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A Watership Down Start....But an Apocalypse Now End
on May 10, 2009
This book series tells the saga of a domestic cat named Rusty (a kittypet) who choses to join the hidden, heroic world of the Forest Clans; wild cats who follow a "warrior code" of honor and loyalty to clan. This is the tale (tail?) as Rusty journeys from being a soft "kittypet" to being the fierce, just, wise, and loyal warrior known as Fireheart. And its almost, almost a fantastic series. But...
And if you are a young reader, well this is a review by an old grumpy Elder Cat who complains how Apprentices always caught fatter rabbits back when he was a Warrior! And I might give some plot away below, though I try not to. So maybe you should stop reading this review, young Apprentice, and go patrol the Clan Borders instead!
So the positive:
First the storyline is about clans of wild cats and their fierce but honorable warrior code, so I'm hooked. And the concept of the cats is very well done. These are thinking feeling cats, and not people in cat bodies. The characters act and think and behave (mostly) in cat-believable ways. Fighting is by tooth and claw; talking is by meows and purrs, growls and hisses; affection is rubbing shoulders, touching noses, and shared grooming. These are cats! The created world, and virtually all the characters, are quite believable, and for that the authors should be praised. Also, there is often quite a bit of emotional nuance to the relationships between the cats, and the authors often do a fine job of portraying love, and loss, and conflicted emotions, with nuance and grace. So there is much to be praised here.
Given the books are for a fairly young audience, I'd argue they start out great and appropriate, but by the final book or so are far too violent and dismal. The final book of the series, "The Darkest Hour" is filled with scenes literally straight out of Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now. I keep expecting the main antagonist to slowly rub his head and say to the hero, Fireheart, "you're just an errand boy sent by grocers to collect a bill." Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of slaughter-em-up (I'll challenge anyone to a Jason-vs-Freddy viewathon!), but I thought that by the last third of the series, the authors couldn't seem to find a way to heighten plot tension other than by upping the body/kitty count every few pages.
Finally, I would have written a completely different final book and a half to the series, and feel the series took some plot twists with an additional villain (or two or three or..) that just wasn't necessary, wasn't particularly believable, and detracted from the story arc. But I'm not the author(s), so the final books are as they are.
But given the final book that was written, it simply ends too abruptly. Imagine reading Tolkien, and having the book end with Frodo and Sam sitting on the rock in the middle of the lava field. Sure the destruction of the One Ring is the logical culmination of Lord of the rings, so who cares about the tiny details of who actually lives or dies. The One Ring is gone, and the individual lives of Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Pippin, the Elves, all just trivia, so no need to weave the last threads, right? Wrong. One needs those final chapters. Or imagine Star Wars ending when Luke blows up the Death Star. Leia, Chewy, Han, dead or alive, doesn't matter, death star is gone! Roll Credits. In general, one needs and expects those last few chapters or scenes to sort out the consequences of a story's Epic Battle.
But after 1800 pages of The Warriors(6 books, 300 pages each), the authors fail to deliver the final "Consequences" scene. There is of course the required Epic Battle at the end. But the aftermath is just not written beyond a few brief lines. One more chapter, a mere 5 -10 pages, could have salvaged the entire series.
Ah well. I'd like to recommend the books. The first 3 or 4 books, I'd easily give 4 stars. And on my rating scale, a 2 isn't terrible, and even then this is a high 2, almost 3. There's tons positive about the series and other reviews show that young readers are very enthusiastic about the books. But in the end I'd think twice about recommending this series to my child. Too much kitty carnage, not enough thought as to why.