cartographers, a Machiavellian priest and a woman looking for revenge. Presumably, there are reasons and perhaps those will be explored in any further stories with ‘The Navigating Fox’ solely focusing on Quintus’ journey but it does feel a little odd.

While the focus is on Quintus, it’s the broader world that took me through the book. Rowe has managed to create a world that engaged me in its very self-contained story in less than 200 pages. It felt rather steampunk Victoriana to me and scattered beautifully throughout the story were practical considerations about a society that contains sentient animals who regularly don’t have hands or pockets but still need to take a train. Hints of the broader world bring in elements of colonialism and imperial dominance without being heavy-handed. A nice change from fantasy writers taking a thousand pages to get a character up a hill as happens in the late Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel Of Time.

‘The Navigating Fox’ has an old world style of prose that reminds me of classic children’s stories like E Nesbit’s ‘The Phoenix And The Carpet’ or Elizabeth Grudge’s ‘The Little White Horse’ but, unlike those older novels, this one is definitely shorter, a novella. If you read my review of Seanan Macguire’s ‘Be Sure’ you’ll know my opinion of novellas as ‘too short to bother with for a fast reader’ but they definitely have their place. In this case, it is a great example of the power of a few words to invoke a great wide world.

Christopher Rowe has been nominated for various awards for his short fiction and, while I didn’t love ‘The Navigating Fox’, I did like it and hope that Rowe is considering a full length novel in the future.

LK Richardson

September 2023

(pub: TOR, 2023. 160 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-25080-450-1. Ebook: ISBN 978-1-25080-451-8. Price: $ 4.99 (US).

(pub: St. Martin’s Press, 2023. Price: £15.99 (UK)

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