A work of fiction set in an unknown time and place, where humans live fearfully close to roaming packs of hyena-man hybrids called Gnolls. In this fantasy world, little is known about the Gnolls because anyone who has seen the intelligent but uncivilized creatures has not lived to tell about it. Humans live in dread of these creatures that seem to kill humans at random, so people are shocked when a university professor announces his intention to go into the Gnoll territory to conduct research on the clan. He meets a female Gnoll who can speak English and, upon request, presents him with a manifesto of sorts, called the Gnoll Credo. The list provides a look into the Gnolls’ mindset; starting off with “We are born and we die. No one cares, no one remembers, and it doesn’t matter. This is why we laugh.” From there, the professor spends as much time with his new friend as possible to learn more about her species’ no-bullshit take on life. The professor comes to admire her clan and wishes that he could join them.
The format of this book reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Both books are essentially a long conversation between a human character and a non-human character that results in the human adopting a new perspective on the human experience.
In some ways, it seems like the author, J. Stanton, wrote this book to drive home an anti-civilization message that many young punks would be receptive to. The Gnolls care about survival and hunting and they shun any other “needless complications,” such as personal possessions, intimate relationships, and permanent settlements. The last sentence of the Gnoll Credo is “die biting the throat,” which is sort of their way of saying “live fast, die young.” The benefits of living with this mentality are that the Gnolls have evolved to have superhuman strength and speed, and that their species is predicted to survive well past the end of humanity. However, Stanton doesn’t totally romanticize their lifestyle. It’s clear that the Gnolls are missing out on art and music. Their communication skills and hygienic knowledge are seriously lacking. Due to their intense existence, a Gnoll’s lifespan is only about thirty years. Obviously, it’s not the most glamorous way to live. By making it apparent that the Gnolls do not have an ideal life, I feel like Stanton is saying that humans could learn something from the Gnolls, as opposed to suggesting that humans need to go back into the caveman era and stay there.
At times, it did feel like I was being beaten over the head with “the message,” while reading this book. I tried to ignore all that and just enjoy the book as a well-written piece of fiction, to wait and reflect on the book’s themes until after I was done reading. That worked well for me. There is enough action and drama for it to be an interesting book at face value. But, of course, you’ll eventually start wondering if the Gnolls have gotten something right, which makes it a great book. –Lauren Trout (100 Watt Press, PO Box 10897, Zephyr Cove, NV89448)