There aren’t many famous faun in fantasy. If you’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe then you’re probably familiar with faun thanks to Mr. Tumnus, but the species has long been overshadowed by centaur. Given that faun have never really taken off, it might seem strange that Garth Stein and Matthew Southworth would create their own goat-human species for their series, The Cloven.
Cloven aren’t mythological creatures. They’re humans that have been genetically modified to develop goat characteristics. They’re split the same way as faun, in that their bottom halves are what give them away as being part goat. As long as their legs and hoofs are covered, a cloven can pass as human, whereas a faun or satyr usually has goat ears or horns on their head.
Mainly, though, The Cloven deals with science, not magic, and while faun only exist in books, cloven could exist in the real world if scientists got it in their heads that goat-human hybrids are the way of the future.
As for how likely that is, just as faun aren’t the most popular fantasy creature, a goat might not seem like the first choice a scientist would have for the animal humans should be crossing with, but Stein and Southworth realize the potential in this pairing and make a strong case for why goat abilities are useful. The stomach on goats alone would mean not having to worry about food and when you’re on the run, as Tucker is in The Cloven: Book One, that’s a huge concern not to have anymore.
That’s not the only problem Tucker is facing, however, and both out of necessity and because he is half goat, movement plays a huge role in this story. Starting with the cover, Southworth uses layouts and colors that stress how important it is that Tucker keep moving toward survival. Running is what keeps Tucker free from the scientists who want to kill him, but it’s also how cloven socialize. Much in the same way that Sam would go on runs with other shapeshifters on True Blood, Tucker goes on runs with other cloven to cut loose and have fun.
Still, there’s something uneasy about these runs. With the scientists, Southworth makes their position clear. Lime green is not a color you want associated with lab experiments, but there’s something very cult-ish about the cloven, too. What’s vague is whether that makes them dangerous or not.
Stein and Southworth jump around in time a lot for this story. They also rely on the fact that The Cloven is going to be a trilogy to leave a lot of questions unanswered at the end, but the structure of this book doesn’t always work in its favor. Stein’s use of narration means readers spend most of The Cloven in Tucker’s head, but then the time jumps work against that by having readers find out things before him, like how he was really born. It also doesn’t help that Tucker can come across as very clinical, offering explanations for things you wouldn’t expect him to, for the sake of exposition.
Stein and Southworth deserve credit for pushing ahead with their own species but might not have done enough to push me to read Book 2.
The Cloven: Book One goes on sale July 28th from Fantagraphics and you can also catch Stein and Southworth this Saturday at 12 PM PST for their Comic-Con @ Home panel on The Cloven.