Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sinews of the Heart by Cody L. Stanford

"It started with the genchangers, human-made genetic viruses designed to meld animal features into humans for fun, fashion, or fetish."

That, right there, is what initially drew me to Sinews of the Heart, even more so than the transgender romance element. I loved the idea of exploring what might become of a world where technology outstrips judgement, and fetish becomes integrated with everyday life. You can argue that we're already well on the way, and I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing, but there's always a point where too much of a good thing is just that - too much.

Anyway, Cody L. Stanford introduces us to a world where that fetish technology has run amok, resulting in a war between 'pure' humans and furry 'mutants' that has decimated the planet and forever altered the balance of power between the two. Stanford does a wonderful job of portraying the new races, making us believe in the anthrotigers, the anthrowolves, and more, but still maintaining a core of humanity beneath all that fur. Even as we see them swarming across the landscape in packs, exerting their dominance, we also see the bonds of family and friendship that survive the end of everything else.

Our window into this world is Nikki, an anthrotiger who also happens to be transgender. Humans look at her, and all they see is tiger, while her father looks at her, and all he sees is boy. While her anthro nature is, of course, a metaphor for her gender and her sexuality, it's more than that. It's an important part of the story, a physical reminder of just how easy it is to see our differences, rather than what connects us together. As her family journeys across the wastelands of America, she encounters an angry young human named Kane, who condemns her as much for her gender as her fur. Theirs is a tense, awkward sort of relationship, and one that only becomes more interesting as his homosexuality is revealed through the love for a fellow human boy.

There, really, is where my only complaint about the novel lies. Maybe I'm just too old to appreciate it, but why does it seem as if all YA fiction has to involve at least one love triangle? To me, it just seems like an arbitrary way to add a little tension to the story, to ruffle some feathers (or, in this case, fur), and force the reader to choose sides. That said, Stanford handles it well, I just think the Nikki/Kane relationship was interesting enough on its own.

Without giving too much away, this is a story that's ultimately about acceptance. It's about coming out, connecting, and being loved. Sinews of the Heart is also a very violent story at times, with some confrontations and fatalities that genuinely surprised me, but it's all within the context of the post-apocalyptic world. Well-written and imaginative, it's also as entertaining as it is thoughtful and sensitive. Kudos to Cody L. Stanford for doing something profound within the genre, for making Nikki such a genuinely positive heroine, and to Storm Moon Press for taking a chance with such a different sort of tale.

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