Terrouge E-zine Archives
By: Geo Holms
Badger Reading Corner Review
A fleeting glance of a wild creature is one of the most intriguing moments in this world. Call me a romantic, but I believe that there is a world behind the eyes of any person or creature, a world unseen, full of love and hate, light and darkness, and mysteries never to be solved. I find myself wondering, whenever I stumble across a squirrel on campus, a bunny scampering over a snow drift, or a fox sitting on the side of the of highway, what has that creature seen? Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to reading books like Kine, by A. R. Lloyd, a book about a weasel's little piece of the world.
Kine is yet another story cut from the cloth of the infamous Watership Down by Richard Adams, a story of the realities of the woods and fleeting dramatic snapshots of creatures living there. In fact, Foxes of Firstdark, from the previous month's review, shared the same fate. But unlike either Watership or Firstdark, which strictly stay within the perspective of the species the book focuses upon, Kine gives a vast outlook of a swath of woods on the British countryside and its inhabitants. This is story of a weasel named Kine, vain and headstrong, who viciously lays claim to his wood boundaries, and the weasel jill, Kia, flighty and sensible, playfully ignorant by Kine's abrasive nature. This is also the story of Poacher, an old hunter wasting away in his cottage unable to wander the woods he knows due to age and illness.
The descriptions of the forest and its residence are a seasoned glaze over the narrative, filling in the edges so that there is something new to fill the reading senses as the story unfolds. Side characters scamper in too, like Scrat (yes, Scrat) the doomsaying shrew, who won me over with his endearing twitchiness, and the Watchman, an old rook overseeing the events with a weathered eye, giving a cynical observation when needed. Admittedly, the first book of the narrative is rather sappy, with Kia whittling away at Kine's gruff demeanor. His demeanor is sapped somewhat by Kine almost being killed by a barn owl, when Kia takes it upon herself to carry him to safety from the barn once he escapes. His haughtiness remains about the same. Weasels are portrayed as a fearless species, never to back down from a fight. But as daily conflicts unfold, a fight with a wily rat and a swamp-weasel, Ford, coming in to win Kia away from Kine, dark beasts are spreading across the landscape. An evasive species of mink, led by Gre, the evil matriarch of the group, claims the land as their own and starts destroying anything that lies in their path.
In the second part of the book, a deceptive calm settles as Kine and Kia's kits are born and the area is filled with new life. This is shattered by the conquest of the mink, systematically killing off sections of the forest. Kia is lost, the kits are lost, and revenge is the only option in Kine's heart. He is surprised to find that in Kia's travels, she had made more of an impression than he knew. A hob of weasel, including Ford, Kine's one time rival, and One-Eye, Kine's father, gather together to avenge the death of Kia and to purge the minks from the river that lines Kine's Woods. Through this all, we are shown Poacher in his house, helpless to interact in his beloved woods with his faithful terrier, ferrets and gun.
This is a familiar story, of love and retribution, of tactics and war, and of the pure tenacity of creatures against innumerable odds. It's a story of life and death in a relatively small area of wood and swampland, a group of weasels putting their lives on the line to defend their honor and the memory of a friend. It is a different view of the bumbling vermin that Redwall introduced to us. These are sleek killers, skirting the edge of life, biting with their bear-trap jaws until the last. This story is a nice romantic view of woodlife, with a series of unfortunate events that made me cheer for the characters success, no matter their defeat at every turn. Kine is a hero in his own right, developing from a vain soul to a calculating predator during the course of the book.
My notes are riddled with little items I loved about the tale, including a reference to voles being 'velvet sausages of nutrients'; and the grim mutterings of the old rook, Watchman, about the absurd behavior of animals in spring and the general weird habits of weasels. There is also reference to Blood Fury in the weasel soul, which seems to parallel the badger Bloodwrath in Redwall (since Redwall was published in 1987 and Kine was published in 1981, one has to wonder if Mr. Jacques gained inspiration from this little book). Every conflict kept me riveted, and I was on the edge of my seat during the final climax. The development of Poacher and his conclusion was also a pleasant surprise. With no pause, I would give hearty recommendation about the exploits of these dandy hounds snaking their way through the grass towards the evil mink lair.
By saying all this, I must admit, this another out-of-print book that I have scrounged from the online used book bin. Considering I think it only had a UK release, it might take a bit more digging. Well, it's worth the trouble. A nice way to spend some winter hours indoors, flipping through some worn pages of a tome about weasels - where can you go wrong?
Availability Note: Kine did not have a US released copy. Sorta. I say 'sorta' because, under some odd circumstances, there was actually a hardcover large-print edition released in the US in January 2005. No other versions of Kine have ever been published this side of the pond, which makes one wonder why that version was published. Either way, many copies have made their way over here, and the best place to look would be DealOz.com, which actually is an usually useful site to find the best deal on new and used books (I sound like I'm being paid to say this). I actually don't think this will be found with causal browsing through a used book store unless you're Very Lucky.
The second note is that there are actually sequels to this book. I can't imagine what they deal with, but they might be worth looking into if you end up getting a copy of this and enjoying the weasely plot. As far as I can tell, the next two are called Witchwood and Dragonpond. That is all.