They say the world of the dark sisters is all shadow and that is why only in the light of moon or flame may they appear in ours. If that were the case, I would never spend a moment in daylight again. I would shun the day and wake only once moonlight or candlelight could call you forth. I would only ever want you by my side, even if that meant I’d never feel the warmth of the sun again. Your presence would be worth any sacrifice. I would wait every day, every night, every heartbeat for you to step forth from your dark world. No matter how long it might take, I would wait. I will wait. I am here. Sister, will you join me?
There and Back Again, or: How The Hobbit Trilogy Let Me Down (and I’m clearly not over it)
So I’m a little late to this particular party (haha, party pun for ya), but having recently reread The Hobbit and finally finished the associated movie trilogy, I need to get some things off my chest. Before I get into all that, though, let’s establish my ring-cred so you understand why I feel so let down. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters when I was in eighth grade and I, along with many of my friends, was immediately obsessed. I probably saw it ten or fifteen times in theaters and attended the midnight releases of the second and third movies in costume. My friends and I religiously attended our local Lord of the Rings (LOTR) convention and were so well known in the fantasy con/renaissance faire circuit that everyone called us The Fellowship. My room was filled with LOTR posters, figurines, replicas, games, books, trading cards, and just about every other related thing I could beg my parents to purchase. I even had a LOTR-themed birthday party with a buffet spread of which any hobbit would be proud. So when I say I was a fan, I mean it – and I still am. My wife and I routinely quote the books/movies and I’m currently rereading the trilogy. Hell, I took a LOTR-themed writing class in college! What I’m saying is, this is a love that will never die. I am loyal to LOTR until the end.
All that being said… I was supremely disappointed with the Hobbit movies. In fact, I was so disappointed by the first two that I didn’t even see the third one in theaters (sacrilege!). I rewatched them recently hoping to change my mind, thinking perhaps my expectations had just been too high the first time around, but my opinion remains the same: they’re just not good movies. And believe me, it truly pains me to admit that. I feel like I’m betraying a piece of my childhood merely by offering criticism where criticism is justly deserved. Maybe cloaked figures will show up at my door in the middle of the night to whisk me away to Mordor, or other fantasy fans will cross the street to avoid passing by me, yet still I have to speak this truth no matter how it breaks my geeky heart.
Many critics have already dissected the movies’ main weak points – mediocre special effects, bloated plots, and unnecessarily lengthy action scenes to name a few – so I won’t repeat them here, but all of these issues lead back to what I believe is the real flaw in the trilogy: its creators just tried too hard to recapture a magic that can’t be forced. You see this with many popular franchises that have become very dead and very beaten horses (like my beloved Jurassic Park, alas!), so it’s obviously an easy pit into which creators frequently stumble. The thought process seems to be something along the lines of, “They liked what we did last time, let’s just do that again exactly the same way” without actually considering what they did and why it was so successful. Sequels in these franchises become copy/paste plots with so many allusions to the previous movies that even the most faithful fan grows tired of being pandered to. We don’t want old characters and old plots dressed up in different outfits, we want new characters and new adventures!
The Hobbit trilogy tries so damn hard to be dark and edgy like LOTR and it just doesn’t work. It’s obvious the creators threw the book out the window, along with its humor and lighthearted vibe, and just pasted Bilbo and co. into the LOTR framework. All of our heroes are updated with tragic backstories and noble, selfless motives: Thorin becomes the burdened, exiled prince trying to save his remaining people, Bard is now a widower forced to smuggle so he can care for his young children, and the dwarf who falls in love with an elf (because every movie needs a star-crossed romance) is somehow stabbed with a morgul arrow so his lovely lady can dramatically save his life in the nick of time. It’s just all so cookie-cutter obvious and feels like LOTR played out with different actors. They even managed to shove Legolas in there because why not? We definitely need another ten-minute action scene of Legolas shooting arrows and surfing on vines.
There’s no heart in The Hobbit. I don’t doubt that it was a labor of love, of course, because you can’t produce a movie trilogy that complex without people who love what they’re doing, but it lacks the essential magic that made the first trilogy so captivating. The action scenes feel meaningless, primarily because there are so fucking many of them that you become oversaturated with the constant high-stakes drama, and the plot bits in between feel too repetitive to be truly engaging. By the third movie this horse is not only dead and beaten but practically unrecognizable as a once-living creature. All you really want to do now is kick some dirt over the remains and leave. And that sucks, honestly, because I went into this trilogy ready to renew my obsession with a childhood passion and yet came out of it feeling… well, tired, mostly. Like butter scraped over too much bread, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t really have a point to this rant; I mostly needed to get it out of my head so I would stop harassing my friends about it. I just… I really love the LOTR universe and I strongly believe The Hobbit could be made into a fantastic movie. By pandering to the box office, though, we missed out on that potential awesomeness and instead got a LOTR prequel trilogy that didn’t really add anything to the franchise. There’s probably a good metaphor here about what happens when you’re driven by money (*cough* gold *cough*) instead of a more noble desire, but I’m ready to bury this horse once and for all. Rest in peace, mellon.
Another year, another read list! And a great year it was with a mix of historical fiction, nonfiction, and a lot of revisiting books (mostly of the comic or fantasy persuasion) from my shelves that haven’t gotten any love in a long while. I didn’t read as much queer fiction as I usually do, but I made up for that with a good haul of queer comics. The highlight of the year was obviously Patrick O’Brian’s age of sail series lovingly dubbed by fans as the “Aubreyad” or the “Aubrey/Maturin novels”, which I already gushed about here.
- The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian
- Desolation Island – Patrick O’Brian
- One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns Series #2) – Kendare Blake
- The Fortune of War – Patrick O’Brian
- The Surgeon’s Mate – Patrick O’Brian
- It Devours! A Welcome to Night Vale novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- The Young Queens (Three Dark Crowns Novella) – Kendare Blake
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 – Gillen McKelvie
- The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 2 – Bryan Konietzko
- The Ionian Mission – Patrick O’Brian
- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
- Treason’s Harbour – Patrick O’Brian
- The Far Side of the World – Patrick O’Brian
- They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera
- Meditation for Beginners: Techniques for Awareness, Mindfulness, & Relaxation – Stephanie Clement
- Tarot Spreads and Layouts- Jeanne Fiorini
- The Reverse of the Medal – Patrick O’Brian
- Bingo Love – Tee Franklin and Jenn St-onge
- The Letter of Marque – Patrick O’Brian
- Heathen: Volume One – Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering
- Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan – Zack Davisson
- I Was the Cat – Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey
- Love is Love – IDW Publishing
- Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Burman
- My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness – Nagata Kabi
- The Biography of Goddess Inanna; Indomitable Queen of Heaven, Earth, and Almost Everything – Sandra Bart Heimann
- All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages – Saundra Mitchell et. al.
- Nagasaki: The Massacre of the Innocent and Unknowing – Craig Collie
- The Thirteen Gun Salute – Patrick O’Brian
- Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident – Donnie Eichar
- The Oracle Queen: A Three Dark Crowns Novella – Kendare Blake
- Circe: A Novel – Madeline Miller
- The Nutmeg of Consolation – Patrick O’Brian
- The Truelove – Patrick O’Brian
- The Wine-Dark Sea – Patrick O’Brian
- The Commodore – Patrick O’Brian
- Titanic: A Very Deceiving Night – Tim Maltin
- The Yellow Admiral – Patrick O’Brian
- The Hundred Days – Patrick O’Brian
- Yurei: The Japanese Ghost – Zack Davisson
- Band vs Band: Volume 1 – Kathleen Jacques
- Band vs Band: Volume 2 – Kathleen Jacques
- The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens – Morgan Daimler
- The Runes – Horik Svensson
- I Am a Cat – Soseki Natsume
- Blue at the Mizzen – Patrick O’Brian
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 1: The Faust Act – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 2: Fandemonium – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 3: Commercial Suicide – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 4: Rising Action – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 – Kieron Gillen
- Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk – Morgan Daimler
- Black Sun Rising – C.S. Friedman
- Locke and Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 2: Head Games – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 5: Clockworks – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 6: Alpha and Omega – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt – Yekaterina Barbash
- When True Night Falls – C.S. Friedman
- Crown of Shadows – C.S Friedman
- Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist – Katie West
- Flesh and Spirit – Carol Berg
- Breath and Bone – Carol Berg
- The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide Vol 1: Book of Saturn – Coby Michael Ward
- Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns Series #3) – Kendare Blake
- Nine Princes in Amber (The Chronicles of Amber Book 1) – Roger Zelazny
- The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide Vol 2: Book of Mercury – Coby Michael Ward
- The Guns of Avalon (The Chronicles of Amber Book 2) – Roger Zelazny
- Sign of the Unicorn (The Chronicles of Amber Book 3) – Roger Zelazny
- The Hand of Oberon (The Chronicles of Amber Book 4) – Roger Zelazny
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 7: Mothering Invention – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- The Courts of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber Book 5) – Roger Zelazny
- Sister Light, Sister Dark (Book 1 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Transformation (Rai Kirah Book 1) – Carol Berg
- Revelation (Rai Kirah Book 2) – Carol Berg
- White Jenna (Book 2 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Restoration (Rai Kirah Book 3) – Carol Berg
- Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny
- Eye of Cat – Roger Zelazny
- The Dream Master – Roger Zelazny
- The One-Armed Queen (Book 3 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
- Unicorn Variations – Roger Zelazny
- A Night in the Lonesome October – Roger Zelazny
- The Ritual – Adam Nevill
- A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories – Ray Bradbury
Reading Master and Commander, or: Meet Your New Fandom
Last winter my father told me to read Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. This might not seem very odd or momentous to you, but my father has been dead for eleven years. However, when I dreamed of us walking through a bookstore, looking for this exact title, I took the hint and grabbed the book off his shelf where the series has sat untouched all that time. I figured even if I didn’t like the book, I would read it in his honor and move on. Certainly I wasn’t going to attempt reading the entire 20-book series! I know next to nothing about the Napoleonic Wars, the British navy circa 1800, or Georgian society – while I might like the book okay, I just couldn’t imagine liking it enough to read the rest. So I started it with some trepidation… …and then my mind exploded and I developed a new and undeniably intense obsession. Hello, new fandom!
I’m here now to pass on the favor by telling you why you should read what is quite possibly the best western historical fiction of the 20th century, if not western fiction in general. But let’s start at the beginning. I’m betting most of you have no idea who Patrick O’Brian is or what Master and Commander is about, but you may know more than you think. Remember Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, that boat movie that came out in the early 2000s, the one with Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany as BFFs Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin? If you don’t, ask your dad – I think the movie is required viewing for all fathers. Either way, I will try with my mediocre literary powers to convince you why you should read this entire series right now. So here we go!
Master and Commander throws us into a world at war – it’s the year 1800 and Napoleon is fucking shit up all over Europe, much to the chagrin of the British Navy and her allies. Against this historical backdrop we are taken all across the world, from the icy waters of the Arctic to the blazing deserts of Africa, from the prim and proper society of Georgian England to deserted tropical islands beset by pirates, and everywhere in between. Many books take you to other places but this series does so with a depth of detail and historical accuracy that will leave you feeling like an expert historian.
But I don’t know anything about that time period! you say. Never fear! You don’t particularly need to. Look, high school history class failed me too – I know more about Napoleon from Assassin’s Creed: Unity than I do from any teacher I’ve ever had. Thankfully O’Brian understands the need for accessibility and flawlessly weaves any necessary explanations or information into the text in a way that educates without boring. As for the immense amount of nautical terms thrown back and forth, the reader is comforted in knowing Stephen Maturin has no idea what they mean either. However, I promise you that upon completing the series you could convince anyone that you’re an expert in early 19th century naval history, social status and etiquette, biology, ornithology, entomology, hydrography, naturalism, mathematics, astronomy, religion, medicine, imperialism and colonialism, and just about any other topic you could think of. The amount of research O’Brian had to do to make these books so believable is absolutely mind boggling.
This series is most commonly referred to as the “Aubrey/Maturin novels” or the “Aubreyad”, as the two main characters are naval captain Jack Aubrey and doctor/naturalist/spy Stephen Maturin. Theirs is one of the most beautiful, realistic, and enduring friendships I’ve encountered in any form of media and forms the true heart of the series. These two are such utter dorks that you can’t help but fall in love with them and turn eagerly to their next set of adventures.
On the outside Jack Aubrey is an ambitious naval captain who passionately loves the navy, his crew, and doing anything to foil Britain’s enemies by sea. On deck he’s a dashing master of his ship, called “Lucky Jack Aubrey” for his skill in battle and his frequent taking of prize ships. He bears a number of nasty scars as evidence of his firm belief that a captain must lead, not direct from the sidelines as his men head into danger. Even more, Jack is a man who sees the silver lining in every bad situation and always manages a smile in the face of danger or disaster. His seemingly endless fount of optimism endears him to the reader immediately, especially since we are offered glimpses of the emotional turmoil beneath which he hides not from pride but from the necessity of leadership. I would sail into battle with this man in a heartbeat.
On the inside, however, Jack Aubrey is a big squishy teddy bear and the king of dad jokes (even before he becomes a father). This man finds puns so funny that he laughs at his own before he says them, and laughs even when he can’t think of one to fit the situation. He’s just so tickled by puns and it’s adorable. He’s also quite fond of food and good alcohol, as well as a talented amateur violinist and astronomer. Jack appears at first like our usual dashing hero, eager for battle and flirting with all the pretty ladies, but this James Bond facade masks a dorky, good-humored man with a heart of gold who loves his family and friends fiercely. I love him so much it hurts.
On the outside Stephen Maturin is a singularly intelligent and talented surgeon and famed naturalist with a focus on ornithology (i.e. a huge fucking dork). He’s the most hopeless landlubber ever to fall into the ocean while trying to board a ship, his mastery of multiple languages no help when it comes to naval jargon, and the crew of the HMS Surprise has to constantly keep him from dying at sea. Stephen will go to extreme lengths to observe a particularly interesting bird and can happily monologue for hours about a new species of beetle. He’s your classic nerd: cranky, socially and physically awkward, unkempt, and simultaneously unbelievably smart and totally oblivious to everything around him. He’s everything I want to be.
On the inside, however, Stephen is a man driven by love of his home countries, Ireland and Catalonia, and his resulting abhorrence of all forms of colonialism and oppression, especially slavery. This leads him to become a valuable member of Britain’s spy network to stop Napoleon. Few characters know his secret but the reader is gifted with insight into Stephen’s activities and we come to understand just how dangerous an enemy he can be and how valuable an ally. Stephen’s nerdiness and clumsiness lead to some of the best laughs in the series, yet he can be colder and scarier than any other character. What he is at his core is a good man driven by higher principles and a truly exceptional love for weird birds.
Jack and Stephen might have stolen my heart by the end of the first paragraph (in which they get into a fight at a musical concert because Jack won’t stop air conducting), but the secondary characters are where this series truly outshines its contemporaries. Every single side character is as richly developed and complex as our protagonists and will capture your heart just as easily. From Jack’s loyal crew and officers to Stephen’s odd collection of wayward souls (many of whom are ex-slaves), both men manage to form an extended family of lovable and loving characters. One of my personal favorites is Tom Pullings, one of Jack’s young officers whom we watch grow from little midshipmen to captain of his own ship. His utter adoration for Jack is so sweet it makes me want to throw my book across the room:
“…All except for Pullings, who had the watch, and was walking the quarterdeck with his hands behind his back, pacing in as close an imitation of Captain Aubrey as his form could manage, and remembering, every now and then, to look stern, devilish, as like a right tartar as possible, in spite of his bubbling happiness.”
I know what you’re thinking. That’s great, but this just isn’t my genre. I know I’m gonna be bored. I need magic/sci-fi/paranormal-whatever. And you know what? That is FALSE. Look, I have extremely high standards for my fiction and while I’m a sci-fi/fantasy girl at heart, I’m drawn primarily these days to queer speculative fiction. Historical fiction set in 18th century England is not at all my cup of tea (pun intended)… or so I thought. But please understand the gravity of the following statement:
I have never read a more beautiful, well-written work of fiction than this series in my entire life.
It’s true! In just one book Patrick O’Brian surpassed Ray Bradbury as my Biggest Writing Hero Ever and every single book in the series is as fantastic as the next – how often does that happen? The prose is flawless, at once accessible and laden with historical accuracy, a fast-paced read rich with minute detail. What O’Brian does best, though, is his weaving of subtle humor into every scene; a reader paying close attention is rewarded with some truly humorous, one might even say silly, little scenes and asides. I have to share my two favorites, though they’re a little long:
“The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. ‘Try a piece of this, old cock,’ he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. ‘It might put a little heart into you.’ The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.
Some minutes later he felt a touch on his knee; the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog; growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying towards the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl and would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink. Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.
“In this bucket,” said Stephen, walking into the cabin, “in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London and Paris combined: these animalculae – what is the matter with the sloth?” It was curled on Jack’s knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack’s glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable, bleary face, shoot it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.
Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, “Jack, you have debauched my sloth.””
And from the very first book in the series…
“‘I was contemplating on the Pongo,’ Stephen said aloud as the door opened and Jack walked in with a look of eager expectation, carrying a roll of music.
‘I am sure you were,’ cried Jack. ‘A damned creditable thing to be contemplating on, too. Now be a good fellow and take your other foot out of that basin—why on earth did you put it in?—and pull on your stockings, I beg. We have not a moment to lose. No, not blue stockings: we are going on to Mrs Harte’s party—to her rout.’
‘Must I put on silk stockings?’
‘Certainly you must put on silk stockings. And do show a leg, my dear chap: we shall be late, without you spread a little more canvas.’
‘You are always in such a hurry,’ said Stephen peevishly, groping among his possessions. A Montpellier snake glided out with a dry rustling sound and traversed the room in a series of extraordinarily elegant curves, its head held up some eighteen inches above the ground.
‘Oh, oh, oh,’ cried Jack, leaping on to a chair. ‘A snake!’
‘Will these do?’ asked Stephen. ‘They have a hole in them.’
‘Is it poisonous?’
‘Extremely so. I dare say it will attack you, directly. I have very little doubt of it. Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted stockings, sure the hole would not show: but then, I should stifle with heat. Do not you find it uncommonly hot?’
‘Oh, it must be two fathoms long. Tell me, is it really poisonous? On your oath now?’
‘If you thrust your hand down its throat as far as its back teeth you may meet a little venom; but not otherwise. Malpolon monspessulanus is a very innocent serpent. I think of carrying a dozen aboard, for the rats—ah, if only I had more time, and if it were not for this foolish, illiberal persecution of reptiles … What a pitiful figure you do cut upon that chair, to be sure. Barney, Barney, buck or doe, Has kept me out of Channel Row,’ he sang to the serpent; and, deaf as an adder though it was, it looked happily into his face while he carried it away.”
Also, there’s literally a chapter in one book where our heroes escape from France by buying a recently skinned bear, turning it into a costume, and tricking everyone into believing Stephen is a traveling entertainer and Jack is his pet bear. They walk hundreds of miles to the freedom of the Spanish border over harsh terrain, sometimes acting for pennies in the town square, as Jack just suffers in this stuffy, slowly spoiling meat suit and no one suspects a thing. IT’S THE BEST.
These books aren’t just about laughs, though. They elicit emotions across the spectrum from joy to sorrow, anger to triumph, disbelief to nerve-wracking anticipation. They utterly captivate the reader from page one – twenty books won’t be enough once you get caught up in the Aubreyad! I’ve never read a series that made me want to simultaneously hug and throw my books as often as this series and I truly will be bereft when I finish the last book. This is a stunning example of “genre” fiction raised to the very heights of literature and a must-read for anyone who appreciates complex characterization and masterful prose. You will not be disappointed, I can absolutely promise you that.
Top 10 Fiction Books with Feline Main Characters
If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a cat person. Next to queer literature, cat literature is probably the genre I read most. When it comes to cat fiction I’ve read a good number of the non-children’s books out there and so I know the genre has some real hidden gems. Therefore, I want to share my top ten cat books so other cat lovers out there can check them out!
10. Warriors – Erin Hunter
If the immensely popular cat series Warriors had existed when I was a kid it would have been my number one obsession. Even as an adult the books hold a certain charm despite being marketed to readers less than half my age. The first set of six books center around Rusty, a pet kitten who finds himself thrown into the world of the “clans” – tribes of feral cats who live in unsteady alliance in the forest beyond his home. Our protagonist desperately wants to leave his comfy “housepet” life and become a warrior, cats who defend their clans and are therefore respected and admired. But is there more to this majestic, adventurous life than meets our young hero’s eye? You’ll have to find out for yourself!
These books can feel a little formulaic after a while, but characterization and action keep them interesting and the first six, which compose the first main plot line, are quite worth your reading time. Despite being aimed at young readers, though, these books have some gruesome and painful moments. The life of a feral cat isn’t easy, and the books thankfully don’t sugarcoat this issue too much. They’re a good balance of whimsy, reality, and that special something that all animal books seem to share.
The first book in the series is Warriors: Into the Wild.
9. Ghatti’s Tale – Gayle Greeno
Remember in the late 80s and early 90s when fantasy novels went through that popular phase of having human characters bonded with magical animals? And it was amazing because who doesn’t want to communicate telepathically with their animal BFF? Well, this craze produced the Ghatti series, which involves the bonding of humans stranded on the planet Methuen with alien creatures which look like very large housecats. These creatures, called ghatti, can read human minds in order to sense emotions, deception, etc. Bonded pairs therefore have become an integral part of society called Seekers, traveling from town to town to solve disputes and crimes. This first trilogy follows the human Doyce and her ghatta Khar’pern, who are being targeted by an unknown force hostile to the Seekers. Detailed world-building and loveable characters round out an interesting and well-executed sci-fi/fantasy concept in this series, one that fans of similar books like The Heralds of Valdemar with come to love as well.
The first book in the original trilogy is Finders-Seekers.
8. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
Here’s a little factoid about me: Homeward Bound always makes me cry. Always. I can probably make myself cry just thinking about it, honestly. I can’t even watch the scene when Sassy goes over the waterfall, even though I know she’ll be okay. So I was a little nervous about reading The Incredible Journey, the book on which the movie is based. I’m pretty sure the book made me cry too, but it was so worth the read. The animals don’t talk like our trio in the movie, but the book still captures their personalities, determination, and the magnitude of their adventure. The Incredible Journey is a must-read for anyone who likes the movie, and is a powerful (if fictional) testament to the devotion of our beloved pets.
7. Catfantastic – ed. Andre Norton
In the 80s and 90s anthologies called “[insert noun]+fantastic” seemed to be very popular in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Of these series, Catfantastic was obviously the best because it was about cats. The collection of five anthologies features sci-fi/fantasy stories from a variety of well-known authors who approach the feline subject in a myriad of ways. Unlike other anthologies, many of the stories in the Catfantastic books build on earlier stories, giving readers a chance to revisit favorite characters and settings. Like all good anthologies, the stories in these books run the gamut from humor to horror, hard sci-fi to high fantasy, and everything in between. They’re hidden jewels you’re likely to find in your local used book store; if not, you can get them off Amazon for real cheap. Totally worth the cost of shipping, I promise!
The first book in the series is Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales.
6. Yeshua’s Cats – C.L. Francisco
You’re wary of that title, aren’t you? You’re wondering why I, proud pagan and (newbie) witch, am reading Christian fiction. Well, obviously because it has cats in it and you can’t be too picky about your cat fiction. I’m so, so glad I have this series a chance though. The first book in the Yeshua’s Cats series is told from the point of view of a cat named Mari who is healed by Yeshua after a vicious dog attack. She then travels with him for many years, including the year of his crucifixion. Through her we see the (obviously fictional) origins of a lot of his teachings, and the Yeshua painted by C. L. Francisco is one of immense patience, love, and understanding. The book is beautiful, touching, and at times heart-wrenching, as are all of its sequels/prequels. There are currently five books in the series, some focusing on other cats whose lives have been touched in some way by Yeshua, and I’ve loved each one.
Before you ask, the books really aren’t that preachy. As a follower of Bast, I was highly sensitive to anything in the books that felt judgmental of pagan religions and was overall pretty satisfied with how other religions are handled in the books. The “mother goddess” believed in by the cats of this world is explained as simply a different face of the Christian god, instead of something fake or demonic. This is still Christian fiction, of course, so it’s not entirely free of Christian themes, but I think non-Christian cat lovers will still enjoy these books and appreciate this particular cat-loving depiction of Jesus.
The first book in the series is The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat.
5. Tomorrow’s Sphinx – Clare Bell
Tomorrow’s Sphinx is a rare book, even when used, but so worth tracking down. I probably checked it out from the library a hundred times as a kid; some scenes from it are forever branded in my mind. The book is set on a far future earth and follows Kichebo, a black cheetah whose unnatural coloring causes her to become alienated from her family. When she discovers an abandoned human toddler and chooses to care for the creature, she’s thrown into a strange psychic link between herself and another black cheetah – one living during the reign of Tutankhamen. Kichebo must understand how and why this bond exists while protecting her new cub not only from other predators, but from the strange creatures in the sky.
Tomorrow’s Sphinx sounds super weird when you try to explain the plot, but it comes together masterfully in a strange, beautiful tale of the bonds possible between human and animal. If you get the opportunity, give this book a chance; you won’t regret it.
4. The Named – Clare Bell
Clare Bell is on this list twice for a good reason: her books capture the essential wildness of big cats while establishing feline characters and societies as believable as our own. She is probably most known for her Named series, books set on an unspecified planet during a prehistoric age in which the top species are not humans but large, highly intelligent cats who call themselves the Named. The series follows Ratha, a young adult who is banished from her clan when she accidentally discovers how to tend and wield fire – what she calls her “creature”. Her journey will take her to very dark places, both physically and emotionally, but she will come to lead the Named into a new era. For a book about prehistoric cats, this series manages to touch on a variety of different issues such as xenophobia, PTSD, abuse, betrayal and forgiveness, mental illness, and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. These books are absolutely a must-read for any cat lover – but I’m warning you now, you’re gonna cry.
The first book in The Named series is Ratha’s Creature.
3. Varjak Paw – S.F. Said
You know how you sometimes read a children’s book as an adult and think “this is way more disturbing than it should be”? That’s Varjak Paw. The book is aimed at third through seventh graders, but the content is creepy enough (including the illustrations!) to not only satisfy an adult reader, but to help it stand out among its competition. Varjak Paw tells the story of young Varjak, a kitten who lives with his family in an idealic house away from the rest of the world. However, when a threatening gentleman takes over the care of the cats, Varjak escapes the house to find help and winds up in the middle of a mystery bigger than anything he could imagine. He must use the newfound powers given to him by his ancestor and the assistance of an unlikely group of friends to save his family and all the cats who have been disappearing without a trace.
Varjak Paw is book one of the duology; be sure to check out its sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, which is a direct continuation of the events in the first book. Varjak is an unforgettable protagonist who will have you cheering for him from page one.
2. Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
If you’re a cat lover, you knew this book would be on the list. And it deserves to be; it’s a beautiful, heartfelt story that masterfully weaves fantasy, horror, and adventure into a tale worthy of Tolkien or C.S Lewis. Fritti Tailchaser, our courageous young hero, goes on a quest to find his friend after she disappears. Much like Varjak, Tailchaser uncovers a mystery much bigger than any could have expected – one that will have him facing off with the gods themselves to save his very species.
Like many of the other books on this list, Tailchaser’s Song is partly so engaging because it builds us an entire world for our feline protagonists. The book includes vocabulary, religion, and social etiquette unique to the cats of this world that feel completely real. Despite being thrown into an entirely different society from the first page, the reader lands on their feet (pun intended) and becomes entirely immersed in the fantasy world Tad Williams is building.
I utterly love this book, but it does come with a warning: it has some seriously dark themes and several disturbing scenes. It’s a hard read sometimes, but one that will leave you in that perfect post-book daze.
1. The Wild Road – Gabriel King
I’ve seen this book compared to Watership Down, which is fair in the sense that they are both sweeping epics focusing on the lives of everyday animals and both are astoundingly good. The Wild Road, however, employs fantasy elements in a way which Watership Down does not, making it more comparable to Tailchaser’s Song. Also like Tailchaser’s Song, this book is dark. Not just dark for a kid’s book, I mean DARK dark. It deals with the topic of animal experimentation, after all, and the villain known only as the Alchemist is as evil as they come. However, the blend of fantasy and horror, combined with an unforgettable ragtag group of animals who must band together to stop the Alchemist, makes this book beautifully heart-wrenching in all the right ways. Like Tailchaser and Varjak Paw, little Tag must leave the safety of his home to save a world he knows nothing about – and to do so he will grow and change in so many ways.
The Wild Road is my #1 absolutely must read cat book. Definitely read its sequel, The Golden Cat, as well to see how the story plays out.
Caution: Apparently two more books came out in the series last year, much to my surprise. They have no reviews on Amazon, though, and seem to focus on human characters with pet cats, so… read at your own risk, I guess. Seems fishy to me. The first two books are AMAZING, though, and you should probably end there.
Honorable mention: The Unadoptables – Margaret Chiavetta
I promote this fledgling webcomic on every social media site possible because it deserves so much more attention and acclaim that it receives. The story centers on a cat cafe where all the resident cats are up for adoption. The twist, however, is that the cats are what most people would consider “unadoptable” in some way; too sick, too old, too aloof, pair bonded, etc. The story follows both the cats and the humans who run the cafe, where all are hopeful that the next visitor will take one of the kitties home. The cats are all loveable characters in their own way, of course, but the human characters shine as well (and are some great POC representation, too) and in general the comic gives you a lot of warm fuzzy feelings. It has its tenser moments, though, as you’ll see if you check out the first story arc!
Check out The Unadoptables and consider supporting them on Patreon to get a sneak peek at new pages, character designs, and other cool behind-the-scenes stuff!
Think another cat book should be on this list? Let me know, I want to read all of the cat books that ever existed!
2017 wasn’t my best reading year ever; I blame that whole planning-a-wedding thing. Still, I managed to read a total of 65 books (okay, books AND comics), including 31 with queer characters or content and 42 by non-male authors. Also, I read Atlas Shrugged, which I think should be counted as a feat unto itself (it’s good! but also hella looooong).
- Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Berman
- Bedtime Stories for Cats – Leigh Anne Jasheway
- Catfantastic Vol. 2 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Catfantastic Vol. 3 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics – Jason Porath
- Your Magickal Cat: Feline Magic, Lore, and Worship – Gerina Dunwich
- Great Speeches on Gay Rights – Ed. James Daley
- Catfantastic Vol. 4 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Catfantastic Vol. 5 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
- Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – Ed. A M Dellamonica and Steve Berman
- The King of the Cats and Other Feline Fairy Tales – ed. John Richard Stephens
- The Tribe of Tiger – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
- Summer in Orcus – T. Kingfisher
- Mystery Cats – ed. Lilian Jackson Braun & Patricia Highsmith
- Toad Words and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
- The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry – ed. Rose Lemberg
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
- A Song of War: A Novel of Troy – Stephanie Thornton et. al.
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories – Susanna Clarke
- Keeper of the Dawn – Dianna Gunn
- Arcane Perfection – ed. Pat Mosley, et. al.
- An Alphabet of Embers: An Anthology of Unclassifiables – ed. Rose Lemberg
- Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
- A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion – E. Knight et. al.
- Watership Down – Richard Adams
- Jackalope Wives and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
- Paradise Lost – John Milton
- The Wicked and the Divine, Book 5: Imperial Phase I – Kieron Gillen
- Summerwode (The Wode Book 4) – J Tullos Hennig
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M Danforth
- The First Time She Drowned – Kerry Kletter
- Iron Peter: A Year in the Mythopoetic Life of New York City – Charles Ortleb
- Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Dreadnought: Nemesis Book 1 – April Daniels
- The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
- Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
- Scourge of the Righteous Haddock – Ashley Schwellenbach
- The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1 – Irene Koh et. al.
- The Wheel Diver – Ashley Schwellenbach
- Through the Woods – Emily Carroll
- Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Lumberjanes Vol 2: Friendship to the Max! – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 3: A Terrible Plan – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 4: Out of Time – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Mystery of the White Lions: Children of the Sun God – Linda Tucker
- Lumberjanes Vol 5: Band Together – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
- Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat – Gwen Cooper
- Journey from Yesterday – Roma Niles Burke
- Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami – Gretel Erhlich
- The Cold Commands (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- Psychic Abilities for Beginners: Awaken Your Intuitive Senses – Melanie Barnum
- How To Meet & Work with Spirit Guides – Ted Andrews
- Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
- The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic – Osho
- Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian
- H.M.S Surprise – Patrick O’Brian
- Yeshua’s Loom: A Tapestry of Cats (Yeshua’s Cats Book 5) – C L Francisco
- The Essential Rumi – trans. Coleman Barks
Flame-foot, farthest walker
Your hunter speaks
In need he walks
In need but never in fear”
– First-Walker prayer, Tailchaser’s Song
As Fritti Tailchaser spoke this prayer into the darkness of his final moments, goosebumps crept up my arms. Though ancient texts do not name Tangaloor Firefoot or his brothers as children of Kemet’s Bast, in the moment I read that passage Her presence was overwhelming. I felt compelled to memorize the prayer, should I ever need to call on Lord Tangaloor’s aid, and I have been mentally repeating it like a mantra for days. I can’t seem to let it go; its words slip over my tongue like prayer beads and bring me as much comfort.
The experience has me considering the role fiction can play in our worship, and in the wills of the gods themselves. After all, the gods speak to us in myriad ways. If we listen, we find their messages are everywhere, in forms and faces we might not expect. I think it is thus with Bast, who can be found in the religion of the felines in Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams) and the creation myth in The Wild Road (Gabriel King). Rereading these books as an adult, I finally recognize Bast’s purposeful influence in these stories. Their authors are extremely talented, and I don’t mean to say they couldn’t invent such a story on their own, but Her role is too obvious for me to overlook. When I mentally smack my head for not realizing the connection sooner, I hear Her gentle laughter. She made these stories come into being. She wanted them to be read. She wants them to mean something to me. They feel like scripture, like missing pieces, but I can’t yet figure out where they fit. If my thoughts seem scattered and incomplete, it’s because they are. I’m going mostly by feeling, here.
Below are the creation stories from both Tailchaser’s Song and The Wild Road. I feel compelled to preserve them somewhere, to make them available to other followers of Bast. Do with them what you will – and let me know if you feel the same power within their lines as I do. Luck dancing, friends!