Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo)

Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria
Rahma Krambo
Reflected Light Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)

DESCRIPTION: The housecat Marco loved snuggling with his owner, Lucy, while she told him wonderful stories... but, until he watched the light of the full moon fall upon the strangely-marked sheets of paper, he never realized where those stories came from. After dark, when Lucy and her grandmother sleep, Marco delights in using his new-found gift of reading, becoming the hero of a thousand adventures. Then came the terrible night of the screaming red lights, when the men with the squeaky-wheeled bed took away Grandmother and Lucy, leaving Marco alone in an empty house. Screwing up his courage, he steps out into the world... and into his own story.
His paws lead him to the Angel Springs library, where more books than he could ever have imagined existed wait on the shelves for his perusal. But Cicero, the aging library cat, thinks Marco may be up to a greater challenge. For, deep within the library, a singular Book lies hidden, a Book that once resided in the lost library of Alexandria. Since those days, Guardian cats have kept close watch, lest its unimaginable power fall into the wrong hands. Little do either of them realize that, even as Cicero begins Marco's training, a terrible enemy aided by dark forces plots to steal the mystical Book.
For all the books he's read, Marco never realized that being a hero could get you killed...

REVIEW: This is a book of contradictions and cliches. Marco, a cat who can follow the elder-day English of The Three Musketeers and - it is implied - has read his way through a good portion of the library, nevertheless is confused by basic human concepts such as ambulances. He's even startled to learn that humans cannot see in the dark... despite the fact that, in all his reading, it seems inconceivable that he's never encountered a scene where a human hero found themselves in danger in a dark place because their eyesight failed them. But, then, Marco seems blissfully unaware that he is a human, in all but the fur on his face; the cats in this book don't behave at all like cats, but rather simplified cartoon sketches of people in cat skins. (To be fair, the people also didn't behave like real people, but rather cardboard-thin caricatures that happened to be person-shaped.)
During his adventures, Marco meets other cats who can read, all of whom can be summed up in the simplest of terms (the vain one, the mother cat, the one-eyed fighter, etc.) They mostly exist so Marco has a "posse" to call on for help when the library is threatened. No, wait - the "Dead Cats Society" (I'm sure Krambo thought she was being extra-kitty-clever with that name) mainly deals with an annoying subplot about a gang of raccoons. We readers know they're bad because they're illiterate, they talk like lower-class street toughs out of a bad movie, and they're raccoons... because, you know, in a world where some cats are good and some are bad, obviously all raccoons are incapable of learning and beyond redemption. There's also a friendly, supposedly funny ferret named (wait for it) Polo, who is no more a ferret than Marco is a cat; not only is it implied that Polo is a free-roaming ferret, when domestic ferrets have a notoriously difficult time surviving on their own, but his only defensive maneuver seems to be giving up and/or fainting - even though I know, from personal experience, that a hacked-off ferret is more than capable of leaving a mark that even an illiterate raccoon would feel.
But this book is about more than the characters. It's about Magic, about the grand legacy of the Guardian cats. That should be interesting, shouldn't it? No, sadly it isn't. Cicero takes after the Majicou of Gabriel King's The Wild Road, an aging feline guardian of Great Powers who recruits a (block-headed) young apprentice and subsequently teaches them next to nothing about the actual powers and responsibilities of the job before foisting the whole thing onto their green shoulders. What is learned... it just doesn't click. The powers of the mystical Book are too broad, with no real cost to the caster or the Universe. (The Book's origins - presumably dropped from Heaven itself into Man's world, even though Man is so incompetent and greedy that it falls to cats to keep it safe from their clutches - just had me rolling my eyes.) Meanwhile, a glaring Message writes itself across the pages in 10-story neon letters, about how literacy is Good, censorship and book-burning are Bad, and with the power of reading comes the responsibility of properly cultivating the ideas sparked by books. Its light almost - but not quite - blinded me to other errors in plotting and consistency. I even discovered what had to be an author's note about what was supposed to happen in the next scene, a clear indication that this book never received the editing or proofreading it needed before being presented to the general public.
I like cats. I like reading. I like magic. But this book... this book, I did not like.

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