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Warrior Cats--the review - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Warrior Cats--the review
Well, I've mentioned these books several times; it's time for a whole review. It will be spoiler-laden up through the tenth book, because I always review with spoilers.



Because this isn't a series that more or less everyone on my f-list has read, I'll give a brief synopsis of what it's about before I review it.

Warriors is the story of a young housecat named Rusty, who has been plagued by dreams of life in the wild since kittenhood. He often goes out to the edge of his garden and looks out into the nearby forest, where his friend has heard rumors of vicious wildcats. Rather than being frightened, Rusty is intrigued, and he, of course, heads out into the woods the very next day, and encounters a young cat his own age, plus two older cats from a "Clan" of wild cats, one of four who live in the wild area outside Rusty's village. They've had a shortage of apprentice "warriors," and the leader, Bluestar, invites Rusty to come join them. He of course has to fight for his place in ThunderClan, because they despise "kittypets," but, as it's Rusty's story, he naturally makes it in, and is given the apprentice name "Firepaw"--in honor of the color of his coat--which will become "Fireheart" when he becomes a warrior proper, and "Firestar" later on in the series. Unbeknownst to him, Bluestar and the medicine cat, Spottedleaf, know of a prophecy that "only fire will save our clan." I'm sure you can all guess from patterns of fantasy stories that the newly named Firepaw is, in fact, the cat named by destiny.

In the forest, the four clans have hard boundaries, which they are forbidden to cross to catch the often-scarce prey. This causes a lot of border scuffles. All four clans, though, are ruled by StarClan, the spirits of their ancestors, who join together after death to guide the destiny of the clan cats. One ambitious cat, Tigerclaw, ignores the laws of StarClan (the "warrior code") to gain ultimate power, and becomes Fireheart's nemesis. The first series deals with the growing threat from Tigerclaw (later Tigerstar), which threatens all of the clans, including StarClan. It's the story of how Fireheart becomes a great leader.

The second series, Warriors: The New Prophecy, picks up a year or two later, which is a longish time in a cat's life, and features Firestar's two daughters, Squirrelpaw and Leafpaw, as well as Tigerstar's kits and other members of the next generation. They get another prophecy which sends a cat from each clan (plus two tag-alongs who just won't be left behind) to the edge of the sea to find out how to save the clans from destruction... because the forest itself is being destroyed by humans putting up a huge road through it. The tale follows the chosen cats as they lead their clans to a new home. Firestar plays a prominent, but definitely supporting, role. (Erin Hunter, the "author"--actually the pen name for two authors, Katy Cary and Cherith Baldry--says that another book is coming out to chronicle Firestar's life between the two series.)

That's the synopsis in a nutshell.

The bad parts are surprisingly few for a series written as quickly as this one is. The irritating habit of having cats "meow" their dialogue is grating after the first time it's used, and it's used frequently. Purring and hissing are one thing--we're used to them as dialogue terms, but "meow"? No. The end of the Tigerstar arc is also mildly disappointing after the big build-up, though it does bring an interesting character moment for Firestar. I would have liked the first book to show more of a conflict for "Rusty" about leaving the only home he'd ever known, and owners who even he admits are kind and attentive to him, though this gets better treatment in the second installment. (Though I got a kick out of the fact that in a supposed kids' book, the unabashed main reason he leaves is that he finds out that the rest of the toms in his neighborhood get "altered" by The Cutter, a bit of surgery in which he has no interest whatsoever.) It also struck me as a little off, given the kind of frank treatment of prey and death that we get elsewhere, that despite the presence of kits, female cats in these books never go into heat, and have no rituals or anything that could be interpreted as euphemisms for it. (The cats are also monogamous, which is distinctly non-feline, but hey. Maybe religious cats are monogamous.) On a more random note, the chapter heading pictures drive me crazy--I've gotten used to Mary GrandPre chapter headings, that have something to do with the chapters, but these are just six pictures per book, repeated as chapter headers throughout, that might have a sort of vague relationship to something somewhere in the chapter. (Pretty cat drawings, though.) And on a totally indiosyncratic note, there's a cat named "Ravenpaw" who I just keep reading as "Ravenclaw," which is very distracting.

The good:

It's a damned good story. It's certainly monomyth-based: the chosen one, destiny, conflict, mentors, allies, and so on. Most good stories ultimately boil down to that. But it's always the details that make it work, and the details here are lovely. Both series have complex plotting and difficult choices, and treat evil as decidedly evil without ever allowing the idea that "that other guy" is always evil. Nor is nature itself evil; it's just the way things are. Even the dreaded Two-legs, because the reader understands what they're doing and because at least three housecats who stay with their "housefolk" are presented as perfectly sane, are not evil--evil is the cat who kills casually, the one who murders his own clanmates. Evil always proceeds from conscious choices, even when the cat in question is self-justifying it.

Punches aren't pulled here, either. The natural problems of cats in the wild aren't glossed over. Prey is often scarce, diseases are spread by eating rotten or diseased food, kittens starve to death because their mothers can't nurse them properly. Dogs rip one apprentice to shreds and permanently scar another, and an eagle preys on cats when they are helpless. In the realm of conscious evil, the vicious Tigerclaw/Tigerstar murders his way up the food chain, kiliing a kind cat who we've known mainly as a nursing queen who takes in a foster kit at one point to give dogs a taste for cat, in another case cold-bloodedly killing a young apprentice from another clan who Fireheart was connected to from an earlier adventure, and in a third, trying to force a noble warrior to slaughter Fireheart's best friend's kittens... the kittens survive, but only because the warrior refuses, and is murdered in full view of the reader for his trouble.

Which brings me to a point of warning--people will look at pretty cats on the covers and the fact that these books are shelved in the juvie section and say, "Oh, nice little books." And they don't have any sex or foul language in them. But the violence is nothing to be sneezed at. I've read horror novels with a lot less violence in them. If you're softhearted about seeing injured cats (even if it's just in your head), there are some scenes that will get to you.

For me, the best part of the first series is that Fireheart is just brilliantly characterized--from the dreaming kitten through the brash warrior through the burden of leadership. When he hurts about something, he actually hurts, and the reader feels it along with him. He begins as the only person to suspect Tigerclaw, but when Tigerstar dies and leaves the forest threatened by an even more dangerous cat--and this is the reason I don't mind so much that the plot ended abruptly--Firestar feels grief and dismay, and realizes that the forest, at this point, needs the strong warrior that Tigerclaw should have been. That's pretty sophisticated reasoning.

Other characters I like:
Graystripe--Fireheart's best friend and stalwart ally, who has the good and bad fortune of falling in love with a cat from another clan, which causes everyone no end of grief, but still gives him a chance to grow as a character when he becomes a father to his kits.

Sandstorm--one of Fireheart's rivals as apprentices, who ends up his mate. She's prickly without it being her defining characteristic, and she' capable of actually learning as well... she was initially one who derided Fireheart as a "kittypet" and refused to have anything to do with him.

Cinderpaw/Cinderpelt--starts off as Fireheart's apprentice, but due to various circumstances ends up a medicine cat (medicine cats are the priests/priestesses of the clans). She takes her circumstances in stride.

Brambleclaw--Tigerstar's son, who has a whole lot of baggage to deal with

Squirrelpaw--Firestar's stubborn daughter

Tallstar--the dignified leader of a rival clan.


To be fair, there are two cat-Sues in the series, only one of whom (Spottedleaf) has the excuse of being actually in StarClan and having a reason to be dispensing wise advice. Firestar's daughter Leafpaw, who appears in the second series, is just... well, she'd be Sorted straight into SparklypooClan.


Anyway, these are the books in the series, if anyone's interested (Amazon links--not advertising; it's just handy):
Warriors
Into the Wild
Fire and Ice
Forest of Secrets
Rising Storm
A Dangerous Path
The Darkest Hour

The New Prophecy
Midnight
Moonrise
Dawn
Starlight
Twilight (not out yet)
Sunset (not out yet)

[EDIT: New Prophecy review here.]

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Comments
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: July 18th, 2006 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm thinking I should really look into these; they sound quite interesting (and only one unexcused Sue for an entire series--well, that's not bad; it could certainly be worse).

In a slightly similar vein--it's another fantasy about animals, anyway--have you ever read Silverwing, Sunwing, and Firewing by Kenneth Oppel? They're about bats, of all things, and they also come from the juvie section, but I found them really fascinating...it's been a while since I've read them, so it's hard to say whether my opinion's changed or not, but the author did create a real culture for the bats, with a mythological history and everything. Firewing is sort of disturbing for a whole host of reasons, but they'd be spoilers if I listed any of them.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 18th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
(and only one unexcused Sue for an entire series--well, that's not bad; it could certainly be worse).

Yeah. I go back and forth on another cat named Feathertail, but she's not shoved down the reader's throat quite as much as Leafpaw. For a Sue, Leafpaw's not too bad, and it looks like she's actually getting a plot of her own where she might actually make serious mistakes (as opposed to the variety of, "Duh, anyone would do that and sane people know she's right" mistakes she's made thus far) in the next book.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 18th, 2006 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
And, btw, I keep forgetting those Oppel books, but so many people have recommended them to me that I definitely have to give them a look. I'm beginning to think that Redwall is the only animal fable series I just can't deal with.
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: July 18th, 2006 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Redwall...yeah, that's...I couldn't get into Redwall either. I only read one of them--I don't even remember which, but in theory it was the first one--and I really sort of hated it. I know they're supposed to be children's classics, but the characterizations were all extremely shallow (Matthias underwent no gradual change, for instance; he went from a bumbling little monk to warrior!Matthias within, I don't know, five pages), the plot was pointless, the villains were walking clichés and therefore almost laughable, there was virtually no culture or mythology for any of the creatures, and--to top it all off--the writing style was completely unremarkable. Maybe some of the later books were developed better, but I was so turned off by that one that I had no interest in any of the others.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: July 18th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
My eldest daughter is reading these now, or she would, if the local library would cough them up quicker. I'm glad to know what's in them: I can handle aliens, faster-than-light-speed travel, colonizing new worlds; but I can't tolerate talking animals.

Any other series you care to recommend? I'd be glad to hear your suggestions.
dadaginny From: dadaginny Date: July 18th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lol, I'll have to look at this review after I read them -- I hate spoilers, lol.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 18th, 2006 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool. I'm just the opposite--the more spoilery it is, the better I like it. ;)

The non-spoilery thing to point out from the review is that they're pretty violent (they're about cats, after all, not the most pacifist of animals), sometimes with some pretty disturbing scenes.
dadaginny From: dadaginny Date: July 18th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
From the stuff that my Padawan told me, it kind of sounded like a lite version of Watership Down for cats...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 18th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, a little younger-aimed, by vocabulary, than WD, but there's definitely a family resemblance.
izhilzha From: izhilzha Date: July 18th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love cat-stories, but I wonder if I could get into this series after being so spoiled by the sheer goodness of Diane Duane's The Book of Night With Moon. Her cats are wizards, but there is a language (no "meow"s), there is a social structure, and (unspayed) female cats do go into heat. ;-)

*makes note of series anyway; sound like fun*
alia_cat From: alia_cat Date: July 20th, 2006 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually LIKE Leafpool, though she may be a Sue. she may be a goody-goody, but that reminds me of myself in someways. She also has to keep secrets from everybody, which I find interesting. And her character may get more depth if they go through with the Crowfeather/Leafpool story arch. So...

Zorpia Photo Sharing: Free Unlimited Storage & Bandwidth

;-)

One thing always irked me about Spottedleaf, however. In the first book, it's clear that Firepaw looks up to her and admires her, but to me there was no hint of romance. And then for the entire rest of the series Fireheart goes on about how he loved Spottedleaf, so is it okay if he loves Sandstorm too. But from the first book, I never would have guessed 'love'.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 20th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yay! Discussion!

I thought the same thing. I was always confused by where that came from, especially on her end. I could see Firepaw having a crush on her, but she just seemed to be kind to him, as she was to everyone. Did something somewhere get cut?
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 29th, 2006 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Warriors

Love Warriors. Obsession. *Drools* WARRRIORS!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Warriors

YAY! Looking for Friends of Firestar.
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