Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
(I wanted to use the cover image from the edition I had originally read, but the art on it is pretty darned blah, so I included the cover from the edition I just read, too.)
I don't believe in fate, but sometimes there are happy coincidence. When I was offered Ratha's Creature for review, I grinned like a madman. This was my favorite book of all time! The username that I've been using online for 20 or so years (Thistle-Chaser) comes from it. My oldest LJ icon *points to the one on this post* is from it. I still have a VHS tape of the CBS Storybreak animated special from the 80s of this book.
And then I waited. And waited. Usually when I accept a book for review, they send it in a day or two. This one never arrived. But now I was itching to read it, so I went out and got a copy myself. (I still have my physical copy, but I wanted an ebook version.) As of writing this review, the review copy still hasn't arrived, but that's moot at this point.
I was a little worried to reread it. I read it first in the early 80s, and I haven't read it in the last ten or more years. Would it hold up? So many books/shows I liked back then do not.
I'm happy to say that I loved it just as much. "Talking animal" stories, stories about animals with cultures, social structures, all that, are my favorite kind of story, and this is one of the best examples of the genre.
This was also the book that made me worry that maybe I was actually a furry.
The plot centers around Ratha and her clan. Set in a prehistoric world, her feline clan (the Named) were different than other animals -- they had "light in their eyes" (self-awareness, thus the ability to have names and to speak). Most of their species, and all other animals on the planet, lacked self-awareness -- they were just plain dumb animals with empty eyes.
Because the "Un-Named" (their species without the self-awareness) outnumbered the Named so greatly, the Named were always under pressure of extinction. One day lightning strikes, starting a forest fire, and Ratha realizes how fire could change their lives. She's just a young female cub though, and the leader of the Named drives her out because of the challenge the power of the fire (called "Red Tongue") might be to his rule. (One of the many things I enjoyed about this book was that it wasn't simple -- the clan leader was correct, to hold his power he did have to drive her out... even if it would hurt the Named in the end.)
Driven away from the Named's lands, Ratha met an Un-Named male (who she named Bonechewer) and fell in love with him. Cats of the book's world experienced heat, and then-younger me found the sex between Ratha and Bonechewer to be oddly sexy and hot, thus my Furry worries. Even more oddly, I found the heat scenes to still be quite sexy. How I could find two cats having sex could be hot is beyond me, but I did.
I loved every part of the book. The Named clan structure and how they were herding other animals, the Un-Named "culture". The plot was great and exciting, and the characters were all wonderfully believable. (Ratha is so wonderfully flawed -- she tries hard, but she's young and very much not perfect.) While it is a YA book, it is fully and totally enjoyable to adult readers as well.
This book had one other big strong point: It did that very rare thing where I didn't feel at all like I was reading, instead I saw the entire thing play out in my head. Even when I get lost in a book, I'm almost always aware that I'm reading and imagining it, but in Ratha's Creature it's like I skipped the middle 'reading' step and was getting it sent straight into my head.
Next up: Book two of the series: Clan Grounds.