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War Bunny
War Bunny is set four hundred years in the future, after humanity has died out and only animals remain. Each species has developed its own culture. The protagonist is Anastasia, a yearling rabbit. She fights with her mother, the rabbit priests, and her OCD. The priests say that that the rabbits’ short lives, hounded by predators, are “good,” because that has been ordained by Yah, the rabbit god. Death is referred to as “Glorification.” Predators are called the “Blessed Ones.” Anastasia cannot bear to keep quiet about this injustice. She impulsively questions the official teachings in the front hall of her warren, and her mother exiles her from the warren. This is a death sentence. Anastasia, on her first night alone, defends clumsily when a fox attacks, and by a lucky accident injures the fox’s throat with a sharp stick. She survives. Anastasia, amazed that she is alive, digs a burrow and sets out to live empowered by a new idea: “You were born a prey animal, but you don’t have to die as one.” With more surprising wins, many rabbits, mice, and squirrels begin to find their way to Anastasia’s rapidly growing warren. Then this rebellion comes to the attention of the local alpha predators. After a large-scale attack, she sets off on a short journey to have some protective armor made. In her absence, one faction in her confederacy decides that they need to kill a coyote in order to strike fear into the hearts of the predators. They argue the other animals into doing it. As they are executing their elaborate plan, it goes wrong. Anastasia is just returning with her new armor, and finds the coyote about to kill her old friend and mentor. She leaps into the fight. Her new armor saves her life when the coyote catches her in his jaws. Then, during the fight, she slashes his throat. She succeeds in saving her friend, but she is angry at being forced into killing a Blessed One. And she’s convinced Yah will exact a terrible retribution. This first killing by the rabbits is climax of this book, the first in a series.
A bunny decides she’s had enough and dares to shake up the natural order in St. John’s unusual and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic debut. In a far-future world where humans are gone and animals thrive, Anastasia the bunny is different from the other rabbits—she asks questions about their god, Yah, and why, if he loves the rabbits, Yah would expect them to be “Glorified” by the “Blessed”–which means eaten by predators. Considered mentally ill and dangerous to the warren, she’s kicked out. After successfully repulsing a fox on the prowl, Anastasia has an awakening that leads to a revolution: maybe Yah’s on board with bunnies fighting back.

Going beyond simply telling a story, St. John dives into the dangers of blind faith and how societies react when someone questions shared beliefs. Anastasia’s internal turmoil is palpable as she tries to find a balance between Yah’s love and his apparent intent that rabbits be eaten. Gathering information from the “Readers” and “Rememberers” in charge of interpreting books and history from the Dead Gods (humans), along with Yah’s writings, Anastasia makes her own interpretation, concluding that defense should be acceptable as long as none of the Blessed are killed. The other rabbits’ responses range from fear of heresy to the conviction that she’s their savior.

St. John also spotlights the treatment of those who are different. Once Anastasia is kicked out, her only goal is survival and to dig a safe burrow for herself, but when word about her actions gets out, other ostracized bunnies come searching for safety. Although building a new warren is not her intention, she never turns anyone away–including mice and squirrels– and draws out the strength in each to help defend the warren as a new family. Although readers will be left with questions at the end, the journey and lessons getting there will be worth it.

Takeaway: This post-apocalyptic rabbit tale of daring to question society is tougher and more creative than most animal fiction.

Great for fans of: Richard Adams’s Watership Down, David Petersen’s Mouse Guard.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: C