Warriors: Into the Fire

Rusty, a common house cat, decides to abandon his "kittypet" life when he's invited to become an apprentice warrior with Thunderclan, one of several clans of feral cats that hunt for their food and fight for their territory. Yeah, that's right. Clans of fighting cats. I think we have to chalk this one up to "things adults will probably never quite get" and accept it, but if you want more detail, here we go. To describe this book, I'm going to imagine a conversation with a friend of mine who would take a good amount of joy in subtly mocking me about this book while asking more and more questions so he might relish the ridiculousness.

Um... Alana? I notice that you're reading a book with a cat on the cover. Now, it doesn't look like nonfiction, nor does the cat appear to be intended ironically... would you care to comment? Yeah... this is the first book from that insanely lucrative "Warriors" series that's so popular with the kids these days.

Oh really? What's the series about? Well, it's about clans of cats who live by a warrior code and battle for survival in the wilderness. Imagine warrior knights loyal to a king... but with fur... and tails. The first one is from the perspective of a house cat named Rusty who joins up with the Thunderclan and proves himself worthy of becoming a warrior as he protects the clan and his friends.

... Seriously? Yes, seriously.

So all the characters are cats. ... Does Rusty fight along side Fluffy, Rocketship, and Mittens? Actually, once Rusty joins the clan, his name becomes Firepaw. And all the clan cats have these double names like Tigerclaw or Spottedleaf or Bluestar.

... Are you making this up? I promise you, I'm not making this up.

Okaaay. I'll admit, I've heard of the series, but I don't think I really realized everything that it would entail. Get it? En-tail? You're hilarious.

There's a lot of these books, aren't there? There are approximately a zillion books in this series.

A zillion? A zillion books about anthropomorphic fighting cats? Who on earth is reading these? In the eight to twelve age bracket, it's more a question of who isn't reading them. It's a series that actually appeals to both girls and boys and here's why. One: it's about kittehs (which means all girls will read this). Two: they fight (which means lots of boys will read this). Three: have you ever heard of a little thing called Redwall by Brian Jacques? Now all the geeks will read this.

Hey! Don't knock Redwall! I'm not knocking Redwall at all, because Redwall is awesome, but you have to admit... while Redwall fans were not necessarily popular as children, they are voracious readers and if you had run out of books about mice, otters, and voles and you saw this series sitting right in front of your beloved Brian Jacques... well, cats aren't looking so crazy now, are they?

Well played... to the point where I'm wishing I had come up with this idea. I could be making bank. What mastermind conceived of this evil plan? The author is listed as Erin Hunter, but "Erin Hunter" is the pen name used by four women who write/edit this series. The idea was originally suggested to the editor by the publisher, who wanted a series about cats, and it all took off from there. The surname "Hunter" stems from the combined desire to come up with something that fits the series (and "Hunter" works pretty nicely) and the goal to tap into the Redwall market by simple shelf placement. It also means you don't break up the series by an author's last name if they were to all be shelved according to the individual author.

Okay, but really, while the book premise might seem wildly ridiculous to adults, I can totally see the appeal for children. Epic stories, a return to tales rather knightly topics of honor and loyalty, a huge cast of characters... yes, it's talking animals but the plots aren't focused on silly adventures. There's actual fighting and death, which means kids don't feel like this is some pandering story about kitty-cats where everything turns out okay in the end and Miss Whiskers is just sleeping. Young readers learn moral lessons about being dedicated to achieving their goals and rising above taunts and prejudice.

I'll admit that I may have, at times, wanted to insert various lolcats as illustrative aids and shout "Thundercats! Hoooo!" when the Thunderclan went into battle. My significant other refers to this as the "lazer cat" series. And no, there's no way I would be caught on the subway reading this book by another adult but that's the thing... I'm not the intended market; kids are, and as long as they're entertained, I'm totally fine with any epic series that keeps them reading. Sure, "Warriors" doesn't seem quite as literary as Redwall, though it's gotten nominated for various awards, and there's a really large cast of characters, but that only seems to invest kids in learning everything to conquer it all and diving into this new world. It's not another planet; the cats don't wear clothes. A kid could read this and very easily look at the family cat in a whole new light. Yes, the cats seem to have an impressive knowledge of herbal lore at their paw-tips, but to just injure cats in battle and then leave them to fester and die would be far too gruesome. Rusty/Firepaw is a fairly likable hero who certainly grows in skill and logic as the book progresses. His eventual path towards leading Thunderclan (which I'm guessing at right now) seems pretty clear. This is obviously set up for a series, but this has to have surpassed the wildest expectations of the publisher, given the huge fan base and large number of participating members on the fan message boards.

Here's the thing. Unlike some other young reader books, I can't really say that I would recommend this to other adults -- there seems to be an age limit for the obsession. Honestly, I would suspect there's an age limit from any true pleasure taken from these. After a certain age, if you're going to read about anthropomorphic animals, you want a little more from them. However, Warriors could prove to be a key stepping stone from much simpler young reader books to other, more intense fantasy worlds and giant epics. Hey, it might even help to improve the attention span of children if they manage to read all these books and remember the family trees and so on. Clearly Warriors has lots of fans and despite my good-natured teasing, this old-fogy can see how kids today might find this to be a truly captivating series.

Oh, and one last thing. Thundercats! Hooooo!

Okay. I finished writing this review and then went out to dinner with my significant other. We sat down and almost immediately, my significant other's eyes locked on something beyond my elbow.
"That's yours, right?"
"That." With his head, he motioned for me to turn and look. Behind us, an elderly couple sat and beside the older woman, a copy of Warriors sat with a bookmark in it. It was book six of the first series. x"I love it," she insisted when we asked. "I have cats and I'm a big animal lover. I think these books are wonderful." So I yield the point. Evidently adults do read these books for their own enjoyment. She wasn't even reading it to engage in a shared interest with a grandchild (as had been my hypothesis). It takes all kinds, evidently.

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