Mercedes Lackey has written over fifty books in the last twenty years. Having written only one, very mediocre book in ten years I can appreciate that this is a significant amount of work that she has accomplished. She has co-authored a significant number of those books and has a large fan base of people who find her books charming and wonderful.
I had a slightly less grand experience. The story, in itself was good enough. What I think bothered me most was the lack of editing that went into the book. There were multiple typos on every page, sometimes entire words were missing. This could be the fault of the publisher for sloppy typesetting or any number of things and I could have overlooked them if there weren’t so many other things that could have also been fixed by a few attentive edits.
The word ‘indeed’ was used so often that it started to sound funny in that way that words that you repeat over and over do, and there were a lot of over-written sentences that could have used a generous helping of editorial chopping. Of particular frustration was the exhaustive use of narrative exposition. Usually out of nowhere the history of a street or person who had never been mentioned before would have a three or four page background given in the middle of a conversation. Detail and exposition are tricky things. They have to be woven into stories so that the reader either doesn’t know that it’s there or doesn’t mind. Miss Lackey just pulls it out like the worst of movie narrators and throws down a boring background story. Characters thoughts are described painstakingly so that when they finally act it will make sense to the reader. Unfortunately by the time they do something the brain is so numb it’s hard to tell if anything even happened. The narrative voice is sometimes colloquial and speaking to the reader as if being spoken by a storyteller and sometimes it’s got a tight omniscient point of view in somebody’s head and other times it jumps around to characters mid paragraph.
One character even spends several pages telling another character his great secret past and then swears him to secrecy. This wouldn’t be so bad of that bit of background ever again made an appearance or had some bearing on the rest of the story. It never comes up again – it just filled some pages.
The simple concept that gets passed around every writing class of “show don’t tell” seems to have never made it through Ms. Lackey’s memo queue. Rather than showing us that characters are upset/happy/sad/etc. and trusting us to be smart enough to figure it out we are told, usually in exhaustive detail the thoughts and emotions of each character at every stage of the story.
The magic is the kind that I hate in fantasy, magic that does magical things that make the plot go where it’s supposed to and doesn’t do magical things in order to keep the plot where it’s going. There doesn’t seem to be any discernable reasoning behind why magic can and can’t do certain things – though the author tries to cover it up by supplying tidbits that hint that there is some logic behind it all. (I know, it’s magic. But even magic in a fantasy world has to have logic behind it.)
This book felt to me a lot like Terry Brooks does. It fills me with an intense apathy. I didn’t care what happened. The bad guy did horrible things that didn’t really even sound all that horrible. In fact she is almost indistinguishable from the main good guy (they both have the same name). The only way to tell them apart is to wait to see if she dismembers somebody. The male characters are all exactly the same person with slightly different skills. By the end of the book I still didn’t know which was which (I read it in only three days so I know it wasn’t forgetfulness on my part) – even the eponymous cat is the same as the rest of the male characters. I usually figured out who they were by seeing if there was a reference to having claws, a beak or hands – that way I could tell if it was the cat, the parrot or one of the humans.
The good guys get attacked and fight bad guys and it never feels like there is any danger. The ending is a contrived attempt to have a feminist message in a 1910 period drama and make it historically sensical – it fails miserably.
Ms. Lackey seems to be well read on history and literature of the time period in which the book is set. There are numerous references to books and plays and historical events that were popular at the time
I couldn’t suggest this book to anybody, though I have read worse books that are more popular. If you are already a fan of Lackey’s other work you may enjoy this one.