Carnivores of Light and Darkness (Journeys of the Catechist – Book 1) by Alan Dean Foster (1998) – I wish I’d noticed the “Book One” subtitle before I started the book. After the great inciting event and subsequent quest, the heroes seemed no closer to achieving their goal at the end than when they began. But it was an exciting journey with interesting characters and an atmosphere of the fantastic which Alan Dean Foster is so good at.
Our hero is Etjole, a quiet shepherd who lives with his wife and children on a rugged strip of land near the ocean. When a ship crashes on the beach, the tribesmen discover dead bodies scattered about. One dying man charges Etjole with rescuing his princess from the madman who kidnapped her and took her far away. Etjole, the most honorable man in the village, promises to fulfill the pale stranger’s mission and leaves behind his family and tribe to travel north to find a ship to take him across the ocean to save the princess.
Etjole takes his sword forged from a meteorite and his spear headed with a tyrannosaurus rex tooth and trudges into the wilderness. (This story would make a great Dungeon and Dragons campaign.) Initially, Etjole aids a tribe of talking monkeys in their battle against the mothmen. They take him to his first glimpse of civilization, a large village on the river.
Not finding any answers there, Etjole sets off through a forest, encounters talking trees and a snake who makes him invulnerable to venom. There is where he meets his first associate, Simna ibn Sind, an opportunistic knave, who is also trapped in Corruption’s illusionary cabin with Etjole. After escaping from having their body fluids drained, Simna decides Etjole is a powerful sorcerer and his ridiculous story of rescuing a princess for a dead man must be a cover story for some great treasure the sorcerer is pursuing. He decides to tag along for his share.
Their second companion is Litah, a sentient lion/cheetah hybrid, saved by Etjole and his celestial sword from an angry (and articulate) tornado. Embarrassed at being saved by a human, Litah must accompany Etjole until he can repay the life debt.
So, we have talking monkeys, bloodthirsty moths, tiny sandmen who build palaces within sand dunes, and rabbits big as houses. In every circumstance, Etjole’s calmness and compassion save the day. One of the more fantastic realms they cross is one made of floating lakes. Etjole, using his gift to talk to animals, convinces a band of pink, fresh-water dolphins to carry them through the drifting lakes before they drown.
Scattered among the chapters of Etjole and his friends’ adventures, are odd little chapters told from the point of view of things they pass. One chapter deals with an army of red ants who assume the giants are there to help them defeat their enemies, the black ants. Another deals with a tree dying in the desert from lack of nutrients and water and how it’s returned to the other side of the world with its brethren. While these chapters don’t add to the quest, they do add a great deal to the fantastical elements of this world.
As you can tell, we haven’t met the princess or the villain (except for a brief vision Etjole experiences), and we’ve started our sea voyage by the end of the book. On the ship, Etjole reveals he is a rare human who can consume darkness. He sucks in a giant cloud of gloom while on the ship, destroying the darkness that has been following them in embryonic form.
Now I have to search for the other books in this series. Nice work, Mr. Foster.