I’ve read and enjoyed several books by Westall, all historical adventure stories, like the excellent “The Machine Gunners” about some kids in World War II England who capture a downed German pilot. This book is the first fantasy I’ve seen by him.
Cam, the main character, is a young man wandering Medieval Europe, though one with some magical twists, who falls prey to an ancient prophecy when he is given a magical knife. He soon finds that, try as he might, the knife now controls his destiny, and must lead him to a distant city fallen under hard times.
Meanwhile, in that city, a breed of intelligent and talented cats, who have long been revered, are suddenly thrown out of favor when the ruler is usurped and killed. The cats are clever and resourceful, but in the end there is little they can do without any allies in the city, and must send out an envoy to find help.
These two threads work toward each other, as we know they must, but with lots of interesting twists and turns along the way, until Cam arrives in the city and takes on the powers of Seroster, ancient warrior ally of the cats, and begins to plan a campaign to remove the usurpers and restore freedom to the city.
Westall is terrific with human interactions, less sure with the animals in the story. One thing that I found tiresome was a very simplified language he uses for the cats, with lots of hyphenated words like not-dog, small-brain and good-eat. I give him credit for the effort, but it reads confusingly. The plot of the book was strong enough to carry me through that, though, and as everything comes together in the end with a magnificent battle for control of the city, Westall really shines. Obviously battle is an area he’s familiar with and writes well.
The character of Cam is well-developed. Some of the other human characters are given less attention, but are still well done. The animal characters grew on me, once I got over the language thing. In all, I liked the book. And it has the kind of ending that, rather than tie everything up neatly, leaves room for the reader to think about what might have happened next. I really liked that.