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Carnivores of Light and Darkness
Book One of the Journeys of the Catechist

Alan Dean Foster
Warner Aspect Books, 320 pages

Carnivores of Light and Darkness
Alan Dean Foster
Alan Dean Foster was born in New York City in 1946 and was raised in Los Angeles. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from UCLA in 1968-69 and then spent two years as a copywriter for an advertising and public relations firm in Studio City, CA.

His first sale as a writer was a long Lovecraftian letter, purchased by August Derleth for the bi-annual magazine The Arkham Collector. His first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, was published by Ballantine Books in 1972. Many, many novels followed. Alan Dean Foster's correspondence and manuscripts are in the Special Collection of the Hayden Library of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Foster and his wife live in Prescott, Arizona.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

Alan Dean Foster's latest book begins the epic story of Etjole Ehomba, incorporating many aspects of traditional African storytelling. The story begins near a small village on the seacoast. A number of dead men are washed up on the beach one day near the village of the Naumkib tribe. These dead men have strange clothing and different colored skin and hair. One of the strangers is found to be still alive, but mortally wounded. The dying man is a nobleman whose solemn oath is to find the Visioness Themaryl of Laconda, abducted from their homeland by an evil creature known as Hymneth the Possessed. With his last breath, he charges the villager, Etjole, with the obligation to save Themaryl and return her to the people of Laconda.

Though his wife and children beg him not to go, Etjole is a man of honor and feels duty-bound to uphold the obligation set upon him by the dying man. He sets off for the fabled land of Ehl-Larimar, taking with him only a sword, a spear, and a few things that the women of the village collect for him.

On his journey Etjole has a number of adventures. Early on, he is joined by Simna ibn Sind, a man intent on seeking treasure and fortune, and Ahlitah, a large cat who is a cross between a lion and a cheetah. Etjole saves each from a deadly situation and both choose to accompany him on his journey; Simna because he believes that Etjole will lead him to great treasure, and Ahlitah because he feels obligated to Etjole for saving his life.

As they travel, Simna and Ahlitah become convinced that Etjole is a great sorcerer because of the many astounding things they see him accomplish. He continually denies this, however, claiming to be nothing more than a simple herdsman of the Naumkib. Despite his modest claims, Etjole talks with animals, invokes a spirit out of his spear, calls down the cosmic winds from space to destroy a sentient storm, summons a meteorite to destroy a moving wall, and destroys a sentient sand dune. Most of these feats he attributes to the items given to him by the members of his village. If he is but a simple herdsman, then one wonders what the rest of the villagers are like!

Throughout the book, Etjole plays the consummate hero. His only goal is to rescue the Visioness Themaryl and fulfill his obligation to a dead man. He cares nothing for fortune or fame, something Simna has a very hard time believing. Although he is tempted by beautiful women, he remains true to his wife back in the village. And though he admits to having some skill as a warrior, Etjole's main gift appears to be communication, as a conversation between Simna and Ahlitah illustrates:

"I see what you're thinking, kitty. Don't. Can't you see that Etjole's working his magic on our behalf?"
"What magic?" The litah growled softly. "They are only talking."
"Ah, but that's how our friend Etjole works his magic. With words. At least that's the only way I've been able to catch him working it so far."
Etjole always attempts to talk his way out of trouble before taking action. He talks with a snake who threatens him and they end up sharing a meal. In return, the snake gifts him with immunity to poisons. When he is stopped by a couple of corrupt guards, he tries to persuade them that he has nothing of value before he is forced to frighten them off with the spirit contained within his spear.

Carnivores of Light and Dark begins an epic series which is sure to please many readers. The book is divided into a smoothly connected series of stories and encounters. Most are told from the point of view of Etjole and his comrades, although one chapter is told from the point of view of an ant and another is told by a tree.

Following the tradition of African storytelling, the entertaining encounters also impart a lesson. The series title is Journeys of the Catechist -- a catechist being one who instructs by questions, answers, explanations and corrections. Certainly, it is an appropriate description of Etjole. He asks many questions as he travels, and listens patiently for the answers. When Simna tells him that he asks too many questions, Etjole's response is, "That is because I like answers." And to Simna assertion that not every question has an answer, Etjole replies, "Of course they do. A question without an answer is not a question."

There are two other aspects of the book worth exploring. The Unstable Lands, through which Etjole must travel, prove to be a strange mixture of different environments. As he travels, Etjole encounters a modern concrete highway filled with cars. He encounters Corruption personified and walking sentient trees. He and Simna travel through a grass savannah on the backs of hares the size of elephants which gradually shrink as they travel. The Unstable Lands provide a rich tapestry on which to weave many different stories.

The other interesting aspect is reflected in the title -- Carnivores of Light and Dark. This refers to the eromakadi, the eaters of light, and the eromakasi, the eaters of darkness. They are "creatures that live in the spaces that fill the gaps in the real world." The eromakadi devour joy, happiness, and delight, bringing misery to the world. The eromakasi are more elusive, sometimes preying on the eromakadi, but generally seeking to avoid confrontation. The eromakadi are known to the tribe of the Naumkib, and Etjole reveals that from infancy all of the village's children are taught to recognize and deal with them. This tells us something of the special nature of the Naumkib and gives us some insight into Etjole's skills and personality.

I think fantasy fans will enjoy Alan Dean Foster's Carnivores of Light and Dark. The unlikely trio of Etjole, Simna and Ahlitah and their adventures through the Unstable Lands provide plenty of variety to the novel, gently pulling the reader along with them on their journey. I'm looking forward to following the further exploits of Etjole the Catechist.

Copyright © 1998 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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