Review: The “Off the Beaten Path” trilogy by Rukis Croax

**All respective images used in this review rightfully belong to Rukis Croax

This week as I’m enjoying Furry Migration 2016 (and having so much fun! :D), I thought I’d take the time and do a review on this book trilogy I’ve been wanting to review for a while. This is a book trilogy made by the artistic illustrator/prodigal writer in the furry fandom, Rukis Croax.

Known by her fans as a freelance artist (especially in the erotica section) and the writer/illustrator for her ongoing “Red Lantern” comic book series, Rukis Croax is a talented woman who’s made an identity of herself within the fandom. Her artwork is amazing, her original character memorable, and you instantly recognize her art style the moment you do a Google search. However she’s also gained ground as a writer too, and it shows well in her originally massive novel divided into the books “Off the Beaten Path”, “Lost on Dark Trails”, and “The Long Road Home”.

So what’s the story? In a world similar to European explorers discovering and pillaging the New World (except with furries), our story begins with a nameless female bobcat who is sold off as bridal property from her native tribe to another rivaling clan. Under the wrathful chains of an abusive husband, this female bobcat lives as a submissive wife and a future mother for the tribal chief’s eventual son.

Unfortunately, her fragile life is toppled when her newborn baby is discovered to be blind, causing her husband Chief Methoa and the rest of her tribe to believe she committed adultery. After murdering her son in cold blood and leaving her on the verge of death, Shivah narrowly escapes with the help of two fur trappers, a renegade coyote with a heart of gold named Ransom, and his blind but herbal shaman nicknamed Puck. Yearning to exact revenge for her slain son, our nameless bobcat soon discovers her tribe slaughtered and Methoa on the run with a group of raider that’d been pillaging across the lands. Gathering her courage and taking the eerie name ‘Shivah’, she and her companions work together with a group of lawmen. Her goal: to exact revenge on Methoa and stop the raiders from slaughtering any more villages in the land.

Taking place in the same universe as her “Red Lantern” comic, having Shivah as a main character seemed refreshing in my eyes. For those of you that don’t know, Rukis Croax’s main characters are oddly male and in gay relationships, so it feels new and interesting for her to write a protagonist that’s both female and straight.

Having a cast of memorable and diverse side characters, Rukis also delivers us a wonderfully written and poignant female lead. Starting from the prologue of “Off the Beaten Path”, we see a scared and broken tribal woman slowly transform over time into a strong and determined female with the heart and courage of a male warrior. She becomes independent, takes charge of herself and others around her. You want to follow her on her journey to find the man that ruined her life, yet hope that she goes on to live a normal life.

You feel her anger, you feel her fear, you cry when she remembers her previous life and you ache with her sense of accomplishment as she grows into a fighter. And regardless of her doing this to exact revenge, she still shows mercy in the face of enemies and allies. Honestly, she has to be one of the best-written female characters out there in terms of independence and feminism icons.

Puck and Ransom are both very likeable characters as well. Although Ransom is obviously an archetype of being Han Solo-esque, the coyote still stands on his own as being a snarky, foul-mouthed, alcoholic, sex-addicted loner who takes crap from no one. Puck perfectly balances him out as a companion who is quiet, keeps to himself, and is kind to others (though even he has a limit on compassion). And I especially chuckle whenever they argue like an old married couple, especially since…well without giving anything away there’s a twist on their relationship that’s kinda obvious at first glance.

The rest of the characters are very interesting as well, especially when we have new character pop up to help our trio aid them in stopping the raiders. This includes characters from the “Red Lantern” universe such as a cocky and womanizing privateer named Grayson, a respected Pedigree Admiral named Luther (from her other book called “Heretic”, and Grant, a husky male who serves as the local Marshall and as Shivah’s love interest in the trilogy. He’s likeable right away, and helps balance her out as we learn more about his past and hers.

Speaking about the past, the “Off the Beaten Path” is both a great adventure series and a psychological window into the minds of our characters, especially regarding their pasts and misdeeds. Revenge, redemption and regret play a large role in Shivah and her companion’s pasts as they go on their perilous journey. As we read about these characters fighting ferocious wildlife, battling rogue tribesmen, and searching for the mysterious raiders, we want to learn more about their backgrounds and yearn to see them find clarity and learn forgiveness. And all of that is showcased in “Lost on Dark Trails”, where we learn the truth behind Methoa’s betrayal and his role in the raider’s purpose. And regarding the chapters on Ransom…damn is it depressing to read. Almost like watching “The Revenant” in theaters again.

The culture is very interesting, obviously taking influence from various Native American tribes and Inuit lore. All three books do a wonderful job on commentary regarding the treatment of native clans, the rise in civilizations across wilderness, spiritual faith, the will of society, the patriarchy led by society, the lack of society, religion, forgiveness, and so on.

If I had any problems regarding the books, there’d be two things. The first is that in most of “Off the Beaten Path” Shivah tended to repeatedly talk about her past in the narrative in each chapter, which tended to be annoying after a while. Thankfully it improved as the books went on. Also, the final chapters in “The Long Road Home” seems rushed in my opinion. Without giving too much away, our three characters find themselves in a situation where it looks like a great battle is to happen, but it never happens. Granted, most of the plotlines are finished and Shivah makes her big choice, but the way the book built up this grandiose battle about to happen feels left out. However, it doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth. The epilogue in fact makes up for it, and leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment with Shivah and her friends.

I should mention that throughout all three books, there are some scenes that may make readers uncomfortable. There’s references to spousal abuse, rape, violence, and a scene involving a character talking about child abuse in a past tense that…I’m not going to go into much detail. For the most part, Rukis Croax handles these themes VERY WELL, but they can still turn some people away from reading them.

I doubt most of you are members of the furry fandom or even read past furry literature I’ve recommended in past review. But if you’re interested in a book trilogy that gives you adventure, intense drama, a cultured world of furries and spirits, then Rukis Croax’s “Off the Beaten Path” trilogy will take you on an epic journey that will cross mountains, cities, and oceans.

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