Mike and Rachel Grinti
Fiction, YA Fantasy
DESCRIPTION: When Emma's older sister Helena disappeared, her father and mother threw everything into the search - which is why they've had to move into a
run-down trailer park full of "crags," magical beings from the forest that devoured Old Downtown many years ago. Crags are the only step down on the social ladder from the
racism Emma experiences for her Vietnamese ancestry; except for the glamorous fairies, they're shunned for their unnatural appearances and dangerous abilities. But now
Emma's dad has it in his head that crags can help him where conventional human methods have failed, and it's not like anyone cares what Emma thinks. At least, not until the
one-eyed cat starts talking to her.
Cats are the one of the most dangerous of all magical animals, capable of speech and shape-shifting, notoriously disdainful of love and family and anything other than their
pride. Her parents don't want her to have anything to do with the scruffy old tom. But, no matter what they say, Jack's the only one who listens to Emma, and he insists he can help her find Helena. All she has to do is trust him. Can Emma
rely on such a selfish, secretive being, or is he really using her for his own ends?
REVIEW: This one looked like a cat-themed tail (er, tale) of magic with a little examination of prejudice, but in truth it ventures into horror territory at
several points. It's not simply irrational fears that make humans treat crags with suspicion; the neighbor hag reminisces fondly over children of various species she's
eaten, while the cry of a harpy can cause serious damage whether she means to do so or not, and the cats themselves have no qualms about killing even their own kind. Also
horrific are some of the means by which crags are kept in check, such as the government pulling all of the hag's teeth. But, then, fairy tales were originally much darker
than modern versions remember. This alternate-modern world, with both whimsy and danger associated with the re-emergence of old magic, not to mention that magic's
frequent disregard for the emotions, wants, and even lives of those it encounters, manages to come together as its own fairy-tale-flavored setting... down to the girl who has to learn
to fend for herself against deceit and danger when her parents, in essence if not actual fact, abandon her while caught up in their own problems. Emma's a decent heroine,
if occasionally led around overmuch. She struggles to balance her humanity against the influence of Jack and other magical beings, influences that tell her might makes
right and the most important consideration in any given situation is oneself... a struggle that grows all the harder when the cat magic Jack obtains for her leads to new
abilities, temptations, and obligations. Few of the characters here act out of friendship, and even those who seem friendly often have selfish motivations at their heart.
It's a cold and lonely world out there, Emma quickly learns, and the only one she can rely on for a happy ending, or any ending, is herself. The story moves at a fair
pace, climbing to a decent finale... but something about the tale feels unresolved at the end, enough loose ends to be subtly unsatisfying even in the main arc. This feeling, plus the occasionally-unlikable cast, narrowly cost Claws a full fourth star. Overall, it's a unique, if dark, story of cats and cunning and fairy tale peril in a distinctive setting.
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