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Review © 1998 T. M. Wagner.
Book cover art by Braldt Bralds.



Tailchaser's Song, one of about six billion and three cat fantasies the genre has seen in the last decade or so, is a smartly crafted tale that is noteworthy for being Williams' debut, as well as the fact it was DAW's first hardcover release. That they bestowed this honor upon an absolute newbie was quite the vote of confidence, and clearly it paid off, if Williams' career today is any indication. Upon its release, I can recall critics tripping over themselves to see who could be the first to compare it to Richard Adams' classic Watership Down, but in fact, this novel's influences are more immediate than that, tapping quite freely into the high adventure legacy of Spielberg and Lucas. If you can envision a PG-13 cross between The Secret of NIMH and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, that should also give you a good idea of what to expect.

Here we meet Fritti Tailchaser, a young tomcat of the Meeting Wall Clan, a group of cats who take their name from the fact they, well, meet by a wall. A meeting is called by the elders, who are alarmed by the fact that some cats have been vanishing without a trace. One of these is Hushpad, Tailchaser's betrothed, and this gives our fluffy hero a personal stake in the crisis. Quickly, a delegation (excluding Tailchaser) is rounded up to go to Firsthome, the feline stronghold located deep in a distant forest, to alert the court to the disappearances. Tailchaser, however, decides to forego all that red tape and sets off on his own to find Hushpad. Faster than you can say "Morris," he's in over his scratchable head.

Williams requires a level of suspension of disbelief from his readers more akin to what you'd need going into a Disney film, as opposed to what you'd need reading, for instance, Richard Adams. His cats are very heavily anthropomorphized, despite the real-world setting of the tale. This isn't a real problem, it's just something you need to be aware of going in. His cats have a complex, somewhat medieval society, with a rigid heirarchy of class, and it seems difficult to imagine (even some of the characters comment upon this) cats living by the hundreds in a big colony like Williams has them doing in Firsthome. It's also a little hard to picture cats "singing and dancing" at a "festival." Unless, of course, you give yourself over totally to imaginative whimsy.

Anyway. Once Tailchaser arrives at Firsthome, he finds the feline queen lazy and useless, but the prince at least a go-getter. Still Tailchaser doesn't really get anything much in the way of support, so he and his companions — Pouncequick the kitten, and Roofshadow, a young ladycat from Firsthome who has suffered a similar personal loss — continue north, where to their horror they encounter the Vastnir Mound, a patch of evil erupting from the ground. Nasty black red-clawed cats capture Tailchaser and Pouncequick, and haul them underground, to confront the dark Grizraz Hearteater, who is preparing to break free from his centuries of subterranean imprisonment and waylay the world.

Here, unfortunately, is where all the cat lovers going gooey over all the cute cat hijinx are going to find the litterbox pulled out from under them. Once inside the mound, torture and mayhem hold sway, and it all gets pretty violent; horror, blood and death are everywhere. Which is effective storytelling to be sure, but not the sort of thing one might expect from a quaint domestic animal fantasy. We get to see, among other things, live dogs hauled under the mound by the evil cats and eviscerated for food. Yikes! Maybe some cat fanciers will see this as some kind of in-joke, but again, readers savoring cuteness with, at worst, the level of conflict experienced in that pig movie Babe, are likely to be freaked out. Still, this isn't anything on the order of a plot flaw that damages the novel's success as a story; it simply involves a clash with preconceptions for which readers need to be prepped, that's all. Tailchaser's Song is indeed a rousing good-vs-evil tale that will involve you thoroughly, and Williams' splendid plotting is evident in the smallest things he does, such as the ironic but utterly satisfying denouement. Though there was certainly room to give Tailchaser's Song a sequel, I'm glad Williams resisted the temptation and moved on to bigger (boy, are they ever bigger) things. This novel stands, head and whiskers, in a class by itself.