Tooth and Claw
By Stephen Moore
With the new treaty between nations, a particular town finds itself in a no man’s land, and all its inhabitants are escorted out by force. They must gather up their things with little notice and ultimately leave many things behind, including their pets. Left without humans, Byrna, a house cat, tries to adapt to this new world. She sees many deaths along the way, until finally coming face to face with a living nightmare.
There are a thousand books out there with animal protagonists. Many of them get it wrong. Here, we are instantly given very life-like characters, saving this story from the doldrums of its weaker brethren. Byrna is a powerful and relatable figure, thrust from her safe, house cat life into the outer, human-less world. In this way—a departure from old and trusted haunts—this book takes on a feel in the likes of ‘Watership Down.’
Nonetheless, the writing is immaculately done, and it is hard not to be impressed by it. The author definitely has his own voice, style, and flow, pitching lines that encapsulate this strange world perfectly.
Indeed, everything in their lives, everything they were, had come from man. Even their names were only sentimental parodies of men’s own—or else some clever trick played with human words for their own amusement…
Beasts with legs as thick as lampposts, and big patches of black-and-white hair splashed across their massive bodies that seemed to blot out the daylight.
On top of this, for a book categorized as ‘Kid’s Lit’, there are remarkable amounts of good vocabulary and tightly strung sentences. This said, my next remark comes more as a warning to the author than an act of criticism. His semicolon use is exorbitant. For me, it doesn’t hinder the read, but those sticklers out there might explode. See below.
Byrna’s fur bristled; a new, pungent odour stung her nose, soured her tongue, and drove away all else.
A low purr rose up in her throat; this was a stale scent, yesterday’s smell, and without threat.
My real qualms arise with the narrative. As an adventure story with cats and dogs—it’s good! But there are times when the author goes overboard with description, detailing each little action and scene. This really drew me out of it, causing me to skip ahead to more vital sections.
Also, though adventurous, the story ultimately revolves around the Dread Booga—a scary creature of the author’s concoction. It’s wonderful and imaginative, but, besides some brief interludes, doesn’t actually make its appearance until the last five chapters or so of the book. At this point, the monster becomes such a threat that everyone is terrified, but…there seems to be little evidence of this desperation. What suddenly drives them to revolt? A slow presence and string of murders would have been more enticing, if not haunting.
It was a good read—plain and simple. Like I said, the heavy description dragged and the loose narrative with only a final, clinching element made it fall a bit flat in the end, but in no way does this detract from it if read as an adventure book. Like Watership Down, it is a series of escapades that lead up to some unique, new world, like a Pilgrim’s Progess…but for cats and dogs.
On a side note: if you enjoy this book, you’ll be happy to hear, the author, Stephen Moore, will be publishing his next book soon with one of the big publishers. So good luck to him as well!