I haven’t seen a furry story set in Australia for many years, so this one certainly piqued my interest as soon as I found it. Albert of Adelaide is a full scale adventure novel in the manner of the traditional American Western, only it is set in the Australian Outback. The characters are endearing and well-developed, the setting authentic, and speciesism (to borrow a furry term) is a major theme in addition to the usual good and evil, friendship and loyalty elements.
Author Howard L. Anderson, though American by birth, does seem to have a good handle on the Australian environment. Or at least, he has an idea of what it was like a few decades ago. One hopes it has improved a bit in the modern era. His protagonist Albert is a duck-billed platypus, an orphan captured at a young age and raised in the Adelaide Zoo. When a chance to escape finally arose, young Albert decided to take his chances and set out to find “Old Australia,” a place of legend that is only whispered about among the zoo residents. He knows only that he has to travel north until he reaches this paradise where the animals are free and life is good.
Armed with little more than an empty soda bottle in which he carries his water supply, the intrepid platypus strikes out along a railroad line that goes roughly north. He soon discovers that Old Australia is a dry and dusty place filled with desperadoes, criminals, retired heroes, pyromaniac wombats (well, only one of those,) kangaroos and wallabies who believe in the inherent superiority of pouched mammals, tribes of wild dingos, and, amazingly, one immigrant raccoon from America. None of these creatures have ever seen a platypus before, and it takes them a while to size Albert up and sort him into a stereotype they can understand.
When that stereotype (unfairly) ends up to be that of a wanted criminal with a price on his head, Albert finds his courage and wits. With the help of loyal friends, including Jack the pyromaniac wombat, TJ the American raccoon, and a retired Tasmanian devil prize-fighter known as The Famous Muldoon, the little platypus sets out to clean up the entire territory and put things to right.
The novel is a hilarious romp of mistaken identities and misunderstandings that nonetheless reveal the true spirit and loyalties of Albert’s friends and some surprising details about his apparent enemies. Once it gets rolling, the plot is fast paced and demanding, as a good Western should be, and odd individuals reveal their hidden hearts of gold or their blackened souls as the scene develops. Of course, the survivors emerge changed and strengthened while at least some of the wicked suffer an appropriate fate.
Anderson does a good job of using the special characteristics of the individual species, and creating a culture for each. The ongoing warfare between the marsupial roos and wallabies and the placental but culturally primitive dingos is a backdrop for hero, scalawag, and old timer alike. As you must expect, some of the good guys join the fallen before the story ends. That’s natural in this kind of tale, but they don’t depart this life without earning as we hope a degree of fame and the hope of a better life in the next incarnation or world, whichever suits their belief.
I strongly recommend Albert of Adelaide not only to furry audiences, but to mainstream readers willing to try something a little different. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it re-emerge as an animated feature some time in the future.
Howard L. Anderson
Albert of Adelaide
Twelve, 2012 (ISBN 9781455509621, $24.99)
Also in audiobook and ebook formats, paperback due May 2013