“Then let us pursue without asking what we chase, and when we catch it, let us chase again.”
Mangos is the Mongoose, a skilled, boastful, and hotheaded swordsman, while Kat is the Meerkat, a beautiful yet mysterious woman who favors the oblique approach to her well-chosen blade. Together, they’ll take on any job to keep their purses full and their cups overflowing.
Pursuit Without Asking, by Jim Breyfogle, collects the first five Mongoose and Meerkat stories, of which “The Battlefield of Kerres” and “Brandy and Dye” have been reviewed here in depth. Also included are “The Sword of the Mongoose”, where Mangos learns of the location of a rare masterwork sword, “The Valley of Terzol”, in which Kat and Mangos guard an archivist through the jungle ruins of a fallen empire , and “The Burning Fish”, where they are commissioned to recover a rare animal sacred to a goddess. The non-Mongoose and Meerkat “Deathwater” and appendices of Mangos and Kat-inspired role-playing modules and character sheets round out Pursuit Without Asking.
As mentioned before, the introduction to Mangos and Kat in “The Battlefield of Kerres” is serviceable, but thin compared to later stories. Fortunately, the characters and prose grow more complex with the next story. By the time the Mongoose and Meerkat face off against a giant serpent in “The Valley of Terzol”, the two have the light and breezy banter of long companions who have risked their lives together on countless occasions. Yet for all the time together, Kat still surprises Mangos. Each new story teases out another detail of this secretive adventurer. Scholarly yet skilled with a blade, beautiful yet unapproachable, always attacked first by monsters, each new revelation only adds to the mystery around Kat, making her more exotic.
And Breyfogle has a knack for the exotic. Jungle ruin, tropical islands, mountainous canyons, magic-ravage battlefield–each new tale thrusts Mangos and Kat into a new setting with strange people and stranger challenges.
Breyfogle has mastered small-scope fantasy, keeping the constant string of odd jobs fresh. Where some authors lean too heavily on the sword and sorcery standby of hacking through evil cultists, Mongoose and Meerkat find themselves more as hired muscle for many mercantile schemes. This thrusts them into different intrigues than just secret societies, and it also requires a bit more thought in solving mysteries and getting paid than just swinging a sword. Yet there is action to spare, as varied as the settings: mountaintop chases on crumbling paths, swims through piranha-filled waters, and the inevitable crossing of blades. The perils are all immediate and local, but brief glimpses of wider events can be seen.
Fortunately, there are more exotic settings and revelations in store for Mangos and Kat, as new volumes of Cirsova magazine feature the follow ups to the tales in Pursuit Without Asking.
Beautiful. Genius. Glorious. The list of adjectives used to describe sorceress Lina Inverse are limitless…
…or so Lina says about herself. Most of the people who get to know this bandit-robbing sorceress just think she’s just in love with her own voice. But there is magical talent to Lina, and she’ll need it. An idol she recently “recovered” from a bandit stronghold holds the key to reviving the dark lord, and trolls, chimeras, and a suspicious wandering priest all want it. And they’re all prepared to take it from Lina, along with her head.
I haven’t come across as strong a 1st person character voice since Kei’s in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair. Sometimes a little too strong, as you may have guessed if you’ve seen the anime. But translation hasn’t dampened Lina Inverse any, nor has it tempered her self-absorbed attention-seeking. It’s curious that those aspects tend to get cranked up in male-written light novels, and suppressed in female-written ones. Guess the obsession with the manic pixie crosses cultures. Your tolerance for the narrative voice of the Slayers, by Hajime Kanzaka, will vary, depending on how willing you are to tolerate attention-seeking teen-aged girl.
Slayers is humorous sword and sorcery, at turns poking fun and embracing the conventions of fantasy and swashbuckling action. The narration is heavy on the banter, whether it’s between Lina and the reader or Lina and her self-professed guardian, the swordsman Gourry Gabriev. Gourry tends to get Flanderized into idiocy in later adaptations, but the original is perceptive and witty when he’s not being used as a device for Lina to explain the magical chess matches she gets wrapped up in. Besides, Lina is the definition of unreliable narrator.
As for the conventions, Slayers seesaws between peril and comedy. The peril is always real, whether from unkillable trolls to the resurrected Dark Lord. If anything, the anime tended to tone down the stakes to life, limb, and virtue. The humor comes from the responses, usually played against type. Lina is the type of action girl to save herself, but, given the right rescuer, she’ll gleefully scream like a damsel-in-distress–and love every minute of the change in pace. It’s these surprise reactions, consistent with characterization, that keep the gristle and gloom at bay. And by keeping the humor to banter and response, the peril does not get undercut by irony. The sincerity of pulp fantasy is preserved.
Mongoose and Meerkat and Slayers are often mentioned together in PulpRev circles for their similarities. And for more than just the wandering duos of male swordsmen and female magic users. And while Mangos and Kat do not indulge in the rapid manzai comedic wordplay of Lina and Gourry, both duos bring an enthusiastic swashbuckling flair to their travels. These carefree adventurers embrace the adventuring life freely, relishing equally in the clash of blades and the draining of cups. And sometimes quick wits and a quicker tongue are needed to extract these pairs from the latest town’s plots. And when one adventure is done, they dust themselves off and set out over the horizon to the next.
Or more simply put, Mongoose and Meerkat and Slayers overflow with the celebration of life and living.