Be Bold, Erin Hunter: The Progress of Bravelands

Before beginning this article, please note that the author has only read the first two arcs of Warriors and a few other Warriors books besides, and that those books were read between four and 12 years ago. In other words, the author is very very biased and could not take Erin Hunter’s recent work into consideration for this review.

I don’t have the highest praise for Erin Hunter’s work. The authors sharing that pseudonym have spent the last 15 years writing series about lovable species braving the wild in hardened groups brimming with coups, conspiracies, and hidden romance. It’s pretty clear what drives Hunter’s vision: the idea that the world is a cruel place that will always have war.

But I mean, I couldn’t take Hunter’s work seriously. I followed Warriors on-and-off for a few years and it all read like serial novels to me. There was always a group of unusual heroes discovering the dark truth about an evil force inside the Clans, and after six long installments of mystery, action, and drama, everyone bands together to fight the dishonorable warriors until the very end. It’s a classic story, especially among the fantasy genre. My problem was that it felt like Hunter was writing the same story four times, with minor differences in character and setting. So exactly the same, that Hunter’s writing did not change one bit four books into the first series. How does that happen, folks!

I always figured it was pressure. Erin Hunter has been juggling three series about talking animals, all in the same genre, all for the same reading level, for years. Of course elements would start to cross over. Erin Hunter also has always been the pseudonym for the joint endeavors of at least three people—not an easy thing to do in the creative world. Still, my loyalty to these kitty warriors ended long before I finished Sunset.

No matter though, because Erin Hunter has hit a stride. She’s opened up a new series about animals surviving in the beautiful yet feral African savannah. And it is really on a roll. I’m only six chapters in, but Bravelands: Broken Pride is above and beyond everything I’ve ever read from this fantasy author.

What I noticed at the start was how the atmosphere is so much richer. The plains seem to stretch forever, and vultures soar high in the sky, giving us a literal bird’s-eye view of our setting. Hunter does a great job establishing Bravelands through the vision of these birds lounging through the sky, waiting for their leader to discover their next meal. The vultures are cryptic and keep to themselves, but also respect the provisions of death—a fitting culture for this species. They land by the half-eaten remains of a gazelle, make sure it’s not contaminated, and show their reverence for the Great Spirit before feeding. Then they’re interrupted by the sky-trembling roar of a young lion. Thus, the first omen of the series has been cast.

Sound like Hunter? Absolutely. Connection to mystical ancestors is one of her trademark themes. And in Bravelands, Hunter meshed the Great Spirit into being a natural part of Bravelands. The story’s been going up from there, goading us into going along and giving the characters a chance.

Yes, I’ve had issues with Hunter’s characterization. I found it very hard to care about the warriors in her original series fighting for survival (and the elders, and the queens, and the kittypets…) They all seemed so. Flat. And similar to at least three other cats each. It’s not a surprise. There’s hundreds of characters in the Warriors universe. That’s a lot for any writer to handle. Make the majority of them the same species living in Clans, and the risk of carbon copycats doubles its overtime. That didn’t make it any easier for me to sort through all the –kits and –pelts and –clawses who kept getting thrown at me. I gotta admit I liked a decent amount of characters in The Prophecies Begin, but they were the OGs who got to exist without the pressures of being compared to archetypal predecessors. No, it’s the newer generations who have to measure up to their greatness!

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“And get off my lawn.” (Image source: Amazon)

And now comes more room for greatness with Hunter’s migration to Bravelands. We jump right into the savannah, vast and wonderful for all it is. After the prologue, we jump again into the life of our first protagonist, Fearless Gallantpride the lion cub. Does it sound so Hunter? Yes, it does! And Hunter focused on fleshing out what would further and deepen the story. Warriors often got distracted by the excessive plots and casts; now, we know what’s going on. We’re more invested. We get stronger imagery and sense of risk. We find the characters a compelling part of the Bravelands sprawling before us. We want to see where this is going.

It helps that we get a variety of species to follow this time around, each with a distinct culture. Is it any surprise that the baboons are a social and complex species, living in a camp of trees and partaking in the Three Feats to determine their rank in the troop? They’re quite charismatic—they have diversity, dynamics, and relative freedom. Check out this passage from when Fearless meets his first baboon in the thick of an unfamiliar tree:

“‘For long moments, he could only dangle there helplessly, panting in high-pitched, whistling breaths. Wide-eyed, he stared through the branches and leaves at the yellow earth. The thing that caught him must have long toes with claws—he could feel them snagged in his fur—but he was unable to twist his head to see more. Only when he was lifted and dumped on a branch did he get a glimpse of the creature.

It dusted its slender brown paws together, tilted his head, and studied him.

Fearless stared back. He had never seen anything like it. It sat perfectly comfortably on the bough in front of him, peering at him with dark amber eyes fringed with brown fuzzy fur. Its snout was long and black, a thin white scar slashed above the nostrils, and when it grinned at him, Fearless could see long yellow fangs.

He didn’t know what it was, but those teeth made it look very much like a flesh-eater. He backed onto his rump and lashed out at the thing with his claws.

He wobbled on the branch again and had to grab it with his forepaws. The creature tilted its head the other way.

‘I wouldn’t move too much if I were you,’ it said.

Fearless, panting and trembling, sat very still again.

“That’s better,” said his rescuer. ‘Shall we introduce ourselves? My name is Stinger’”  (25-26).

Intelligent, curious, and humorous—Hunter conveys that in this one little primate through setting, dialogue, and character interaction. In the past she relied so much on dialogue! Hunter’s always been great at describing settings, so it’s exciting to see that mesh with everything else. You can really see the work she put into kicking off Bravelands. I’m excited to meet the other species, see what they’re like in the natural world and how they’ll eventually get involved with the inevitable coup. It has to do with betrayal. That’s another Hunter thing. It also says so on the book jacket. And this time around, the reader will be in the thick of it.

You’re working hard, Erin Hunter. You say you’re inspired by mysticism and natural ferocity, and gosh darn are you proving it. Keep it going. I have faith in you.

 

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Author: The Invisible Pilot

I'M GONNA WRITE FOR THE GAME OF NERDS

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