Ratha is a young female in a tribe of intelligent, talking big cats who call themselves The Named. The book follows her growing up & negotiating the tumultuous power struggles of her world.
For some reason, from the brief description I’d read of this series, I expected the characters to feel like ‘aliens’ – but overall, I thought this felt more like an animal story. I’d recommend it more for fans of animal stories than pure sci-fi fans (think Tad Williams’ ‘Tailchaser’s Song’, for example).
The first issue Ratha encounters is a gender issue: she is picked by her mentor to be trained to be a scout, but female cubs are generally not given this training. I felt this aspect of the book was the weakest, as it echoes the many, many, many fantasy books where the young woman has to overcome sexism to follow her dreams. However, in nature, among big cats, female felines are certainly not at all prevented from hunting and scouting. Actually, they are often the main hunters. The author put quite a bit of effort into emphasizing that her characters think ‘like cats’, but I felt that portraying a research-based, inventive feline-influenced society fell by the wayside.
However, I did like the interesting dynamic that Bell sets up between the intelligent cats and the non-talking (non-sentient?) cats. The portrayal of the social confusion, rumors/stereotypes and emotional turmoil this rift causes is done quite nicely.
I also liked the idea of a group of predators discovering the benefits of herding and protecting prey, and enjoyed Ratha’s innovative and fumbling attempts to harness fire for her species’ benefit.
The book follows a plotline of conflict, exile, then return, and allows Ratha growth in maturity and experience along the way. There are 5 books in this series, so there’s plenty to-come after this one for those who want to find out more about Ratha and the fate of her tribe – but this installment ends at a satisfying juncture.
A copy of this book was provided to me by Netgalley and Open Road Media. Many thanks for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.