A group of feathered and furry (even scaly) tales featuring verbose fauna of forest, field, and stream--whose transactions are sharply focused on eating. . . and how not to be eaten. The title story concerns a dim but appealing porcupine who endures several little deaths before the final one on the way to his heart's desire--a chimeric gleam which turns out to be a hard road with advancing headlights. And in other pieces there are impressive predators with mystic dimensions: Mons the ancient owl, a cannibal feeding on the young owls who keep him alive--a Bird of Death; The Golden Eagle, Lord of the Air, whom a young sparrowhawk glimpses in death before she disappears forever; noble, gentle herbivore Arcan, the Lord of the Forest who promises to cure the sore shoulder of Ug, a mean monster toad of outsize strength and mellow obscenities (Ug defeats a rat army to return Arcan's rebel son--and it's squish! crunch! ugh!); and black witch Malgotha, who not only dispatches killer crocodile Mugger but also resurrects Mugger's victims from their bones. Even the stories of love here tend to be grisly: a lovesick squirrel learns that true love is more than red-fur deep; a fat sexy dormouse sends her lovers to their death via a snake. And in Freddi's world good friends can dine on one another (like those old buddies Otter and Bat). . . whereas when two great killers square off--like the wicked stoat and great pike--everybody else wins. Not a book to be read while gnawing a chicken bone: the executions axe untidy and explicit. But, if bloodthirsty and veddy English (the talk ranges from cheeky to bluff with Anglo caste accents), it's sharper in the animal-fable line than The Pig Plantagenet (1980), with generally entertaining and inventive fun for whimsical readers of strong stomach.