Friday, October 31, 2014

Surfing the Human Wave: Robert A. Hoyt's Cat's Paw

Unbeknownst to all but a privileged few, the end of the world is drawing near. A royal family has been charged with protecting our fragile status quo, but many among their number have fallen prey to a sinister cult that is eager to see the earth remade in its preferred image. Should a drunk old cynic really get himself mixed up in such an apocalyptic struggle? Of course not -- but destiny makes his choice for him when he saves the life of a lovely lady and finds himself duty-bound to protect her as she sets off on a quest to defeat the aforementioned cult and save the world.

The basic outline of this story sounds pretty familiar, right? But allow me to add just one more important detail: the protagonists and the principal villains are cats. Thus we have discovered the premise of Robert Hoyt's Cat's Paw.

For me, this novel was something of a shock. I was anticipating something "crackier" -- something, perhaps, that poked fun at standard cat behaviors. But the characters in Cat's Paw didn't strike me as especially "cat-like" despite their surface descriptions. I didn't see the indoor cat complain about needing a nap, for example -- and no one randomly flopped down in an "ideal" patch of sunlight.

To be fair, though, my expectations were definitely colored by my experiences with my own fuzzy friend, who is probably the most spoiled and lazy cat on the planet -- and once I set aside said expectations, I was wholly able to just sit back and enjoy the story. The quest plot, again, is a relatively well-worn idea, but Robert gives it a clever spin by "peopling" his universe with cats of all types and breeds, psychotic squirrels, mountain-destroying birds, and -- I think you get the picture. I also liked the character development we see in the male and female leads. The pregnant indoor cat turns out to have more layers than her initial presentation as a ditz might suggest -- and the alcoholic tom's evolution from jaded loner to genuine hero was pleasant to read and certainly deserving of the Human Wave label (even if, technically, the character in question isn't a human being).

The amazing thing? Robert wrote this when he was thirteen. I teach adolescents for a living, and I have yet to encounter a student of that age who is capable of this kind of sustained and adult storytelling. Hell: While I was frequently singled out for the high quality of my own writing at thirteen, that attention was all for my non-fiction; my fiction, meanwhile, tended toward the "Mary Sue" self-insert. To put it another way: Robert clearly had some scary, bad-ass talent, and I'm a teensy bit jealous!

So -- if you're looking for something light and fun to read, I recommend giving Cat's Paw a try. Who knows? It might surprise you too!

Final Verdict: Recommended.

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