May 28, 2020


by Zizou Corder

This book is set in some unexplained future (oil reserves are run out, everything's electric or wind-powered but then there's an animal wandering around that sounds like a sabertooth tiger, from the description). The protagonist, Charlie is ten- though he often sounds much younger. His parents are scientists and get kidnapped, Charlie sets off to find them but is very much frightened by a local thug who appears to be chasing him. However he has a secret ability- Charlie can talk to any member of the feline family (the backstory on how this happened is both charming and rather simplistic). So with cats as allies to spy for him and bring him messages, he sets off on a hopeless-looking quest to rescue his parents. Not very far into the book he winds up with traveling circus, that's on a ship. As in, the ship is permanently decked out to house the animals and people, and give performances in a big top rigged in the center. Very elaborate and imaginative. Charlie is both awed and thrilled by the circus, and dismayed at how the lions in the act are treated- drugged to keep them calm and compliant. He makes a mad plan to help the lions escape the circus, and they in turn promise to help him find his parents again. All along, there's hints at bigger secrets looming than just his cat-communication ability which I'm sure will be explained in further books, as this is the start of a series that purports to be full of adventures.

This was fun, and the cats are just great (better characters than the lions, in my opinion). I certainly enjoyed reading it, although there are some awkward points. Lions don't purr, for example (unless in this future they've evolved to do so?) Sometimes a character in the story suddenly knows something they obviously didn't before, without an explanation, which is a tad annoying. Other times a minor character was taken out of the action for a very silly reason that made no sense. I did like that the author made some obvious points against stereotypes- Charlie himself is from a mixed-race family, and he often comes up against people make erroneous assumptions about his background, or about people of other nationalities as they travel, which he quickly points out are wrong. There's also the thoughtful contrast between Charlie's love of the circus flair and skill of the performers, and his unhappiness at how the lions are kept captive. But then there's this other storyline thread of big business and pharma going at odds against those who are actually trying to cure disease (asthma). It's a strange mesh of themes. Parts of this book reminded me of Heartsease- probably the futuristic setting and all the to-do with canals. I don't know if I quite liked it well enough to seek out the sequels on my own, but if my nine-year-old wants 'em, I'll be happy to read the rest.

I found out it's written by a mother-daughter team, Zizou Corder is their joint pen name.

Rating: 3/5           275 pages, 2003

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Thistle said...

I read it back in 2014, and it looks like I liked it more than you.

I'd like to say more about it, but I barely remember it at all. Which makes sense, since it's been a while.

Apparently I really didn't like the next book in the series.

Jeane said...

I just read both your reviews. I don't think I'll be seeking out the second book after all. If my kid begs me to, I'll point out the flaws to her before doing so.

Unknown said...

Let me see what I think of it ;) I am not so sure of it so far.