I don’t generally make a practice of reviewing furry books, especially those by friends, as I am kind of picky about what I read. I make certain exceptions when the book is good quality and I know the author well enough to know that an honest review will be well received. So that’s how I have come about to writing a review of Rukis’s novel “Heretic.” I should note that I wasn’t asked to write this review, nor given a free copy. I purchased it to support a very talented artist whom I knew already to be a skilled writer from her comic, whom I’ve also come to consider a friend.

“Heretic” ties in with the “Red Lantern” comic, exploring the history of Admiral Luther Denholme. This removes a certain amount of suspense from the book: we know that Luther lives, retains the name Denholme, and attains the rank of admiral. In many books, this would detract from the suspense and therefore the experience. In “Heretic,” it is kind of a relief. In the gritty, chaotic, brutal world Rukis builds for her poor characters to inhabit, knowing that Luther will survive is at least one thing we can hold onto. Everyone else, though, is fair game. There are, in particular, a few people Luther grows very close to whose notable absence from “Red Lantern” had me worried for their safety.

Given what little I knew of the world outside “Red Lantern” (I had not read the chapters of “Heretic” posted online), I knew only that Luther had had an affair with a senior officer, and I expected a large portion of “Heretic” to cover that relationship. It does–but only in retrospect. The book begins with Luther’s lover dying on a ship and proclaiming his love for Luther, for the first time, in front of their shocked and horrified crew. This lands Luther in prison, and the reader squarely in the grip of the story.

Without going further into the plot, I’ll just say that the book doesn’t grow boring, ever. The plot twists and turns, but holds up fairly soundly under examination, at least on a first read. There may be holes to be poked in it, but there was nothing that stopped me in the middle to say, “Oh, really?” The characters come vividly to life, and work out byzantine, desperate, and sometimes stupid–in other words, completely realistic–solutions to their problems. Luther himself grows over the course of the book, going from a young gay man with a man o’war-sized chip on his shoulder to a person who can accept the responsibilities life has put in his path. It’s not a smooth growth, not without its trials and unpleasant lessons. But that’s what makes for engaging reading, and emotional involvement with the characters.

The writing, too, is evocative. Manor house drawing-rooms and bloody wounds are described with equal care and affection. The sex scenes–there are sex scenes–are explicit enough to earn the book a “Mature” rating, while still well within the confines of what you would find in a mainstream romance novel. And the dialogue generally rings quite true.

My overall quibbles with the story and writing are few, and best left as private notes to the author. I will say that there are some typos and mistakes of punctuation that pulled me out of the story, but then again, I can’t turn off my inner editor, so that happens, and with books from just about every publisher I read. Your mileage may vary. Those aside, I came away from this impressed enough to want to tell other people about it. If you don’t mind the violent, unforgiving world of “Red Lantern,” I suspect you will equally enjoy this book.

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