An animal fantasy novel
written by Tad Wiliams
, and IMHO
his best piece of work so far, completely lacking his penchant
for extreme wordiness
but still featuring the superb world-building
he's so good at.
Tailchaser is a young cat who's just beginning to get interested in females, notably one named Hushpad. When a number of cats, Hushpad among them, disappear mysteriously, the Meeting Wall clan, to which Tailchaser and Hushpad belong, decides to send a delegation to the Queen of Cats to ask for help. Tailchaser is too young to go, but wants to find Hushpad so badly that he sets out alone. He experiences many adventures that turn him into a quite different cat...
What makes this novel so exceptional is the unique way in which the cats are Anthropomorphized: very little. Of course, they have abstract thoughts and a fully-fledged language, but that's about it. They have no technology, don't use tools, and their culture is some sort of mix between early human society and social and psychological traits that can be observed in cats.
It is quite fascinating to see talking, intelligent cats with a rich oral mythology and a royal court placed without any obvious conflicts in a world that's basically ours, dominated by humans. Of course, the cats seem themselves as the pinnacle of creation and to them, the Big Folk are slightly mysterious, clumsy and sometimes dangerous giants who give food and shelter to cats because they are descended from a cat prince (Ninebirds) who was cursed to serve the Folk (as cats refer to themselves) forever to atone for his arrogance. In fact, there is so little overlap between the doings of the Big Folk and the interests of the Folk that it is nearly impossible to determine in what time the story is set, though it is hinted at that the humans are using asphalt roads.
Apart from this, the story is a mix of Tolkienesque high fantasy, and a classic growing up theme, with likeable and reasonably complex characters. I recommend it highly.