Sunday, November 25, 2018

44. Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams

Now that's a paperback!
Other than John Christopher's lesser known adult novels, I have found the animal fantasy sub-genre the hardest to track down.  It's weird because it is not that obscure of a sub-genre and even has some all-time classics (Watership Down) and kids hits (the Warriors series).  I've looked for Colin Dann in used bookshops from coast to coast for a decade now and found nothing.  I was very excited to stumble upon Tailchaser's Song at this weird used bookstore on Mont-Royal east here in Montreal (it's just so barebones, with the english paperbacks being in the basement; I can't tell if the stock has ever changed).  Tad Williams is a succesful author in the wider fantasy genre, though this is one of the books he is known for as well.  It wasn't on my list and was the cover that attracted me to it.  It's a good find and definitely falls pretty close to the kind of animal fantasy books I enjoy.

There are many elements in animal fantasy that appeal to me.  The main one is that sense journey and escape in a world that is actually so close to you.  When the animals live entirely in their own world, which becomes in effect its own fantasy setting, I find it somewhat indistinguishable from a non-animal fantasy story.  That is not entirely accurate as even in those kinds of books, the animals behaviours and relation to their environment play a major role in the story and setting (such as The Duncton Wood series).  Still, I prefer it when it is real animals in the real world with humans off to one side while they go and explore the mysteries and threats of that world.

Tailchaser's Song definitely falls into that category.  The protagonist (and hero), Tailchaser is somewhat wild, but still returns to a box on a human porch where he gets fed.  In the nearby wood, there are wild cats that he hangs out with. In particular, he bonds closely with a female cat, Hushpad and when she and her family all disappear he decides to find and rescue her.  This coincides with rumours of strange goings-on farther afield.  Folk (which is how the cats refer to the themselves) from distant communities found slaughtered and other disappearances.  Tailchaser wonders if his friend's dissapearance is connected with that and decides to follow the older tougher cats to Firsthome, where the queen of the cats resides.  Thus starts his adventure.

The locations and the journeying are really top notch.  There is a great map (though so small that I had to photograph it and zoom in with my phone) in the black and white hand drawn fantasy map tradition.  The mythology, culture and society of the cats is rich and interesting, especially the origin story of man (an overly prideful cat who tries to usurp power gets his ass kicked by one of the Firstborn, is stretched and rendered hairless and forced to serve the Folk to the end of time).  Things get really crazy.  Thoroughly enjoyable. It wouldn't be totally unfair to call it a Lord of the Rings with cats, or perhaps just compare it to any classic quest novel (there ends up being a cool party of mismatched characters who each bring something to the table).  There is enough going on here to take it beyond such a simple critique.

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