Bringing together a Western and talking animal fantasy, the Builders recounts the tale of an old band of thieves and killers rejoining one another for one last fateful mission. Daniel Polansky crafts an entertaining novella filled with tropes of Westerns while incorporating cute furry and scaly creatures who have unique character traits. This cross-genre story is probably my favorite of the nominees for the best novella category for the Hugo awards though not a likely winner. I enjoyed the fast-paced story-telling with chapters sometimes only consisting of a chapter and the ending has a great pay off.
The Captain is a vengeful mouse who seeks out his old partners who have all gone into hiding. The stoat, the owl, the possum, the salamander, the mole, and a few others I can't quite remember, all reluctantly agree and meet up at a bar to drink and plan. The novella combines the actions of small creatures with the actions of men from the Old West, drinking, smoking, and killing. Several of the characters have unique personalities like Bonsoir the french-accented stoat, who is probably the most memorable of the bunch.
Together the go up against their old traitor and enemies as they seek revenge for the mission five years ago that went totally wrong. Mephetic the skunk is the target of their ire as he is now the diplomatic head of the Gardens that are run by hedonistic toad brothers who split the kingdom in half. The story does give off the sense that there is a much greater setting beyond its borders.
Polansky takes a serial approach to each scene following each character through the various outbreaks of shootouts and violence. The book takes a large portion to introduce the character but cuts away at scenes that could have proven most interesting like a train robbery and the final gasps of enemies. Still, Polansky does a great job describing the action and keeping with the tone of the narration.
I think this story stood a much better chance without the stench of puppies on it, but then I may have never heard of it for quite some time if that was the case. It is hard to determine if this story got the nomination on its merit of because of organized trolling of the awards but either way, I enjoyed and would recommend to fans of dark fantasy and anthropomorphized animal Westerns.