Written by: Tad Williams
Sequence in Series: N/A
Soft Cover: 364
Publisher: Daw Books Inc.
Publication Date: December 2000 (first published 1985)
Meet Fritti Tailchase, a ginger tom cat of rare courage and curiosity, a born survivor in a world of heroes and villains, of powerful feline gods and whiskery legends about those strange, furless, erect creatures call M’an. Join Tailchaser on his magical quest to rescue his catfriend Hushpad – a quest that will take him all the way to cat hell and beyond….
Tad Williams’ debut novel was Daw’s first hardcover release and came out in 1985. The book is a standard epic journey fantasy novel except that it’s about very much anthropomorphized cats. The plot is loosely based on the hero’s, Fritti Tailchaser, journey to find his missing companion, Hushpad. However, it ends up involving him in an epic face off between ultimate good and ultimate evil, steeped heavily in the history of the cats world. The exact aim of the ultimate evil is a little amorphous, the plot for taking over the world a little unfocused and very much unwieldy seeming. The journey itself is full of high adventure and varies enough to be interesting, despite the left turn the plot takes before veering back to the original intention.
The cat characters are each distinct but not well fleshed out. I find I liked each of the characters in their own right but never developed any real empathy for any of them. The main hero acted more as a vehicle for the story than as his own entity and therefore not as relatable as he could have been. The sidekick kitten who turns into a wise, prophetic like cat is a standard trope in fantasy novels and I can’t say that I felt this one was particularly well executed. In fact, there were all the standard high adventure characters – a gruff and wounded companion with a heart of gold, the loveable but in need of guidance warrior cats, the rogue elite rangers who keep to the old ways, the over indulgent royalty who can’t see the danger they’re in, and the gods who walk the earth in the eternal struggle of good and evil.
The world building was rich. Each animal species has it’s own culture, language, history and religious beliefs. How realistically a depiction of what cats, squirrels, or dogs worlds would look like if we had a look into it, I couldn’t really say. Suffice it for me to point out that there is a definite suspension of belief required despite the realistic setting of the story taking place in a realm very similar to our own earth. The lore of the cats is whimsical and enchanting, adding depth to the world itself. It was my favorite part of the book and promised something much larger that was possible in the book.
Overall, the book was well enough written but still obviously showed a lot of growing pain areas. The writing could be verbose. It felt like the story wandered a bit before coming to a not entirely satisfying ending. Like he started out telling one story, was diverted by telling another story, then swooped back to a hurried finish and an open ending to the original story. The characters show promise, so much promise, but relax instead into flimsy characters that fill space rather than enhance it. The high adventure story was well executed with variety and entertainment, expertly showcasing the worldbuilding. I really wanted to like the book more than I did and probably did like it more than was warranted based on the skill with which it was done. The book shows promise, shows a developing talent and a rich imagination. So much so that while I might not recommend the book over say Watership Down or Redwall I would go out of my way to read another book by the author from a later, more developed stage of their career.