Lots of avid readers love cats; that’s the enduring stereotype. And it makes sense in a way. Is there a better way to spend an evening than curled up with a book in hand and a purring cat in your lap? Cats have been our companions since the dawn of civilization, when early man found them to be excellent pest control. Since then, they’ve lived among the courts of royalty, been worshipped as deities in ancient Egypt, and even been feared as witch’s’ familiars during the Dark Ages. Given their history, we should probably honour our feline friends every day, but especially on March 28th for Respect Your Cat Day!
There is one book series that is perfect for cat lovers, especially if those cat lovers are children or pre-teens. You’ve likely seen these books as there are approximately a million of them…or at least 60. With 8 series each containing at least 6 novels, stand-alone books, field guides and graphic novels, this one will keep you busy for a while. I’m talking about Warriors by Erin Hunter. This epic and lengthy saga really comes from a very simple idea; what if you took an epic fantasy story and made it about cats?
These books follow five Warrior Clans of cats; ThunderClan, RiverClan, WindClan, ShadowClan and SkyClan. The Clans consist of groups of highly sophisticated cats with their own system of government and religion (no, really). The good thing about this series is that it is so large that each series of books takes place at a different point in the saga’s timeline, with different characters. That means you can really start with any of the series, and you’ll understand what’s happening just fine. Each book does a really good job of introducing the world and the rules that it follows, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed.
Erin Hunter provides a masterclass in world building with their series. The very first series, now called The Original Prophecy (Into the Wild, Fire and Ice, Forest of Secrets, A Dangerous Path and The Darkest Hour) takes the route of a common fantasy trope; our protagonist is a bit of a blank slate hero-type. The reader can easily project themselves onto the protagonist and put themselves in his shoes….er, paws. That way as he is introduced to the world and the rules of The Clans the reader is as well. And we immediately get a sense that these cats have a long and rich history, steeped in tradition. Each book that follows, for the most part, sticks to these rules. The Clans each have a leader with nine lives, a medicine cat, and warriors who do the bulk of the hunting and fighting. There’s also nursing queens and their kittens, apprentice warriors who are six months or older, and retired elder cats. Cats that don’t belong to a Clan are loners or rogues, and cats who belong to humans (Twolegs) are kittypets. I told you the lore was extensive!
We learn in later books that The Clans have been around for countless generations, formed by the feral cats who have always lived in the woods. According to their history, the Clans were formed out of necessity when these cats were starving and fighting over prey. When that happened, they developed rules to live by called The Warrior Code, and the religious aspect formed as well. The cats are watched over by their ancestors in the cleverly named StarClan. In simplest terms, cats who follow the Warrior Code and live a good life go to cat heaven and watch over their descendants. Cats who are evil – and there are truly evil characters in these stories – go to the Dark Forest; a kind of purgatory where there’s no light and no hunger just endless wandering.
The stories are about the characters and how they interact with the world, and there are a LOT of characters. Most series center around something in the Warrior Code being broken, and the ripple effects caused by that. Usually we follow two or more characters, usually in the same Clan, but with completely different perspectives. This is how the story stays interesting despite being long; each chapter gives a unique voice and viewpoint to the current situation. The characterization is amazing as well, so that you can really find yourself attached and invested in certain characters throughout their arcs – even the minor ones have important roles to play.
If it isn’t already clear, I’m a big fan of these books. I read the first ones when I was younger and I’ve been a collector for years. My favorite story arcs are the more recent ones, where the Code has been broken pretty severely and The Clans are trying to get themselves back together after having completely fallen apart. Previous arcs have covered the original forest home being destroyed, and The Clans having to travel together to find a new one. There was once an epic battle between living and dead; literally, the forces of StarClan and the Dark Forest rose up to fight each other alongside the Warriors. The Super Editions, which are the standalone novels, tend to focus on the life of a single cat, from kittenhood all the way to adulthood. If you’re going to start this series, I suggest any of the first books in the main arcs (The Original Prophecy, The New Prophecy, Power of Three, Omen of the Stars, Dawn of the Clans, A Vision of Shadows, the Broken Code, A Starless Clan).
I hope this extensive rave review has given you insight into what makes these books so amazing. The authors have done other series, focusing on dogs (Survivors), bears (Seekers), and jungle animals (Bravelands and Bamboo Kingdom), but the Warriors will always hold a very special place in my heart.
These books are made for young readers, recommended for ages 8-12 years, but do contain scenes of graphic violence, so be aware if your youngster is showing interest in this series. Bear in mind that, though written for children, this series does not pull any punches when it describes wounds and death. Since every character in this series is an adorable cat, this can be a little shocking if you’re not prepared for it. If you or your children are equipped to deal with that, I think you’re going to love these books just as much as I do. Briarlight is my favorite cat, in case you’re wondering.