Warriors Wednesday: Midnight, by Erin Hunter

Warrior’s Wednesday has returned from its 2-week hiatus to bring you a review of the first book of the second series involving the feral cat Clans, Midnight.

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Author’s website
Publication date – May 10, 2005

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Darkness, air, water, and sky will come together…

The wild cats of the forest have lived in peace and harmony for many moons but a doom that will change everything is coming. Strange messages from their warrior ancestors speak of terrifying new prophecies, danger, and a mysterious destiny.

All the signs point to young warrior Brambleclaw as the cat with the fate of the forest in his paws. But why would the son of wicked cat Tigerstar be chosen to be a hero? And who are the other cats mentioned in the prophecy? All Brambleclaw knows for sure is that the strength and courage of the greatest warriors will be needed now, as the quest to save the Clans begins.

…and shake the forest to its roots.

Thoughts: Where the first series of Warriors books started with an interesting situation and ended shortly after an all-out war, this new series starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. The writing style is similar enough to previous books, but also different enough to make me strongly believe that someone else in the Erin Hunter collective was taking the lead on this project. The cats felt less like actual cats and more like cats who’ve been “human-ed” up in order to be more relatable. This is evident in a sudden change in speech patterns, such as the cats developping phrases very similar to how we would say, “God only knows” or “God help us,” or whatever your own personal substitute for the word “god” is. Here, it’s “StarClan.” Cats are suddenly and constantly invoking the name of StarClan in every situation you can think of, and it doesn’t go over very well when compared to how, in the previous series, the attitude towards StarClan was more along the lines of watching warrior ancestors who occasionally interfere with weather patterns and send portents and omens to specifically chosen cats rather than something to be invoked at every turn. It was like the author was trying to both connect the cats to humanity while still making sure that we all know that they have a different set of beliefs.

The concept behind the novel is an interesting one. StarClan has foreseen danger coming to the forest, and so has chosen a cat from east Clan to head it off. This involves following the usual cryptic double-talk associated with prophecy (“[they] must listen to what midnight tells [them]” is revealed to be the advice of a badger named Midnight, and as cheesy as that is, at least an legitimate reason is given as to why a bunch of cats had to travel to the ocean to get that advice rather than getting it closer to home), and trying to avoid the dangers they face in unfamiliar territory.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, cats from all Clans are trying to figure out where their missing members ran off to. One of Firestar’s daughters (who really needs a good smackdown, because she’s a little brat and I absolutely hate reading about her) has run away with the band of cats who left to go find Midnight. he’s especially worried because of a vision from Starclan, which showed a tiger made of fire, and destruction in the forest. He interpreted that as his child (Squirrelpaw) and the child of Tigerstar (Brambleclaw, who was chosen to make the journey to Midnight) bringing about the ruin of the forest, and so spent some time being Bluestar-level paranoid and aggressive about keeping them apart, bordering on cruelty at times. It seemed remarkably out-of-character for Firestar to act that way, and it seems to me like little more than a set-up to get Squirrelpaw to run off with Brambleclaw.

The bits of the story that didn’t seem forced seemed rather dull. Most of it was cats talking, arguing amongst themselves, fretting over things they’d fretted about a hundred times already, and there was precious little action to keep the story interesting, especially compared to the previous series. If I had started reading the Warriors books here, I admit I’d have absolutely no idea what all the fuss was about. Luckily I’ve read the next few books and know that the story picks up a lot, so it’s worth hanging on. But really, so much could have been done better here, and it didn’t make for very enjoyable reading at times.

Warriors Wednesday: The Darkest Hour, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – September 22, 2005

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) ThunderClan’s darkest hour is upon them, as Tigerstar’s quest for power plunges all the Clans into terrible danger. In order to save his Clan and his friends, Fireheart must uncover the meaning of an ominous proclamation.

Thoughts: This book was a hard one to rate. On one hand, it’s a beautiful finale to the first Warriors series. The writing has improved in style and substance as the books have gone on, the maturity level has been amped up, and the story is fantastic.

On the other hand, I have some personal grievances regarding this one.

Now  understand that these books are supposed to be fantasy. That’s obvious when you realize that the main characters are all cats, that they have their own religious system, and that they can use herbal medicines and treatments. That’s easy enough to swallow, seeing as how the forest cats are rather secretive to start with, and it’s not like humans sit around and watch cats grind up leaves to aid a sick comrade. I can handle all that.

But this book brings in a clan of cats who use the teeth from dogs they’ve killed to enhance their own claws. Threatening, yes. Realistic even by the bounds of this series? Debateable. Personally, I think that was going overboard, and actually took something away from the threatening presence of BloodClan. It’s not just a gang of power-hungry rogues that can overwhelm you with sheer numbers. No, it’s a gang of power-hungry rogues who can overwhelm you with sheer numbers and weapons! It was just a little too much, and it actually took away from the established world that had been so carefully created over the previous 5 novels.

So why did I still rate this book as highly as most of the others? Because of the impression it left on me. it was a story of triumph, of mistakes being made and rectified, of rivals banding together for the common good, and for a well done feeling of tension that was established as the threats to not only Firestar and ThunderClan but also the whole forest become clear. It rates highly because you get to see far more of StarClan, and just what the spiritual belief in their ancestors does for Clan cats.

And it made its impression on me by having one of the most disturbing deaths I’ve read. Tigerstar’s death. It’s distressing enough for me to think of a cat dying (I’ve got such a soft spot for my own furry babies that such deaths can be difficult to read). And you’d think that I should give a cheer for the final death of a cat who spent the series being a jerkass at best and an outright cold-blooded murderer at worst. But when you’re reading about the agony of a cat being disemboweled and dying nine consecutive deaths, it leaves you feeling more than just a little uncomfortable.

Even Firestar reflected on this, thinking that as much as he wanted Tigerstar death, nobody should have to die like that.

As an ending to the first series, this was, for the most part, very fitting, and it tied up all the loose ends that had been dangling for a couple of novels. It was good to see it all so wrapped up without getting overly saccharine with the morals and message of triumph over adversity. It was a good story, one that both kids and adults can appreciate, and one that you will find ceaselessly entertaining. As I’ve said before, even if you don’t have children to read these books to or with, read them on your own. You’ll get more than you bargained for, I can promise you that.

Warriors Wednesday: A Dangerous Path, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – May 20, 2004

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) ShadowClan has chosen Tigerclaw–now called TigerStar–as their new leader, and Fireheart fears that his old enemy still harbors dark plans for vengeance on his former clan.

Thoughts: As much as this book is absolutely essential to the series and contains a wealth of information and major plot events, I can’t help but rate it lower than the other books thus far. Why? Because of Bluestar. Her mind has snapped, essentially, after Tigerclaw’s betrayal, and her overwhelming suspicion of everyone and everything got very tedious to read after a while. I can’t say that there was a good way of avoiding this tedium, since Hunter had to express Bluestar’s state of mind and the added burdens that lay on Fireheart, but that doesn’t mean it made for the best reading.

Still, it’s not as though this book could be skipped without leaving the reader very lost and confused. A great deal of important thing happen here. Tigerclaw is now Tigerstar, leader of ShadowClan. Bluestar’s history with her lots kits comes into play, and is revealed to her now-grown RiverClan kits. Dogs are loose in the forest, stealing prey and making life difficult, but Bluestar won’t see the truth of the matter.

And then there’s the ending, which involves the ultimate and final death of Bluestar. It was an emotional death, in many ways, since was readers we’ve come to know Bluestar quite well since her appearance in the first book. In a moment of clarity, she sacrifices herself for the good of her Clan. But at the same time it was also a welcome death, since was growing old and was not mentally capable of leading her Clan anymore, and her shattered mental state left me feeling more pity and disgust for her than real sympathy, after a while.

The writing style remains consistant, as it has through the rest of the series, though it still takes a darker bent than the first two novels, because things are still in the process of heating up and there’s a lot of hard concepts to tackle as the series goes on. Faith in higher powers, noble sacrifice, dementia, betrayal for the sake of power, these things are not flinches away from, and for a mid-grade series, I honestly can’t recommend these books enough if you feel that you or your children are mature enough to handle books about cats that are far more than fluffy sweetness-filled stories involving balls of yarn and comfy beds. Hunter once again proves that young readers are capable of handling far more than many writers will give them, and does it with style and emotion that will leave you desperately wanting to pick up the final book of the first Warriors series.

Warriors Wednesday: Rising Storm, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – February 15, 2005

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Fireheart’s traitorous enemy Tigerclaw has been vanquished and exiled from Thunder Clan — but Fireheart can’t shake the feeling that he’s lurking in the forest, waiting for his chance to strike.

That’s not the only problem facing the young warrior in these blazing summer months, as he struggles to handle sinister omens, an apprentice with a shocking secret, and a devastated Clan leader who is a shell of her former self.

Meanwhile the forest gets hotter and hotter … and everyone braces for the coming storm…

Thoughts: I mentioned last time how this series is starting to get a little darker and involve more violence and death. This doesn’t change in the fourth book of the series. Be prepared for the death of characters who have grown somewhat near and dear as you read your way through this. The lives of feral cats living in the forest are not all sunshine and happiness, and they face death every day. This really comes to light in this book. Previously, characters have died but they’re usually ones who haven’t gotten a great deal of development, or else they’re blatant enemies of the protagonist and his Clan. Here, there’s a death to tug at your heartstrings, and you feel the loss of the character as soon as they’re gone.

The plot of Rising Storm is a rather chaotic one, as it seems like opposition is battering Fireheart from all sides. Greystripe is gone. Tigerclaw is gone but the threat of him still lingers in the forest. Bluestar has retreated into her den for the most part, and exists in an intermittant fugue state, devastated by Tigerclaw’s betrayal. Fireheart has to shoulder the responsibilities of deputy as well as pick up the slack for Bluestar, train his errant nephew, and still keep watching over his shoulder for Tigerclaw’s promised revenge.

Things aren’t all bad, though. The relationship between Fireheart and Sandstorm is starting to pick up, and it kept amusing me to see just how dense Fireheart was when it came to her affection and interest. Not only typical of someone who has a lot of his mind, but also very typical of the character, who has a streak of self-doubt and often seems to have blinders on when it comes to opinions and thoughts.

This book closes on a very grim note, but one that makes the reader want to put it down and immediately pick up the next one in order to continue the adventure. If you’ve made it this far in the series, then you’re in for a real treat in the books to come.

So long as you don’t mind more disturbing death, that is. Honestly, I can read gruesome depictions of war, pain, bloody injuries, you name it. But some of the deaths in this series gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I still feel profoundly uncomfortable thinking of them now. If this is a series you read to or with your kids, you might have to have some frank discussions with them afterwards.

Warriors Wednesday: Forest of Secrets, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – September 23, 2004

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In this third gripping book of the feline adventure series, Fireheart is determined to uncover the truth about Redtail’s death–but he is unprepared to face ThunderClans darkest secrets.

Thoughts: If you’ve read the first two books of the series, you know already that while this is literature for children, it isn’t always fluffy and nice. It involves pain, loss, sometimes death. That’s not too surprising when your setting involves clans of feral cats who don’t shy away from fighting each other.

However, this is the book that really pushes the series into serious “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids” territory. Aside from the usual fight scenes and blood that usually accompanies the books, there are two main incidents in this one that tend to make people a bit uncomfortable. The first is Silverstream dying as she gives birth, complete with descriptions of how she’s yowling and contorting in agony, and bleeding all over the place. The second is the death of Brokentail, a very emotional moment in which a mother kills her murdering tyrant of a son. Yes, these books are for kids. How these books go unchallenged in libraries when people are still trying to ban Mark Twain’s use of racially inappropriate words is anyone’s guess.

But while that may be disturbing, I can’t help but admire the author for essentially saying that kids are able to handle these things. I like books that don’t talk down to children and treat hem as though they can only handle sanitized fluff in their entertainment. Life is gritty, hard, and dark, and Hunter doesn’t flinch away from throwing those elements into the already harsh world of the Clan cats.

Many of my comments about these books will remain the same as the series progresses. The use of questioning repetition, especially to end chapters, is still present. Fireheart is still constantly second-guessing himself while still being generally sure of how things are. And there’s always more to what’s going on than it appears at first glance. These things remain pretty much constant, and whether you find them annoying or endearing, there’s still no denying that a good story — albeit a rather disturbing one at times — is being told here.

Warriors Wednesday – Fire and Ice, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – May 20, 2004

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Book Two of WARRIORS continues Fireheart’s quest to be a true warrior, when he finds new danger lurking in the woods as the chill of winter sets in.

WindClan is missing, and hostilities between the remaining three clans place all the cats in peril. Illness and tragic accidents weaken the camp, and ThunderClan needs all its warriors to defent itself – but Fireheart suspects that certain cats may not be as loyal as they appear.

Thoughts: Firepaw has become Fireheart, a full warrior in Thunderclan. Book 2 picks up only a few hours after the first book finished, jumping back into the story immediately.

You can really start to see what the series is going to become when you read this book. The first book of the series was something of a coming-of-age tale, in a sense, with a good introduction to how things work without bogging you down in too much information. Here there are still some explanations, but it’s clear that the author expects you to have remembered plenty from before, and doesn’t go nuts with repetition about the practicalities of Clan life and how Fireheart is now expected to live.

You also get to see the plot really start to pick up. Tigerclaw starts to become far more suspicious than he was previously, Fireheart has to suffer from multiple divided loyalties, Graystripe breaks the warrior code and falls in love with a cat from another Clan, and Fireheart also gets his first apprentice. And danger, illness, and injury are always lying around the next corner. There’s plenty of action, intrigue, and detail to keep any reader interested. Characters do a lot of evolving and growing up as the story goes on, and it’s interesting to see such dynamic character design while still keeping everyone the same familiar cats we got used to in the first book of the series. I do enjoy books where characters grown and learn and change where circumstances dictate it, especially in mid-grade a YA books.

The big failing in this book comes from reading it when you’re not exactly in the book intended age range, however, and it’s a failing that spans the entire series. Fireheart’s introspection, and ending practically every chapter with a question. “Could so-and-so really be what they seem?” “Could he have made a mistake?” “Was it that this thing really was that thing in disguise?” I understand that these books were written for a younger audience, and the cliffhanger-as-question thing is a good way to get kids to keep turning pages, but it does get a little tedious when  you’re reading these books as an adult.

But in spite of that, a good story is still told, and in such a way that this series has hooked countless readers of all ages. I still contend that this is a series worth checking out.

And with that being said, just wait until the events of the third book, where everything you expect about a kids series just gets blown right out of the water!

Warriors Wednesday – Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – January 9, 2003

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) For generations, four Clans of wild cats have shared the forest according to the laws laid down by their warrior ancestors. But the ThunderClan cats are in grave danger, and the sinister ShadowClan grows stronger every day. Noble warriors are dying– and some deaths are more mysterious than others.

In the midst of this turmoil appears an ordinary house cat named Rusty . . . who may turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.

Thoughts: From the time I first picked up this book, to now, I have had a soft spot for this series. While on the surface it may seem like something bland an uninteresting, a series for little kids, rest assured that this series contains some very heavy stuff as it goes along.

However, you don’t get to see much of that in this first book. Into the Wild is more of a coming-of-age tale of Rusty, a housecat who longs to be free and roam the outdoors. Through luck and skill, he manages to find a place within one of the four cat Clans in the nearby forest, and becomes Firepaw, and eventually Fireheart when he becomes a full warrior for the Clan.

In many ways, this book isn’t too different from many fish-out-of-water tales, either. As someone who has lived his life as an outsider, Firepaw is in that wonderful position to have everything explained to him by others, making him a proxy for the reader. As Firepaw learns, so do we. This is handled quite well, really, and the info-dumps are neither long nor boring. Erin Hunter (who is actually a group of authors writing under a pseudonym, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll refer to them as a single person) certainly shows off a high degree of creative talent in the world that is set up around the Clan cats. Rituals, history, mythology, all of it’s there, from the perspective of feral cats.

I find that this series straddles the line between a simple children’s tale and deeper fantasy. While there are clear fantastical elements, such as the presence of the supernatural and prophecies, most of the characters are more concerned with their mundane lives than with grand spiritual affairs, though spiritual believe certainly runs through them all. It’s a hard book to classify into a genre, though I think fantasy is probably the closest.

This is definitely a strong start to what I already know is a fantastic and deep series of books, though taken as part of the whole, it can be a little bit dull. There’s some political intrigue, discovery, plenty of action, but for the most part it’s intended as an introduction to the world that we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future books, and to much greater detail. If you read this and find yourself a little put off by how slow it can be sometimes, I’d recommend sticking it out and seeing your opinion after the second book, when much more of the plot really starts to take off.

Seekers: The Quest Begins, by Erin Hunter

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Author’s website
Publication date – February 10, 2009

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Taken away from their families when they were young cubs, a black bear, a polar bear, and grizzly bear are suddenly brought together to complete a dangerous quest in the hopes of figuring out where their true destiny.

Thoughts: I enjoyed what I read of the Warriors series, and so when I saw that the HarperCollins website had a free full preview, I couldn’t resist checking out this new series.

It was as familiar, stylistically, as the Warriors books, which isn’t surprising but certainly was welcome. I know sometimes authors use a new series as an excuse to go in completely different stylistic directions, and I was glad to see that this wasn’t the case.

The story itself is fairly simple. Three bears, Kallik, Lusa, and Toklo, all have no parents with them for one reason or another, and all are on a quest to follow the north star to some place that they’ve heard is good for them. None of them have met yet, though undoubtedly they will at some point. All have their own stories, their own personalities and clearly definied characters. Unsurprising, there.

What did surprise and impress me most of all was Toklo’s story. Books by Erin Hunter have a habit of dealing with some very hard issues, like violence, death, and loss, and this is no exception, except that Toklo ended up dealing with a distant mother who was mentally unbalanced and depressive due to the loss of one of her cubs. Enjoy, kiddies. But that wasn’t what interested me. No, what interested me most was the introduction of Ujurak, the shapeshifter with a nebulous past, a childlike personality, and no idea of why he can shapeshift into just about any animal he comes across. Erin Hunter has dealt with animal spirituality before, usually with acceptance that the spiritual world is a real one that can be interacted with, but Ujurak was new and interesting to me, bridging worlds and ideas, and I’m most interested to see more of his character and how his part in the story plays out.

Though Hunter’s books are for children, they can certainly be enjoyed by an older crowd without much difficulty, which I think is a mark of a good author. (Or in this case, group of authors.) I definitely want to check out the rest of the Seekers series when I can, and hopefully they’ll all be as interesting as this introduction.

(Book read for free online at the HarperCollins website)

My Sparkling Misfortune, by Laura Lond

(Buy from Dream Books)

Thoughts: I was hoping for some lighthearted jokes at Edward Cullen’s expense with a title like that. It just seemed like such a brilliant setup for one!

I don’t normally read mid-grade books, but when someone from Dream Books approached me and asked me if I’d like to review this one, it seemed intriguing enough that I thought I’d give it a try. As you can see from the 5-teacup rating, I have no regrets in doing so!

My Sparkling Misfortune is told from the viewpoint of Arkus, the self-proclaimed villain with a wicked sense of sarcastic humour. Plagued by a rampaging monster and deceived by a prince a few kingdoms over, Arkus vows revenge and tries to catch himself a gormack, a spirit beast who would be bound to him for a time and who would carry out his bidding.

What he got was a sparkling, a spirit that typically binds itself only to heroes. Needless to say, Arkus was not pleased.

What follows is an incredibly fun and funny story of Arkus’s adventures and misadventures with his new sparkling companion, whom he named Jarvi. Arkus finds himself having to cope not only with someone whose sense of humour is as keen as his own, but someone whose very presnece changes his reputation from that the villain to that of the hero, albeit a reluctant one.

Laura Lond’s beautiful sense of humour comes across so well in this book, and I found myself laughing aloud quite often. She’s good at knowing what details are important and what can be left out what writing in the first person perspective, especially when one considers that this books is written for younger audiences. I suspect any kids reading this or being read it will be hanging on every word, wanting to know what befalls Arkus next.

I was particularly impressed by the way some good themes are carried through the story without being hammered paifully home. The subtle differences between good and bad, the ultimate strength of friendship, that actions done against evil may in themselves be wrong. Some books try to accomplish this by practically having PSAs at the end of each chapter. Lond wove them into the story so well that they’re most certainly there, but you’re not being beaten about the head with them, and I find that tends to make for a lesson that stays around longer. Actions instead of words, deed over thought.

Fantasy fans of all ages will find something to enjoy in My Sparkling Misfortune, whether it’s the imagery, the humour, or the experience of reading a chapter to their kids at bedtime. Highly recommended, and I hope that I get to see more of Lond’s writing in the future.

(This book was received through Dream Books LLC, and I was not financially compensated for writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Starlight, by Erin Hunter

Summary: (From GoodReads) Before there is peace, blood will spill blood…

The Clans have finally arrived in their new home, following the prophecies of their warrior ancestors. The journey was difficult enough, but now they must struggle to establish territories and learn the hidden dangers of this unfamiliar world. Most importantly, Leafpaw knows they must find a replacement for the Moonstone: a place to communicate with StarClan. Otherwise there will be no way to choose new leaders, no way to share medicine cat secrets, and no way to know whether the Clans are on the right path.

The future seems uncertain, and more than one cat is harboring sinister plans that could lead to violence and darkness. As all the warriors wait for a sign, some of them begin to realize that the threats they face in the forest may not be as perilous as the threats they face from within.

Thoughts: Finding this book was tricky for me, since it seemed that none of the local libraries had it, and having been unemployed for so long, I couldn’t just go out and buy a copy. I was stuck at the end of book 3 for what felt like ages! But the other day I finally got my chance to continue with the story.

This book held a lot of interesting developments for the characters Aside from all four Clans growing more accustomed to their new home, we get to see a lot of developing relationships. It felt somewhat like this book was an “in between” book, not as filled with action and adventure as a lot of the others were, but instead focusing more on telling a lot of what happens when things don’t involve fighting.

I was intruiged at numerous places in this book. The hint that Mothwing might have planted her own sign to become a medicine cat was wonderfully done. Normally the foreshadowing in this series as very heavyhanded, and understandably so since the books were written for a younger audience. But I saw no hint of that anywhere else, and I’m hoping there’s some elaboration later on.

Hawkfrost is either a brilliant liar, misunderstood, or a mix of both, and I’m inclined to believe the last option. We already know him to ambitious, and we know he looks up to Tigerstar, and so it’s not a far stretch to think that he might have been covering his own tail when he repented for his actions with Mudclaw. Time will tell on that, too, I suppose.

And I was very interested to see the budding relationship between Leafpool and Crowfeather. I could see it coming a mile off, honestly, but to see the pieces of the conflict going on inside Crowfeather was a nice touch. Not uncommon, but still nice.

My final comment on this book is that I liked how it was a good feel of a mix of the old and new. I don’t just mean that the Clans are evolving and having to change their ways while still hanging on to the tried-and-true, but I’ve noticed an improvement in the writing compared to earlier books, more stylish turns of phrase and sharper descriptions. But it still stayed true to the style I’ve come to be familiar with when reading these short novels, and so the new things weren’t jarring distractions so much as pleasant surprises.