This started and moved along very comfortably – in a Hobbit sort of a way. Our likeable but not especially strong or gifted hero sets off on an adventure – to find his lost fiancé. On his way he meets the tough and noble Thanes (rangers), encounters a royal court where he befriends a bluff and hearty prince and is discomforted by the dissolute Queen mother and her Consort, forms a strange alliance with a traditionally opposed race, and becomes a vital part in the defeat of an ancient evil foe. OK, standard fantasy fare here, but generally a well enough executed enjoyable derivative.
There is some originality in making all the characters cats in a contemporary rural setting, with “M’an” as their incidental servants. Fortunately Williams keeps this in the background and doesn’t milk it too much to be clever or confuse a (adolescent) fantasy with a social satire.
There’s a nice epilogue too, with (spoiler warning) Tailchaser finding that his ‘heart’s desire’ is not what he thought it to be. Williams does a decent job showing how his protagonist has grown through his experiences and is now a far wiser and self-assured animal.
So, I was happy to go along for the ride and thinking Williams (who I haven’t read before) was a pleasant enough discovery for me. However he lost me with his magic and mysticism. Not because I don’t like magic and mysticism, don’t get me wrong (‘some of my best friends..’etc.), but because I don’t like the resolution to a whole novel (and, in this case, of millennia) to be based on an, until now, minor character, suddenly realising, “Hey, strewth, that’s right – I’m a god! I can fix everything! Lucky you were humming that old tune, Tailchaser’. Really. And we’re supposed to buy that somehow Tailchaser’s done something wise and noble and insightful and deserves praise. Eatbugs’ transfiguration could just as accidentally have happened a hundred years before, a week later, last summer – whenever. Just too dodgy for me for an author to place an essentially random event right at the climax of the novel and expect us to feel satisfied with the conclusion. The book heads right down this irrational hill after that, with Yoda/Guru frog just appearing from nowhere – who are these characters? Why is it that Lord Firefoot can only float in for a vision and then lose transmission? There’s no attempt at explanation, and while you don’t have to have a Silmarillion for every fantasy creation, you really should do better than this with your pivotal myth. I mean, the idea of the three deity brothers was fine, my basic beef is with the unsatisfying way Firefox metamorphosises, particularly given how vital this is.
So, without the lazily plotted climax, this is a good book. With it, an average one.