Buffalo Jake and the Last Animal Crusade, by Joe Trojan

buffalo-jake-and-the-last-animal-crusade-by-joe-trojan coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: 1st Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: one star
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Ahhhh…. subsidy publishing. Pay me and I’ll publish your book. Heads up you wannabe writers out there–it’s supposed to work the other way around.

I’ve a love hate relationship with subsidy publishing. Love because I’ve actually run into a few self-published books I thought were pretty good. But it’s a two-steps-forward, 1.9-steps-back process. For every self-published book I thought was pretty good, I’ve run into more than my share that weren’t.

Back to the review….

Buffalo Jake is the de facto leader of the world’s animals. They are facing a serious problem: one of the world’s species of animals (called chakeedas) acts with utter disregard for the natural order. This species considers itself superior to all other species and has embarked on a course of action that threatens the existence of all life on the planet. Jake is the buffalo of legend who will unite the animals in an effort to end the death and destruction the chakeedas are inflicting.

When I was a kid, I had a book of Aesop’s Fables. It was one of my favorites. Each tale had a lesson to impart, and most tales were no more than a few pages at the longest. What Joe Trojan gives us in Buffalo Jake and the Last Animal Crusade is a fable, albeit a long, long, long fable. The writing was adequate in that Trojan knows his grammar, but I found the characters to be no more than caricatures. The proud, noble animals that fit into and respected the natural order and the evil, malicious “chakeedas” that didn’t. My biggest problem, however, was with the delivery.

Most authors, intentionally or not, infuse their story with a message. This message can be a conscious attempt by the author to get a specific idea across, or it can be an unconscious inclusion of the author’s morals and values concerning particular situations or circumstances. Regardless of conscious intent or subconscious inclusion, the best messages are those that are subtle. A tweak of the reader’s thought processes, something that introduces a question into the way the reader views the world. Something that evokes “I never thought of it that way before…” That’s a hallmark of the best fiction–it makes the reader think.

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced writers make (and I’m borrowing the term here) is Oak Board delivery. This is where instead of making subtle points through the characters and their actions, and then letting the story transmit the message, the writer (AKA narrator) etches his message in big capital letters on a solid oak board and then proceeds to beat the reader in the face with it.

Ouch.

That’s precisely what Trojan does. He has a message he wants to get across, and believe me, he gets it across. But he doesn’t get it across in a way that invites contemplation or leave any room for discussion. His fanatic delivery gets it in across in a way that left this reader battered and bloody and damn tired of hearing it.

Are humans evil? Are we destroying the world? Is veal bad? Do animals deserve better? Are we an abomination in the eyes of nature? Valid questions, to which Trojan has the answers, which he tells you over and over and over again. Whether or not I agree with Trojan isn’t the point. When I pick up a book, I want a story, not an editorial. Buffalo Jake and the Last Animal Crusade is a 250-page rant. Animals and nature good, people bad. We get it Joe.

It would have worked better as a 1000 word fable, with the lesson neatly summarized and italicized at the end. Do unto others, including animals….

I may be missing the boat, but ultimately the theme I took away from this book was that those in power have a responsibility to care for those who aren’t. I happen to agree with this. But I don’t need to be beat over the head with it for 250 pages. If you’re a rabid animal rights tree-hugger activist and want to read something by someone that shares your opinion on how poor a job we’re doing as caretakers of the planet, this treatise will make you feel all warm inside. If you’re looking for a compelling speculative fiction story that inspires introspective thought on the nature of power and responsibility, go read Animal Farm or Watership Down.

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