Kyell Gold, Jherik’s Tale (FurPlanet Productions, 2011)
(Sorry, no cover image: I couldn’t find one for this novella by itself.)
Okay, yes: Jherik’s Tale is homoerotic furry fantasy romance. There’s no getting around that when your main characters are a coyote, a fox, and a family of cougars, all of whom are male, in a medieval setting. But what is surprising here is that unlike the vast majority of fetish literature—where there’s going to be a strong, strong emphasis on the “homoerotic furry” portion of that description—this is first and foremost a romance that happens to be about anthropomorphic gay animals in a fantasy world. That may not sound like a huge difference to you, but I’ll tell ya, it puts Jherik’s Tale not only head and shoulders, but entire leagues, above the vast majority of fetish lit I’ve ever read.
Plot: In the land of Argaea (a common setting for a number of Gold’s novels and short stories), which is kind of a furry version of the Age of Enlightenment (Western Europe-style), the cougars reign. Jherik is the younger son of the current ruler, and despite his father and older brother’s gentle efforts to get him involved in the diplomatic side of running the kingdom, Jherik is content—eager, in fact—to take up the traditional “soldier son” mantle, and thus spends his time on the practice field instead of in the chamber listening to squabbling nobles. The kingdom is sliding closer to war with a neighboring kingdom, and thus the ruling family must send soldiers to the borders—is this Jherik’s big break? Unfortunately, no—his father sends his older brother, seeking to give him some martial experience while rounding out Jherik’s diplomatic training. To that end, he sends Jherik off to recruit from the kingdom’s towns. While on that mission, he meets, and recruits, a handsome young coyote who excites Jherik’s lust; just as the two begin a carnal, if casual, relationship, Jherik also discovers that his brother’s former squire, a young fox who shares Jherik’s enthusiasm towards martial pursuits, is sneaking into the training room at night for practice. Jherik begins to mentor the lad, which allows him to continue his martial work while still sitting through the diplomacy stuff. What more could a young cougar want? Quite a bit, it would seem—even if he doesn’t know it himself, yet…
Okay, it may be ridiculous to say when you’re talking about anthropomorphic animals, but the characters in Jherik’s Tale are more human than the characters in many romance novels. These aren’t your “perfect heroes with one fatal flaw to convey their humanity”, they’re complex, realistically-drawn characters who don’t know themselves, but are trying to learn. Even if you’re not a fan of the furry genre, there is a great deal here to like, and I know I’ll be reading a great deal more of Gold’s work as time goes on. This is, so far, the most pleasant reading surprise of the year for me. *** ½