(Baen, April 2015, 225 pages)
Reviewed by Ryan Holmes
By Tooth and Claw: Clan of the Claw is the second book in the Exiled anthology series created by editor Bill Fawcett. The first book entitled Exiled: Clan of the Claw was published by Baen in 2011 and contained four original novellas. The first book introduced a prehistoric world in an alternative timeline where the meteor that cause the dinosaurs extinction never struck and apes never evolved to be the dominate species on the planet. Instead, the Mrem, an evolved species of cat in their bronze age, and the Liskash, an evolved species of lizard with the psychic ability to enslave minds have fought tooth and claw for the right to inherit the world.
The Mrem race lives to the north and within a great valley below sea level. The Liskash live in the southern end of this valley and in the drier desert climes to the south. They enslave or eat any Mrem who wander into their lands.
The series begins with a cataclysmic event. The land mass holding back an ocean crumbles, and the ocean waters flood the valley, wiping out Mrem and Liskash alike. The Mrem survivors on the southern banks of this new rising sea turn to the west and begin a grand journey around the valley to rejoin their northern kin. Along the way, they encounter Liskash survivors desperate to find food and powerful Liskash nobles who seek to exploit the disaster and expand their empires.
The first book began the Mrem’s long trek west. By Tooth and Claw: Clan of the Claw continues that epic journey with four original novellas. Two of the original four authors return to enrich the tales of their Mrem creations.
“Bury My Heart” by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin is a novella about the survivors of a Mrem clan as they flee their valley homeland and the rising waters of the ocean that flooded into it. Their goal is to survive long enough to find the Clan of the Claw and join their ranks. Finding them won’t be easy. There is little food, the lands are rugged and unfamiliar, and a hunger-ravaged band of the lizard race known as Liskash are hunting them down. As if that weren’t enough for the Clan of the Long Fang’s talonmaster Sartas Rewl to deal with, he is also hounded by plummeting moral dissention in the ranks (not everyone wishes to lose their clan’s identity by joining the Claw), and a challenge for the right to rule by an outsider they rescued from a neighboring clan. In the end, the warriors must learn to come together as one and defend against the monsters of the night in order to give the rest of their clan a chance at a future.
S. M. Stirling’s “A Clan’s Foundation” takes on a contrasting theme. Instead of the remnants of an existing clan clinging to the past and hoping to preserve their identity in a new land with a new clan, this novella takes a large mass of runaway Mrem slaves with no clan identity and shows them coming together to form a foundation. In addition to the usual conflicts of being hunted by Liskash (many of whom can seize a Mrem’s mind and compel it to do their bidding), struggling to find food, and escaping the ever-rising ocean waters, this group of Mrem must deal with social factions like the herders who believe the herds should belong to them alone, a self-appointed leader who doesn’t envy leadership but is the best Mrem for the job until a leader can be agreed upon, and independence from their slavers. Many of these Mrem were born into slavery and as a whole have no idea how to be a clan. So it is that their goal becomes to survive, come together as one clan, and unite with the Clan of the Claw.
“Sanctuary” by Eric Flint has no interest in themes of identity. This novella is chock full of far too many identities as it is, and each is quite confident in who they are, though the stereotypes they’ve created for others will prove to be completely wrong. In this story, we learn a great deal about both races: the Liskash and the Mrem. Here the Liskash and the Mrem are compared and contrasted. The Liskash are represented as two separate factions: the empire ruled by the powerful psychic Zilikazi, of which there has never been a stronger Liskash noble; and the Kororo Krek, a secluded and contemporary religious sect that believes all the Liskash gods are mere representations of the one, true god. Zilikazi has used the floods to great advantage, conquering the southern lands, but before he can march his army to the north, he must secure his position at the feet of the southern mountains. The southern mountains are the home of the Kororo Krek, and their rejection of traditional Liskash culture threatens to undermine his rule. Thus, he sets out to destroy them before their ways can take root among his soldiers. Zilikazi has also recently crushed a large group of Mrem who had dared to invade his territory. It is unclear what group of Mrem this is. Many clans are attempting to get around the rising waters of the valley by going north and west where the lands of the Mrem continue beyond the valley. It is possible that the Mrem overrun in this story are the Clan of the Claw, or just as likely some other band of Mrem. Either way, small groups of Mrem escaped and seek the refuge of others. One such group finds itself heading into the southern mountains and runs right into the Kororo Krek. In an exciting scene involving the capture of a monstrous beast, the Mrem aid the Kororo Krek. Working together they save each other and discover something amazing. The Mrem Dancers can give strength to the psychics in the Kororo Krek, making the previously impossible control of an adult beast far more manageable. The Kororo Krek use the minds of the beasts as shields against the psychic power of Zilikazi, and they will need as many Mrem Dancers as they can find to defeat Zilikazi and his army. So it is that the Mrem and the Kororo Liskash find a common enemy, learn neither race is as barbaric as the other assumed, and learn to live in harmony together. It is interesting to note that this story implies these Mrem and Liskash settle in their new found sanctuary, presumably creating a grand nation in future generations. This is book two of the Exiled series, and as a series chronicles the northwestward journey of the Mrem around the flooded valley to the lands of their kin in the north where they are to grow into a great people. It can be presumed then that, in the course of the series, the Mrem in this story may one day find themselves as a separate nation to the northern Mrem, with all the complications and politics that goes with it.
Jody Lynn Nye’s “Feeding a Fever” shows us what happens when we get comfortable in a life of luxury and forget how to fend for ourselves. That’s what happens in this novella with the survivors of a grand stone city of the Liskash. When the floods come, many of the Liskash and their Mrem slaves are killed. A small few make it to higher ground but are ill-prepared to find food in the wild. When a foraging party of Mrem, seeking ingredients to cure a contagious sickness they became exposed to when drinking the waters of an oasis, stumble into this ragtag band of Liskash, the Mrem are captured with the intent of serving them up as food to the Liskash general. However, the Mrem convince their captors to let them find food for the Liskash instead. The Liskash agree, but when the Mrem have foraged enough food for them, the general does not let them go. They had Mrem slaves before and will have them again. The Mrem’s salvation comes from an unexpected ally. The sickness that afflicts them spreads to the Liskash and progresses even faster. Thus, we see the folly of making enemies instead of friends, the repercussions of betrayal, and the dangers of forgetting how to fend for ourselves when the wilds of the world are only steps beyond the walls of civilization.
By Tooth and Claw is the second book in an anthology series centered on the Clan of the Claw and the Mrem’s journey to the northern lands of their kin. Along the way, they discover what they need to become a great nation. As a whole, it is clear to see that these four novellas succeed in treating this overarching theme by exploring concepts of cultural identity, peace treaties, and coexisting with their environment. All are necessities to growing into an advanced civilization.
On an individual story basis, however, the Clan of the Claw was not an active participant, only appearing at the end in the first two stories, and in the second two stories it was unclear what Mrem were involved and how they related to the Clan of the Claw. Also unclear at times was the direction and geography of the world as it pertained to each story. This confusion was unsatisfying and frustrating. It nags at the back of the mind and pulls the reader out of the story.
This anthology is long on narrative and short on dialogue and action. Thus, the bulk of the story becomes an internal monologue concerned with who has authority, who wants it, who uses it well, and who abuses it. It is written in a serious tone with little in the way of humor. It is not the fun and exciting adventures or over the top characters one might have expected from an anthology of magic-using lizards combating fierce cats in a fight for their lives.
Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA's Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com
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