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Literature / The Builders

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The Builders is a 2015 novel written by Daniel Polansky.

Five years have passed since a civil war between two toad brothers came to an end. A mysterious mouse known only as the Captain sets out to find his old gang of assassins so they can seek revenge against a skunk who tried to kill them during the war.


  • Always Chaotic Evil: Emphasized with some species by the narration in what is probably a parody of the novel's presumed inspiration:
    • The narration continually makes a point of how rats are nothing but a bunch of filthy, morally dubious dirty cowards. The only exception seems to be Reconquista and he turns out to be a traitor whose friendship and loyalty to the protagonists is entirely feigned.
    • When the narration introduces Bonsoir, it is noted that as a stoat, he is sneaky and cruel, but comments that this is not the fault of Bonsoir or stoats generally, as nature fashioned them to be so.
  • Anti-Villain: Barley is a hardened, brutish soldier who slaughtered hundreds during the war. But unlike everyone else in the Captain's crew, he's the only member who wanted nothing to do with his quest for vengeance; before the Captain forced him into joining his gang, he was just an ordinary, and very friendly shopkeeper.
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  • Anyone Can Die: Yes. By the end of the story, the amount of named characters still alive can be counted with one hand.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Or in Mephetic's case, it's boring. After Mephetic organized the coup and helped the Toad Lord win the War of the Two Brothers, he imagined he'd spend the rest of his life partying and getting drunk. Instead, he found himself weighed down with governmental deals and constantly keeping the country in order through very tiresome, uneventful ways.
  • Big Bad: High Chancellor Mephetic.
  • Bigger Bad: The Toad Lord, although he does nothing in the story.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cinnabar, Gertrude, Bonsoir, Elf, and (possibly) Barley all perish when they storm Mephetic's castle. The Captain confronts and kills the Toad Lord, but in the aftermath of all the chaos, hundreds are dead, and the Captain's actions will most likely throw the Gardens into war once more. The only reason why this isn't a complete Downer Ending is because the Captain and Boudica successfully kill Mephetic without dying in the process. Even then, there's a strong possibility the two will become high-level fugitives and spend the rest of their lives running and hiding.
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  • Black and Gray Morality: Besides being viewpoint characters, the main reasons why the Captain and co. come across as better than their opponents is because they have genuine friendships, were the victims of a betrayal, and (at least on screen) are involved in less systematic cruelty.
  • Fat Bastard: The Toad Lord is about as obese as Jabba the Hutt. And on that note...
  • Fat Slob: The Toad Lord is also a nasty, wart-covered beast whose lives in a messy chamber that smells as bad as an outhouse.
  • French Jerk: Bonsoir is a stereotypical Frenchman, highly (and comically) self-absorbed and prickly about perceived slights to his honor. He's also a violent and unscrupulous rogue and a member of a species that the narration essentially presents as Always Chaotic Evil.
  • Killed Offscreen: Gertrude, Puss, Bonsoir and Barley's deaths aren't explicitly shown in the chapter that they perished in. Although with Puss and Bonsoir, it's very evident they were blown to bits by dynamite.
  • Mutual Kill:
    • Between Brontë and Cinnabar, who both end up shooting each other to bits and succumb to their wounds.
    • Between Bonsoir and Puss, who are blown apart with a stick of dynamite.
    • Between Elf and Quaker, who both tumble over a high wall to their deaths after the former attacked the latter.
  • Never Found the Body: Barley's last seen mowing down rats with his cannon, and then he abruptly stops. It's implied that he was incinerated with a howitzer shell or that the rats eventually swarmed him.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. After the Captain kills the Toad Lord, he lets out a foul-smelling "loud, wet fart," and the Captain immediately deduces that he's dead.
  • Off with His Head!: Mephetic's entire head is turned into mush after Boudica blasts it away with her rifle.
  • Oh, Crap!: Puss, moments after he realizes Bonsoir just lit a stick of dynamite behind him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Captain's name is never revealed, not even by his companions.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Justified with the Toad Lord, as he's too corpulent to get off said "throne."
  • Plot Armor: The Captain's team manages to survive grim odds and manage to take out their foes with ease for a majority of the novel. When Part the Fourth starts, however, their armor's gone.
  • Puppet King: The War of the Brothers essentially involved one of these on each side, even though the claimants genuinely hated each other. The Captain and his group supported the Elder Brother and had power and status based on using him as a figurehead. Conversely, Mephetic and his group supported the Younger Brother and derived power and status from using him as a figurehead.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • When Gertrude is fighting Mephetic, she disregards that Mephetic is a skunk and has the ability to release an emission capable of blinding most animals. He wastes little time spraying her, and she's quickly Killed Offscreen.
    • Despite how fast Cinnabar is, even he can't evade the wide spread of a blunderbuss at close range, which is inevitable how Brontë ends up killing him.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Cinnabar and the Quaker are the only notable reptiles in the story, and they're both merciless, cold-blooded killers who take pride in the amount of lives they've taken.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Barley, maybe. It's possible that he survived Mephetic's forces and left the Captain's crew so he could go back into hiding and living his life in peace.
  • The Stoic: The Captain, at best, is capable of twitching his lips slightly when he tries to smile. Otherwise, he's constantly scowling, and he never raises his voice.
  • Taking You with Me: After getting gut-shot by Puss, Bonsoir uses his last ounce of energy to light a stick of dynamite, which Puss discovers mere seconds before it blows.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Bonsoir breaks away from the team so he can kill several rats guarding Mephetic's vault. Afterwards, he spends half an hour picking the vault's lock, instead of rejoining the Captain and taking care of the rest of Mephetic's guards. Unsurprisingly, Puss sneaks up on him and shoots him in the stomach.
    • Puss himself was no smarter. See Villain Ball below.
  • Villain Ball: Puss. Once he subdues Bonsoir, he spends the rest of his time giving him "The Reason You Suck" Speech, as opposed to quickly killing him. This gives the stoat enough time to kill Puss with a stick of dynamite he lit behind him.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Captain and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, all of whom are or used to be mercenaries, assassins, criminals, etc.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Played with in the case of the Captain. His high pitched, squeaky voice is at odds with his personality of hard-edged, ruthless badass. However, it's perfectly in keeping with his being a mouse.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Subverted. When Puss runs into Bonsoir, he does shoot and fatally wound him. He doesn't, however, finish him off, which gives Bonsoir enough time to light a stick of dynamite.
  • World of Funny Animals: The story takes place in a Western-themed country filled with anthropomorphic animals.


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