On a normal day, there are three cats in my house causing trouble in their own unique ways, but since my 10-year old discovered Erin Hunter’s Warrior series, I sometimes have five to six felines to care for. Sometimes more. My eldest becomes Cinderleaf, a medicine cat, her friend is Lionpaw, an apprentice training to be a warrior. They are followed by my 8-year old as Ashfur, who is destined to become the leader of their clan if only the older girls will let her have such power.
I’m not the kind of parent who’s keen on getting involved in their LARP (though I will boast that I’m way better at stealthy pouncing than they are), but I am good enough to buy the box set of the first series and read the first book with my youngest while my eldest continues on. She is already on book five, happily spoiling us with all the shocking details about the cats we’ve come to know and love or hate. Some of these details actually are quite surprising–or rather, when I started reading this middle-grade children’s book about anthropomorphized cats, I didn’t expect the story to be quite so mature and so engrossing.
The story starts out with Rusty’s dreams of the wild, that his reality as a two-leg’s kittypet simply can’t live up to. He pounces on the chance to join the Thunder Clan, becoming the warrior apprentice, Firepaw, but, despite his skills, he struggles with balancing his compassion with the Warrior Code and proving his loyalty to his new clan and lifestyle.
My own cats likely would not do well in the environment of a wild cat. The closest they come to warrior status is the strategic planning involved in barfing in the most inconvenient places possible. This skill is likely not transferable to the brutal world of feral cats. Hunter, who is actually a a group of six children’s authors, does not pull any punches. The books are not gory, but the cats do fight. Many are badly wounded during the course of the stories, and quite often, some will die. Nine lives is reserved only for leaders, but the harsh environment and clan versus clan battles means that leaders don’t necessary get to keep those extra lives for very long.
Death and violence are part of the opening salvo of the first book, Into the Wild, and plays a significant role in the clan politics that play out in the plot. This is all presented through the eyes of the young cat, Firepaw, in a way that a younger audience can appreciate, but without under estimating what kids can handle at that age. The storytelling also works for me as an adult because it’s not talking at or down at a child-like level. This was unexpected but most welcome, especially after finishing more fluffy bedtime reading like Sailor Moon with my daughters.
The cats aren’t just humans with fur. The Hunter team effectively recreates our world through the senses of a cat. Scent becomes the key descriptor, length is measured by tails, and life by the cycle of the moon. The cats move and interact like cats. Further books by Hunter introduce bears in the Seekers series, and dogs in the Survivors series. But it doesn’t stop with just books. The website for each series features a message board, videos, games, apps, and more. I’ve even ventured into the position of Games Master, guiding my girls through the Warriors Adventure Game as they race against time to save missing kittens from deadly vipers. Fans have also created their own games and stories. When not reading the books, my girls are busy drawing fanart and creating their own clans which they incorporate into their Minecraft activities.
I love that my girls have taken such an interest in a series that offers so much. I love to see kids reading and it makes me even happier to see them so engrossed in a story and taking it well beyond the pages. While I don’t expect high levels of involvement from my own cats, I might forgive the next hairball that I happen across.