REVIEW: The Navigating Fox by Christopher Rowe
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
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.
Dear Mr. Rowe,
I was debating about reading this novella until after I finished the short story “Knowledgeable Creatures.” I had hoped that this story would be more in the style of the Tor short story but although it again features sentient animals with self awareness and the power of speech, it’s a very different creature.
Quintus Shu’al is the world’s only navigating fox. His job, his calling if you will, is as a travel guide along the Silver Roads which only he can see and navigate. As the story opens, Quintus is heading for a meeting of his Explorers Sodality in Aquacolonia – an outpost of a quasi-Roman empire colony set in North America. He’s going in order to see if he will be drummed out because of a group he guided a year ago. The sister of a member of that first group – all of whom disappeared and are presumed dead – is speaking against him. A Holy of the God of the Hinge (think high priest) is there and sort of speaks for him while the meeting itself dissolves into an uproar.
What Quintus never told anyone in the first group is that he was told by the Holy to guide them to a certain place. In exchange for doing that, the Holy (Scipio Aemilanus) will finally tell Quintus the truth about who “made” Quintus knowledgeable. Except of course that Scipio Aemilanus has all sorts of excuses why he doesn’t. But if Quintus will guide a second group, then finally the Holy will reveal what he knows.But will anyone survive this trip either – including Quintus?
There is a lot of world building here and yet also not a lot. There are some animals which are knowledgeable while others are “voiceless” and not self aware. Why? No one knows. How? There are rumors and lore passed down for centuries but again, no one knows. Quintus appears to be the only fox with this power as well as the power to navigate the Silver Roads which seem to exist outside of time and by which long journeys can be shortened by months. Why is this a mix of “sorta Rome” x Native Americans? Again no information. Readers will just have to accept that this is the way things are and go with it.
I enjoyed meeting most of these characters and watching many of them clash. Scipio is a bombastic blowhard who frequently gets taken down a peg or two by those he meets and interacts with including a knowledgeable bison who is a counselor and/or Ambassador (Walks Along Woman’s role shifts depending on what territory she’s in – something Scipio is confused by).
As fun as it is to watch the casual insults tendered Scipio’s way (honestly, he just asks to have people do this) I felt for Quintus who is outside of either group – of any group frankly even that of a wild fox he meets along the way of the second journey. Quintus desperately wants answers enough to be willing to do Scipio’s bidding the first time but Quintus is a bit wiser this go round. I also liked that the knowledgeable animals are treated with respect and accepted by humans.
But this is a story that ends with questions rather than readers getting a neat wrap-up. Will there be more stories with knowledgeable animals? I hope so. Will Quintus finally discover what he wants to know? I hope so. This novella isn’t quite what I was hoping for based on the short story but then I was never promised that either. B-