I had some fun playing around with a sharp, concise opening summary for this title. Watership Down meets Sinbad the Sailor? If The Tale of Despereaux was directed by Ilene Chaiken? Neither captures entirely Fitzwater’s unusual undertaking, which features a plucky, skirt-eschewing, female-loving capybara who’s destined to find love and adventure on the high seas.
Fitzwater first introduced her rodent, lesbian pirate hero Cinrak in a pair of previously published short stories. Voyages rounds out Cinrak’s life in a collection of fantastical exploits, which jump ahead in time and location. It really does remind one of the tales of Sinbad from The Arabian Nights both in structure and in tone. The seas are full of wonders, some deadly and some which hold magical rewards for those who are brave enough to seek them out. Sailors—of any gender—are a rowdy and fearless lot who don’t mind when a little humor comes along at their own expense. Fitzwater takes on that zany, swashbuckling brand, and she’s fully and lovingly committed to her delightfully wacky world of anthropomorphic lesbians of all sizes, species and gender-expressions.
In the opening story, we meet young Cinrak, an orphan with fourteen star-years under her junior pirate sash. She doesn’t have a bad life living at an orphanage in the port city of Ratholme, but oh to join a pirate’s crew and see the world on one of the tall masted galleys that come to trade at the wharf. Cinrak always felt different from her land-locked kin, and she realizes it’s because she has pirate salt in her blood. Impressing the famous rat Captain Mereg, she earns a spot as a cabin kit aboard the fearsome Cry Havoc.
Subsequent tales show Cinrak as a captain in her own right, sorting out treachery in the Felidae Isles, winning the hand of the rat queen Orvillia in a competition to lasso the stars, helping a kraken named Agnes reunite with her true love, taking trips to the End of the World and the Heart of the Ocean, and more.
She’s accompanied by a core group of companions that includes a menopausal phoenix, an opera diva marmot, a wee chinchilla who wants to be a boy-sailor, and a jaunty merman. It’s a vivid and memorable supporting cast for sure, and the author has a great talent for inventing character and place names that evoke a whimsical fantasy setting.
Magical adventures are one side of the story, but in equal measure, Voyages is a celebration of the freedom with which lesbian and transmen should and could live their lives. There are plenty of romantic pairings within the all-female rodent crew, and readers will also find portrayals of polyamorous lesbian relationships vis-a-vis Cinrak’s choice to marry both the theatrical marmot Loquolchi and the stately rat queen Orvillia. The aforementioned trans chinchilla Benj gets a heartwarming treatment as a youth fulfilling his gender transformation. Fitzwater stays within the bounds of “family entertainment,” and as such, the stories have potential to reach a wide audience and be enjoyed by juvenile and adult readers alike.
A great book for fans of lesbian-centric worlds and those who never lost their childhood imagination.
Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters