2021 is apparently my year for New Zealand authors. Queen of Swords Press has happily enabled me by releasing Foxhunt by Rem Wigmore this month.
This solarpunk novel shows a world in which humanity managed to halt its headlong rush into ecological oblivion. A greener, more sustainable path is enforced in part by the Order of the Vengeful Wild, a group of masked assassins who execute (or sometimes just discipline) those reported as breaking the new ways. When the most deadly of the Order comes after Orfeus, she must survive long enough to figure out who has falsely accused her and why.
Orfeus is a classic disaster bisexual with a side order of D&D bard. She’s a charismatic music star, good at making friends. However, she sometimes struggles to keep those friends, since her impulsive nature leads her to make thoughtless decisions that often have a negative impact on those around her. She’s cocky and makes mistakes. But despite her flaws, she has a good heart and a great deal of courage, always fighting for what she believes is right.
She’s helped in this by her magic. Orfeus is Blooded, meaning she can heal quickly, boost her energy when she’s tired and even pull lightning out of thin air. There is a scientific explanation given, but a lot rides on the old quote that sufficiently advanced science will look like magic. And it’s plausible in this setting, where Orfeus barters herbs for what she needs (or simply offers a song), and where architectural beauty is just as important as function.
Community is also an important part of the setting. Almost everywhere, there’s a sense of people watching out for each other — even in places where I wasn’t expecting it. As a travelling performer, Orfeus seems a bit outside of this which shows up in the way she’s slow to grasp the implications of her actions on those around her. But she’s not entirely without a sense of community: she still checks up on her neighbour and tries to limit the collateral damage to her hometown when the Order comes for her.
Queer community in particular is central to the story. Orfeus herself is trans. Wolf, the warrior who’s hunting her is genderfluid. There are badasses of all genders among the Order of the Vengeful Wild and a broad range of pronouns are used throughout the book. It’s a delightful disruption to the unrealistic Lone Gay trope.
This focus on community may make the story sound like a cosy one. And to some degree it is. But this is also a story about making difficult decisions — to do the things no one else wants to do, or do the necessary thing even if you don’t want to. It’s a story with sharp edges, showing that no utopia is perfect and that any system is flawed. It went some unexpected places, with the ending in particular catching me by surprise (and most of the characters, as well). However, in retrospect, it seemed suitably foreshadowed and was a satisfying ending, if not the one I wanted.
All in all, Foxhunt wasn’t the cosy read I expected, but remained a thoughtful and nuanced story in a vibrant world that I enjoyed nevertheless.
Published: August 2021 by Queen of Swords Press
Format reviewed: E-book (epub), 359 pages
Genres: Science fiction, solarpunk
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon (AU, CA, UK, US) ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Indiebound ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.