Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Keeper of Cats (Elizabeth H. Boyer)

Keeper of Cats
Elizabeth H. Boyer
Del Rey
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

KEEPER OF CATS
DESCRIPTION: Jutta knew her young life was over the day her mother deposited her on the doorstep of Bardhol, the run-down ancestral estate of the Hestur clan. Once a thriving matriarchy, back before that newfangled idea of permanent marriage ousted the old ways, the prosperous line has dwindled to five elderly women who faithfully tend the last of the Hestur horses and keep watch on the ancestral barrow mounds. As bad as that sounds to a nineteen-year-old girl accustomed to soft living in town, it's worse when she finds out about the cats. Pushy, grabby, too ready to use their claws and teeth (and incessant voices) at the flick of a whisker, they have the full run of Bardhol. She hates cats, just as she hates being forced into manual labor helping out her grandmothers and listening to their endless jabber about the old days of long-dead suitors and long-lost magic. Her mother insists that the women are hiding some great fortune, instructing the girl to keep an eye open for a potential inheritance, but she sees nothing except ruin and hairballs. Jutta's sure she'll go mad of boredom before the first week is out. But with barrow robbers, a mysterious ley-line tracker, ghostly apparitions, otherworldly barbarians, and a killer on the loose among the ancient graves, not to mention the extraordinary secret of the Hestur cats, boredom quickly becomes the least of her worries.

REVIEW: I thought I was in for a rough ride when I met the selfish, arrogant main character. When Boyer flooded the tale with interchangeable Scandinavian-influenced names, which could apply to people or clans or places or even cats, before I'd found my bearings, my instincts were confirmed. Jutta makes a singularly unlikeable protagonist, so blinded by her own greed and prejudices (not to mention a healthy dose of pigheadedness) that I quickly grew frustrated. She also is remarkably dense, or simply forgetful, "discovering" plot-pertinent information for the second time with the same jaw-dropping astonishment she displayed the first time. She even forgets key parts of her own personality; she hates cats, until she doesn't, just as she's ashamed to be related to such old-fashioned biddies and the eclipsed Hestur clan, unless she's rubbing her noble heritage in someone's face. Then again, this is a girl who can bond with a woman until she feels closer than sisters, then immediately turn her back and treat her like a worthless servant when that woman says something she doesn't like. As a result of my dislike for Jutta, it took me some time to get the feel of her world - a shame, actually, as Boyer created an imaginative setting for this tedious little tale. The story lurches along, tied not to the pursuit of the unnamed killer or to the rediscovery of lost magics but to Jutta's selfish whims and fits; the rest of the subplots unfold despite, rather than because of, her actions. As for the cats, they devour a fair bit of page count simply being cats, though at least they contribute to the resolution of the story once in a while. They, too, had origins that would've been more interesting had I not been saddled with Jutta as my escort through their world. The ultimate culprit behind many of the problems proves obvious to everyone but the main character, and the resolution feels unsatisfactory. Still, I managed to keep turning pages, and I liked some of Boyer's ideas. I just wish I'd been able to enjoy them more.

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The Catfantastic anthologies (Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg, editors) - My Review
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