Welcome to Arraborough -  a new kind of Animal Story

Frank LeRenard is the long-time moderator of the Writing forum on Fur Affinity (a site for the fans of the use of anthropomorphic animals in fiction). Here is his review of Book One, "The Unimaginable Road":

Hey, it's been a while. So today I'm reviewing a little book called The Unimaginable Road, by Eddie Drueding. This is the first in a series of books about a place called Arraborough, a town in a forest built by people (or rather, animals) who wanted to just get away from it all and live in peace. According to the author's bio, it started as first a comic strip, then as a ton of comic books, and finally as this series of novels, so this story has been going on for 30 years in some form or another and just recently made it to the book format. I'd never heard of it before the author approached me personally and asked me to read it some number of months ago, so here I am now.

Now, this book perplexed me at first. It's written in a very up-front, no-nonsense style. It's present tense, the language is very fairytale-esque, and the characters all have easy names like Slither Snake and Wild Boar (though some get more creative as the cast expands, of course). It starts off with a blunt description of an elliptical patch of forest, giving dimensions and describing where it can be found. In truth, the first few pages are a little off-putting, because you end up having pretty much NO IDEA what this book is going to be like. But as I started reading it, rather than being discouraged, I was intrigued, because despite all that strange bluntness, there's enough creative juice thrown in there that you immediately recognize the author is really going somewhere with all this, and you should just be patient and keep reading.

The whole book unfolds like this. It starts off slow, introducing locations and characters, giving people names, getting them all together. The original six arbitrarily decide to settle this place where they all just happened to sit down one night and start a fire, and they start building a town there for apparently no reason. But in the background, there's a mystery brewing; there's this strange squirrel inhabiting the place already, who acts like a child but has this mystical aura about him, seems to know things he shouldn't. They start building their town, and a strange cat shows up with blue ears, who apparently has a knack for predicting the future. There's a system of caves nearby that no one is allowed to go in, and there's a house built out of stone called Rockhouse that only seems to allow certain people inside. And in the meantime, there's all these animals walking around (quite a diverse set; a chicken, some pigs, a cat, an echidna, an anteater, a pangolin, and so on and so forth), but there's mention of a war going on, they drive cars, they build cities, they have reporters and newspapers and phones and mystery writers and all that, and none of them believe in magic. It becomes obvious right away that nothing about any of this is really arbitrary after all. It's one of those books where you know the author has a master plan, but you don't have any clue yet what it is. That's what keeps you reading.

The atmosphere completely makes this book. The atmosphere and the characters, I should say. There's a huge cast, and it's a little tough to remember everybody, but they all get used enough and they all have distinct enough personalities that you don't end up having to work to memorize who's who, and they all inhabit this really strange, interesting world that's only revealed bit by bit as the story goes on. The pacing is perfect; there's not a terribly huge amount that goes on during the course of the narrative, but it just keeps dragging you into it with these little hints, little revelations here and there about all the mysteries brought up in the first few pages. Events gets sprinkled around at just the right times to keep you from getting bored, too. New people come in and bring conflict, tensions rise and fall, characters might go missing only to turn up right at the climax. And despite the fairytale-like storytelling, it's not a kids' book by any stretch of the imagination. This is all a fantastical, peaceful place with a dark, dark past. Shit goes down in this book, and when it does it hits pretty hard and you really feel it in your gut.

I don't have anything really negative to say about it, in the end. Not sure what genre to classify it as (it's fantasy, mostly, but there are some hints that it's got sci-fi elements, too), but whatever it is, it's a really great read, and I'd totally recommend it to... well, pretty much to whoever. I think it could appeal to a lot of people with a wide variety of tastes. You can buy the paperback version either at Amazon or straight from the publisher, Melange Books (I'm starting to appreciate this publisher; they're small, but all four books I've read from them have been great). So by all means, go buy it and read it yourself.

Emily's Review from Goodreads:

I loved this book and I can't wait for the next in the series.

There are quite a few different characters, each with their own personality and each with a background story that has yet to be fully divulged leaving an air of curiosity about them. The whole book is full of mystery and just when you think you might be about to find some answers Eddie throws up new questions instead and the mystery deepens.

It is written in the present tense, which, although unusual, I found to be quite refreshing and it created a better picture in my mind. I imagined what it might be like on the TV and read it as if it were describing the scenes of a TV programme.

I liked the idea of this animal world with the anthropomorphised species inter-mingling and the struggle that the snakes faced against the 'limbs'. I thought the idea that the animal world had split into different areas was inspired and thought-provoking. What would happen if the animals in our world could think and speak like we do? Would they segregate themselves like this? On this animal planet the littler people lived in the south, medium in the middle, 'biggies' in the north, and then snakes and primates had also split into their own sections.

It might not seem like it is necessary for the characters to be animals because the story is more to do with social inequalities and struggles, but I suspect that there is some greater purpose and reason for this that will become clearer further down the line.

There is something special about this place that Slither Snake has built, 'Arraborough', and there is some big secret about it just waiting to be uncovered. I can't get over the image of those gemstone-like eyes that feature in the more secretive characters-Fespin, Pimlico and Dovan. Why is it these three who have eyes like this? What is the connection between them? And what is going on in the caves below???

I would highly recommend this book and even without reading them, I would recommend the rest of the series too! Anyone who likes a mystery will be hooked on this. Can't wait for Book 2!

And here is Frank's review of Book Two:

I haven't done one of these in a while, I know, but I wanted to at least give a shoutout to this book once it hit the shelves, so to speak, so here it is.

So, when I first started thinking about doing furry book reviews, the one major goal I had in mind was to find some book or series of books written with a main cast of furry characters that fit my idea of 'a really good book'. Now, that definition is, of course, personal to me, as it would be to anyone else who deigned to come up with his own such definition, but essentially it's this: a really good book is a book that is easy to slip into, that keeps you there while you're reading it, that keeps you guessing, that sparks your imagination, and that dares to make you uncomfortable. I've read a couple of books that incorporate several of those qualities, but it's been hard to find one that has all of them.

Obviously this is leading up to this statement: Eddie Drueding's books fit the bill. They have something which is truly difficult to find in any creative medium, from music to art to literature, which is a near-perfect combo of imagination, childlike wonder, and maturity. The setting of the books, Arraborough, was founded in the first book on pure naive and childish principles. The characters were all portrayed as being somewhat childlike as well, each a little bit of a stereotype in their own ways. And yet there was always this undercurrent of deep mystery and darkness; not every character was easy to understand, there were discussions of old wars, of secret societies, the mob, unmarked graves, and so on. You were never quite sure if everything was going to turn out all right in the end.

The second book, The Darkness (not to be confused with Star Trek: Into Darkness), expands on the themes set up in the first book. It really plays with your mind as you read it, constantly leading your thoughts one way only to jerk you around and reveal that it's been another way all along, setting up huge mysteries and just giving you the slightest revelations, bit by bit. Every character is fleshed out much more in this book, and it's done by way of an enigma of a character who appears roughly out of nowhere and seems to be acting out of some magical omnipotence. We start to learn more about the mysterious characters set up before (the squirrel Fespin, the cat Pimlico, the dog Dovan), but only a little, and only to divulge more of the deeper mysteries built into the setting.

The whole atmosphere of this book and the last banks on there being a confusion between magic and technology. You're never entirely sure if there's just one or both, which means you don't know which is the acting force. Things seem almost standard Earth, with animals substituted for humans: there are cars, psychologists, militaries, competing business interests, crime syndicates, and everything else. But then there's the strange blue-eyed animals, there's a secretive society of apes and monkeys, a house that only lets certain people inside, a forest that seems to have a mind of its own, and Fespin, who seems to be half in another world, acts like a child, and yet apparently holds some immense power that scares the shit out of everyone there when they aren't playing ball with him. It's all rather glorious.

If you didn't get interested in this series with my review of the first book, please do get interested now, and keep a lookout for the following books as well (there will be many more, or so I've been told). These books deserve at the very least a substantial cult following, and probably they deserve more than that.