Welcome to the book tour for Theo and the Secret of Elshon! This is the second installment in Melanie Ansley’s Book of Theo series and fans of Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down will love it. Read on for more details and a chance to win a paperback edition of Theo and the Forbidden Language!
Theo and the Secret of Elshon (Book of Theo #2)
Publication Date: November 18th, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
~ Guest Post ~
Rabbits with Swords:
5 things I’ve learned writing animal fiction
- Many people think a book with animal protagonists is for children.
It’s no surprise that we associate animal stories with tales from our childhood: Stuart Little, Peter Rabbit, for instance. And we associate children’s stories with safe, happy thoughts. But I find many of the animal tales we tell our children pretty grisly: in Peter Rabbit, we learn that Peter’s father died in a pie. In The Three Little Pigs, two thirds of the main characters are killed and eaten by the midpoint, and in some versions the surviving pig cooks and eats the wolf at the end. So to my mind, even the tales of our earliest years have very dark, violent content. But many readers don’t expect heavy adult themes in animal fiction, so I’ve learned to be very clear to position The Book of Theo series as more akin to Watership Down and Animal Farm than it is to say, Charlotte’s Web. This inspired me to give one of my protagonists tattooed ears: it’s an early signpost that these books aren’t purely for children.
- Writing from an animal POV is challenging.
When writing from animal point of views, size does matter. How big are the characters? How big is the room they are in? How are two rabbits and a bear going to sit at the same table? Does a serpent sit on a chair, or would they furnish their home with branches and nests? I feel like there’s some artistic license allowed here (and I use it!), but these are some of the logistics I try to keep in mind while writing scenes.
- Writing from an animal POV has its perks.
Writing from an animal perspective is a lot of fun. There are obvious differences in how each character perceives the world that you don’t get from human POVs. One of my favorite characters to write is the axe swinging bear, Brune. He’s both a gentle giant and a ferocious fighter, affectionate and protective. His sheer size and strength make his attitude towards danger very different from the main character, who is a rabbit.
- Lots of people enjoy animal fiction – and it’s not who I thought.
When I started writing this series, I thought it would mostly appeal to teens and older middle grade readers. But I quickly learned that teens are actually less interested in animal protagonists, probably because they are navigating a floodtide of school-centered problems. So there’s this break between childhood and adulthood when we are more interested in stories starring humans just like us, because high school can sometimes be a scarier jungle than any fantasy one. Now, I’d say this series appeals more to adult fans of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
- You learn a lot of random, fascinating facts about animals.
Did you know that crows will not only remember the face of someone who has harmed them, but tell other crows to recognize that face? And a murder of crows (by the way, who came up with that term?!) will collectively seek revenge on those who have killed one of their own. That’s the kind of random trivia I collect in my head from writing animal fiction.
You can find out more about The Book of Theo series and Melanie Ansley on her website: www.melanieansley.com.
A rabbit with the secret ability to read. An axe wielding bear. A warrior princess.
Together, they must find the fabled Library of Elshon, and fight the human empire bent on turning animals into mindless beasts of burden.
In the sequel to the award winning “Theo and the Forbidden Language”, Theo, Brune, and Indigo must find the infamous and feared muskrat, Orjo the Terrible. For only he can lead them to the legendary Elshon, a lost library in a land where reading and writing are punishable by death. At Elshon, Theo hopes to find the cure to Pacification—the empire’s power to make animals mute and mindless.
But can they find the Library and its hidden powers before Theo’s enemy, the vengeful human warlord Ornox, hunts them down? Can they even trust the notoriously conniving Orjo? It’s a race against time and overwhelming odds as Theo and his team must test their friendship, courage, and wits to uncover the secret to defeating the empire. For fans of Redwall, the Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down comes a fantasy adventure about faith, self-acceptance, and the power of the written word.
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Theo and his friends, the warrior rabbit princess Indigo and the bear Brune, are forced to drink with Orjo (a sly muskrat) in order to persuade him to lead them to the fabled Library of Elshon.
“There now! I suppose we should toast.” Orjo raised his cup. “Last to drain has manure for brains.” At their stiff expressions, he sighed. “Mankahar is losing its sense of fun along with its freedom, is it? You’ll never get me to take you to the Library if you don’t drink.”
Brune and Indigo each took cautious sips, while Theo couldn’t get beyond the smell. He pretended to drink, but kept his lips closed. Even so, he immediately wiped an arm across his mouth. Indigo made a guttural sound and nearly spat it back up.
“It tastes better once your tongue goes numb,” Orjo said, refilling their cups. “That’s the way. Now, who else knows you’re here?”
“No one,” Theo said.
“The sea bats,” Brune blurted. He looked surprised, then grimaced, as if trying to get the taste of the drink out of his mouth.
Orjo drained his cup again. “Good. Anyone else?”
“An otter rowed us here in his boat.” Indigo frowned, as if confused by her own words.
The muskrat chuckled at her expression. “Like I said, brew loosens the tongue, doesn’t it? So it sounds like you’ve exposed my whereabouts, and more than once. Doesn’t make me want to help you.”
“Even if it meant defeating the Urzoks?” Indigo pushed her cup away.
“That’s a noble cause. But I’ve found noble causes tend to be bad for your health.”
“The stories say you’re immortal,” the bear growled.
“I can live forever, if that’s what you mean. But that’s assuming something like a blade, let’s say, doesn’t find its way into my neck.” Orjo raised his cup. “To life! And longevity.”
At his expectant look, Brune downed his drink, and Indigo reluctantly pulled her cup back for a sip.
“How did you become immortal?”
“That’s a long story.” Orjo brushed Theo’s question away. “And I’m doing the asking here. Tell me about you, Griffinrider.”
“I never rode the griffin.”
Orjo made a sour face. “Some free advice, from one legend to another? Never spoil your reputation with truth, lad.”
“So your advice is to lie.” Theo sniffed his cup. It definitely didn’t smell like any liquor he’d known.
The muskrat put his eye to the bottle, then shook it and listened. “There’s a difference between lying and letting others believe what they want to believe. And I’ve enjoyed all the stories about you.”
Orjo stood, teetered unsteadily, and half walked, half groped his way to the cupboard, where he began to rummage for another bottle.
“You’re not the one who has to survive the stories.” Theo thought back to the bats. The exaggerations about him were almost more dangerous than the Urzoks themselves.
“True! My favorite is the children’s song.” Orjo pushed aside a jar, then pulled out what looked like another bottle of liquor. Not satisfied, he put it back and kept searching. “Aha!” He pulled out a third bottle and returned to the table. “Have you heard the children’s song? No? The gulls sing it once in a while when they pass through here, it goes like this:
The omatje’s riding now
Riding now, riding now
Theo the Omatje’s riding now
On his wings of flame.
Hide your gold and lock the door
Lock the door, lock the door
Hide your gold and lock the door
For Theo the omatje rides tonight.
“Infantile,” Orjo said, setting the bottle on the table and fishing out a knife from his pocket. “But catchy.”
“We need you to find the…” Indigo frowned, as if trying to herd her thoughts. “Library. And then I can kill you.”
Theo and Brune stared at her. She glared at Orjo. “There’s something in this brew!”
“I told you, brew makes conversation flow.” Orjo leaned forward. “So you want me to take you to the Library, and then kill me. Is that your plan?”
Theo had never seen Indigo drunk. She had the occasional cup of ale, he knew, but she was too keen on control to ever let it get any edge on her. But she clearly had no control of her words and seemed to know it.
“Well, Theo,” Orjo commented. “Seems you don’t know your own friends’ intentions. Doesn’t make me trust you.”
“Orjo, no one is killing anyone! We just want to find the Library,” Theo insisted.
Now Brune was swaying a little, eyes glazed. Theo had a sudden, random memory of his best friend Pozzi from Willago, who’d always argued that drinking brew was like sport. You got better at it with practice. How practiced was Orjo? Could he possibly outdrink a bear ten times his weight?
Orjo had managed to work the wood cork out of the bottle and began refilling the cups. “The cups don’t lie, Theo.”
Theo cursed his stupidity, and snatched the drink from Indigo’s paw. But it was too late. She slumped over the table. Brune stared at her, blinking.
“The cups…” The bear managed a slur of words and tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. Bottles and sheaves of paper flew as the giant crashed into the wall, then slid to the ground, blinking.
“You poisoned them!” Theo scrambled to his feet and put a paw to Indigo’s nose. She was breathing. Brune tried to push himself up on the toolbox, but only managed to knock it over before succumbing to the brew and lying still.
Orjo calmly poured himself another serving. “I said the brew wasn’t poisoned. And it wasn’t.”
“What do you call this then?”
The muskrat smiled. “A very simple truth tonic that I dipped the cups in. I needed to know who you told about my island. But if you manage to kill me, they’ll wake up with nothing but nasty headaches and the thirst of a four-humped camel.”
Theo clumsily freed Indigo’s sword from her scabbard, trying to keep his paws from shaking. “And if I don’t?”
The muskrat wiped his lips with his sleeve and stood. His smile, unlike his stance, was disturbingly sober. “Then I kill all of you.”
Available on Amazon
Theo and the Forbidden Language (The Book of Theo #1)
For fans of Watership Down, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, and Dragon Riders of Pern comes a fantasy adventure about courage, friendship, and the power of the written word.
In the land of Mankahar, where reading and writing are punishable by death, a battle is raging. The human empire is robbing animals of speech using a poison called “pacification,” and is marching to the furthest corners of the land to enslave creatures large and small. The only thing standing against them is the Order, a society of free animals determined to defend their way of life. On the western fringes of Mankahar, the rabbit Theo hides a secret: he knows the forbidden language, the symbols used to “catch words”. When his village exiles him, he joins Brune, an axe wielding bear and loyal member of the Order, in the epic fight against the empire. But the Order’s cause proves dangerous. Whom can Theo trust, when the empire punishes those who read or write with death? Worse, his fellow animals view the written word as sacrilegious. As the war for Mankahar’s fate looms, Theo must risk everything to learn the full power of the forbidden language, or be silenced forever.
Available on Amazon
About the Author
Melanie was born in Windsor, Ontario to a Chinese mother and a Canadian father, and grew up in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Beijing. She spent grades one to three in a Chinese primary school with concrete floors and no heating, so when she moved to a school with carpets and its very own library, she thought she’d gone to heaven. She spent all her free time devouring books of every kind—including ones that most adults probably wouldn’t recommend for children. Animal Farm, Watership Down, and The Chronicles of Narnia became staples, with a generous helping of Stephen King thrown in. She is currently a producer and screenwriter, with an MFA from USC in film producing. Over her diverse career she has directed a zombie film, been held at gunpoint, and had the good fortune to work with some of her idols. She lives with her husband and two impossibly energetic children in Ballarat, Australia.
Melanie enjoys writing dark fantasy stories about the power of language, self-acceptance, and the courage to stand up for one’s beliefs. Her first novel, Theo and the Forbidden Language, was the winner of Best YA at the 2018 IndieReader Discovery Awards, and the sequel, Theo and the Secret of Elshon, will be released November 2021.
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