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Following the final bloody battles of the War With No Name and after the warrior Mort(e) has found his true love, Sheba, and transformed her into a sentient and upright dog, the two settle down deep in the woods on an Alpha Ant ranch. They are both cozily content and wary of the potential for attack and disruption from animals and humans. Inevitably, trouble comes their way, and they are asked by neighboring beavers and bats to help defeat the giant spider who has occupied a nearby city. Involvement in these affairs brings Mort(e) back into a world he had been avoiding for years --- one of conflict and violence in the world reshaped by the Queen. But for Sheba, it is her first real taste of a life of possibility and adventure, where she can choose her own destiny and forge her identity.

This is the strange and delightful premise of D’ARC by Robert Repino, the follow-up to his genre-bending MORT(E).

"[R]eaders will find themselves swept up in the tale and willing to follow these characters wherever Repino takes them. Overall this is a fantastically cool read."

Mort(e) the Warrior, formerly Sebastian the housecat, and Sheba the pet dog, now the quasi-mythological D’arc, are the twin poles of the novel. Their relationship is tender and strong, but when they are brought back into the world they had left behind, it becomes strained and tested. Mort(e) wants nothing more than to peacefully live out his days with Sheba. But first her reading about naval and exploration ships, and then her experiences in the city of Hosanna and her victories in battle, and finally --- and perhaps most difficult for both her and Mort(e) --- her relationship with a dog named Falkirk, forces her to reconsider that life and make plans for a journey that will satisfy her needs but take her far from those she loves.

However, before Sheba (soon to be renamed D’arc) can set sail on the al-Rihla, she must help Mort(e) and Falkirk defeat some of the last animals still loyal to the Queen --- a group of water monsters set on the destruction of all humans and animal traitors. A series of murders and the lack of trust and cooperation between various animal and human factions further complicate things.

What may sound bizarre and even silly at first --- the idea of animals transformed into walking, talking, fighting creatures on par with human intelligence and skill, who live in a world devastated by the wrath of a queen ant --- is, believe it or not, skillfully composed by Repino. While having read MORT(E) is helpful in understanding the backstory of D’ARC, it is not essential. The author does a good job both recapping and moving the story forward. The action and adventure are fast and fun, and he has successfully created a unique and compelling world.

But by far the best part of the book is the strength and believability of the characters and the emotional development they experience. Mort(e), D’arc, Falkirk, the sea monsters Taalik and Orak, and even some of the more minor characters are given rich interior lives. Their feelings and responses, even in this strange story, seem very real, relatable and, for lack of a better term, human.

As they deal with such sorrow and heartbreak, and are saved by such powerful love, readers will find themselves swept up in the tale and willing to follow these characters wherever Repino takes them. Overall this is a fantastically cool read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 12, 2017

by Robert Repino