Updated: Feb 17, 2022
The Council of Animals
Released 20 December 2021
Wow. I don't know what I really should say about this.
Was it good? Yeah, sure. But was it weird? Most definitely. Did I enjoy reading it? Yep!
I thought the concept and the idea for this short book was absolutely creative and so inventive! However, where TCOA fell flat for me was really in the narration and the oddities. Don't get me wrong, I loved the quirkiness of it; I really did. But, sometimes the quirks were just a bit too much. If that were all, I think I could have given this an even 4 stars.
Alas, it wasn't. The narrator jumped out of the main plot line with their own thoughts so many times that it just pulled me out of the story. I can see why it was done (to resemble actual storytelling), but it was done way too much. Like, couldn't you just dial it back a notch? Is that too hard??
Nonetheless, I did really enjoy reading TCOA, way more than I honestly thought I would, to be completely honest. I had tried reading this in August, but I had made the mistake of trying to read it during an eye appointment and throughout college. I just didn't have time to read it, and the first couple pages I read did not hook me enough to make me stop studying to read. This sounds bad, but really I stopped right before it got good. So, when I picked up TCOA to actually read and finish it this time, I had expected it to be like the first pages. Nope! It got better, and boy am I glad I actually read and finished it!
World Building ~ 9/10
I love the idea of a post–apocalyptic world. I may not read a lot of SFF, but I certainly watch my fair share of sci–fi. Sometimes, it's done wrong, and it hurts the entire plot of the work.
However, this was NOT the case with TCOA. While there wasn't an "apocalypse," per se, there was a calamity, in fact The Calamity. Although it's not explicitly mentioned what this "calamity" was, it can be inferred that it likely had to do with nuclear testing, nuclear warfare, or something along that line.
I think the whole world and the setting was described quite well, and I could imagine it pretty well. However, I do wish that I could have gotten a little better of an idea of what the Earth itself looked like. Yeah, we got interesting descriptions of plant– and animal–life that was altered, but what of the actual planet?
Nonetheless, the descriptions were there, and the world buidling was a pass.
Characters ~ 8/10
I really liked the slew of characters in TCOA. I feel that all of them were described well enough, and that they were different enough.
However, "enough" isn't enough to cut it (no pun intended). I wanted more characterization. More depth. More variation. Is that too much to ask?
Unfortunately, I think only a larger page count could have achieved this. And I say, "unfortunately," because I don't think TCOA should have been any longer. If it had, it would have seemed dragged out and just too much. I think TCOA was just the right length. Unfortunately, that meant characterization wasn't as successful as it could have been. Still though, I feel satisfied enough with what I got that I'm not really upset.
Now, I normally would dedicate an entire subsection to each of the MCs, but I'm not doing that here. There are just too many MCs and not enough to say about each to warrant an individual subsection. Instead, I'm just going to give a couple brief thoughts.
I guess the most important MCs are the bear, the cat, and the dog. I thought all 3 were very interesting. I liked the backstories for each of them, and I thought McDonell did a good job on their descriptions. In addition to those 3 was the babboon, who I absolutely HATED (for spoilery reasons)!
Plot ~ 8/10
The whole book really centered around the fate of the remaining human population. This main plot was pretty interesting for the most part. However, I more enjoyed the second half of the plot, the portion that happened after the council, as well as some of the minor subplots. They just seemed more interesting and had bigger stakes. Yeah, the stakes of the fate of humanity are high, but this plot was just kind of dragged out that I just didn't feel the urgency there. But I did feel the urgency a bit more for the subplots and the second half of the main plot.
Prose & Pacing ~ 6.5/10
As I mentioned in the intro, this part was kind of a major flop.
I think the writing style and the pacing were both spot on. The plot moved at just the right pace, and McDonell's writing is easy to consume.
However, the fact that he chose to have a narrator who would repeatedly interrupt the plot to interject their own thoughts was just plain old annoying. It happened too much. I think if it happened less often, I'd be fine, but it didn't. It happened far too often for my taste. It pulled me out of the story, and only stood to make me ticked off. Not good. I just wish it had less of that.
Overall, I really did like TCOA. It had some great world buidling and characters, but the narration unfortunately failed. And I am actually kind of disappointed, as TCOA had great potential.
Many thanks to Maia and Henry Holt Co. for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review!
Full review posted to Goodreads
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