Today’s review is about THE NAVIGATING FOX by Christopher Rowe. It’s a novella that brings together talking animals and humans in an expedition to the gates of Hell. Set in a North America colonized by pseudo ancient Romans, Rowe smartly incorporates themes such as colonialism and ethnocentrism.
Author: Christoper Rowe
Age Category: Adult
Publish Date: September 26, 2023
Print Length: 160
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The Navigating Fox is a fantastical fable of “knowledgeable creatures”, in the vein of Brian Jacques’s Redwall series but for adults, by Hugo and Nebula Award finalist Christopher Rowe
“Half fable, half caper, and a pure joy to read.”–Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of Book of Night
“There’s nothing like it; you have to read it.” –Alix E. Harrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Once and Future Witches
Quintus Shu’al, the world’s only navigating fox, is in disgrace after guiding an expedition to its doom, leaving no survivors. One year later, Quintus is offered the chance to redeem himself: he will need to lead a motley, fractious team–both human and animal–all the way to the gates of Hell.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
THE NAVIGATING FOX by Christopher Rowe is unlike anything I’ve read before. It certainly fits the broad bill of speculative fiction by incorporating talking animals (“knowledgeable creatures”) and an expedition to the gates of Hell. It’s also a rather sharp and quick-witted read as told from the point of view of Quintus Shu’al, the navigating fox. And it reminds me slightly of some of the 1990s fantasy classics like His Dark Materials and SABRIEL, perhaps because of the talking animals.
However, THE NAVIGATING FOX definitely holds its own as a tightly-packed novella of 160 pages. Aside from Quintus, several other characters receive notable page time: Octavia Delphina, Citizen and Visiting Scholar; Holy Scipio Aemilanus; Walks Along Woman, a knowledeable bison and credentialed ambassador; and Loci and Foci, twin knowledgeable raccoons who appreciate mischief. I love how Rowe smartly builds the world for the reader, introduction by introduction. It’s through this type of exposition the reader learns that the setting echoes ancient Roman colonization. Instead of western Europe, though, it’s in North America.
There is quite a bit of commentary the deeper the reader gets into the story, though its incorporation is, for the most part, relatively subtle. There is, of course, a running colonialism theme throughout given the setting. The characters also discuss what amounts to ethnocentrism. Or, an evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions stemming from one’s own culture. Thus, it is wise not to generalize a culture that differs from one’s own. I found these conversations to be quite interesting, particularly with respect to the use of different words for a similar meaning.
Naturally, there is also a quip or two about religion. Additionally, without spoiling the reading experience, THE NAVIGATING FOX highlights the gatekeeping of knowledge to animals. After all, knowledge is power. It’s possible that the animals might be metaphors for different races and classes, which determines the receipt of knowledge. However, it’s possible I may (or may not) be inferring too deeply into the story.
In short, THE NAVIGATING FOX is a smartly told tale that incorporates colonialism, ethnocentrism, and a dash of existentialism. This book is perfect for someone looking for speculative fiction with a more academic, though not dry, vibe.
Content warnings: None
Reading format: Kindle e-book