by Clare Bell
I've just finished reading this book for the umpteenth time. Several years have passed since the last re-reading, and the story has not lost it vivid impact for me. Ratha's Creature is a fantasy novel featuring prehistoric big cats who speak and have an organized society. The main character is Ratha, young female of a clan called the Named, who herd primitive deer and horses for their livelihood. They are constantly at odds with the less-organized but more numerous Un-Named. Ratha has always thought (as her clan teaches) that the Un-Named lack intelligence and the ability to speak. But sudden events precipitate her out into the world beyond Clan territory, to face a revolution of her beliefs and assumptions. Her doubts begin with unsettling encounters with an Un-Named raider during clan skirmishes. Then a forest fire rages across the land and instead of being terrified, Ratha is fascinated by patches of flame she finds in the remains of trees. She figures out how to control and handle fire and bears it back triumphantly to share with her people- only to be perceived as a threat and thrown into exile. Having been taught herding skills exclusively, Ratha struggles to survive as a solitary hunter until she falls in with the Un-Named themselves...
Ratha's Creature is such a moving story. Every chapter runs high with emotion and pivotal events, firmly rooted in rich descriptions of the environment and the characters' perceptions. One of the things I love most about this book is how it puts the reader inside the feline mind. Rather than relying solely on dialog, the characters communicate a lot via body language, gestures, scents and sounds. Instinct often vies with reason in Ratha's mind. Despite being a cat, she's a very believable character- struggling with feelings of pride and hate, bold and daring one moment, cringing from her own mistakes the next. Her world is one full of savage brutality, and she faces its challenges with a curious, questioning mind, searching for hope and friendship amid moments of betrayal and despair.
Rating: 5/5 ........ 259 pages, 1983
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