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Review: 'Windrusher and the Trail of Fire', by Victor DiGenti

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Windrusher and the Trail of FireWhen I reviewed Windrusher and Windrusher and the Cave of Tho-Hoth for Anthro #9, January-February 2007, I did not realize that they were the first two novels of a trilogy. Windrusher and the Trail of Fire was published a year and a half later, but I only found out about it recently. Better late than never, as they say.

Read my review of the first two novels for background information. This novel begins with Tony/Windrusher having a portentous dream/nightmare in which he is Storm Wing, one of the earliest and most heroic of all cats. After two adventures, Windrusher no longer dismisses such dreams as his imagination. Somewhere, somehow, an overwhelming disaster is about to engulf many cats. Wind will be led to the site, whereupon it is up to him to do something about it.

Flagler Beach, FL, Ocean Publishing, August 2008, trade paperback $15.95 (305 [+ 4] pages), Kindle $6.99.

Tony, his fourteen-year-old Hyskos Kimmy Tremble and her mother Amy, and their black Labrador Stella stop for a brief rest during a long drive from Venice, Florida to their home in Crystal River. Stella gets loose, and while the humans chase her, Tony leaves their car to explore the rest stop. The Trembles do not notice that he is no longer in the car when they return and drive off. By the time they realize his disappearance and return for him, after a delay of several hours due to a bad highway accident, Tony has been found, assumed to be an abandoned pet, and taken to the Precious Friends Cat Sanctuary.

It is quickly obvious that this is what Tony/Windrusher is meant to save. The sanctuary is the personal project of young Emily O’Connell, who has built it on inherited land but is nearly bankrupt and is desperately fighting off the schemes of ruthless real-estate developer Philip Langston to take it over for his multimegamillion-dollar project. The plot reads like a modernization of 19th-century melodrama – Langston is also the CEO of the bank that holds the Sanctuary’s mortgage – but DiGenti’s telling makes it current, realistic and believable. Windrusher is astrally warned by Rahhnut, the keeper of the Day Globe (the sun), that the Sanctuary’s cats are threatened by worse than eviction. Langston is confidant that his bank can foreclose on the mortgage (after the Silver Springs Board of County Commissioners rejects his request to seize the land by eminent domain, because of the questionability of evicting the sanctuary for a commercial real-estate project), but for added insurance, he plans to arrange a wildfire that will immolate the sanctuary and the over 200 cats trapped in it.

Windrusher and the Trail of Fire exhibits the advantages and flaws of the two previous novels. There is an elaborate and mystical history and mythology of cats and their relationship with humans:

Windrusher cautiously scratched claws against a barrier that pulsed and crackled. The heat became even more intense and he withdrew in surprise even though the torrid waves stirred feelings of hopefulness rather than leaving him parched and weakened.
‘Open your eyes, Pferusha-ulis [Windrusher’s name in cat language]. No harm will come to you.’ The voice reverberated in his head, vibrant and clear.
Surely he was dreaming. Opening his eyes might blind him forever. Force him to face the rest of his life without his eyesight, his most wonderful tool. Yet he believed the voice when it said no harm would come to him.
Slowly the triangle of pink tissue in the corner of each eye, the third eyelid, slid away and he opened his eyes. She stood there before him, an incandescent creature ablaze in a halo of golden rays. He was unsure if she had manipulated the intensity of the light or if he had become accustomed to it, but it no longer blinded him. (p. 82)

The cats’ supernatural world, their Akhen-et-u (a telepathic group-mind), and infallible sense of direction are intriguing, as are DiGenti’s descriptions of feline natural traits:

Windrusher worked his way through the trees and underbrush, scanning the area for any sign of the legendary cat [Storm Wing]. He sniffed the air, taking in the woodsy scents, moldy undercurrents from the decaying leaves tickling his nose. Like an encryption specialist, Windrusher decoded the horde of messages floating around him. He quickly sorted through them, discarding one after the other; searching for any indication another cat had passed this way. (p. 27)

However, the super-intelligence of all cats and the complete stupidity of all dogs (the “brainless snouters”) is still not convincing. The supernatural world of the cats is based upon a superficial understanding of Egyptology. The Trembles’ frantic search for Windrusher is convincingly emotional, but after similar scenes in the first two novels it seems repetitive. There seems to be an inconsistency between the cats’ group-mind in which Windrusher and his association with the cat-gods is well-known, and Windrusher’s attempts to warn the other cats of the sanctuary of their danger and their skepticism of his sanity. The reader will wonder how the übercat gestalt can know to set Windrusher in action before the villains have even decided upon their plans. And when the distraught Kimmy begins to have dreams that hint at where Windrusher is, and the menace heading toward him – well, the Good Guys seem to have too much astral help on their side.

On page 111, Langston’s two henchmen are preparing to sneak into the cat sanctuary on a nighttime raid:

Satisfied, Nate walked back to where his brother stood gawking into the compound as though expecting a panther or bear to leap out of the darkness.
‘What’d you find?’
‘You know that movie, 101 Dalmations? Well, there must be a thousand and one cats in there. Com’on. Let’s open those cans and get this over with.’

Funny that he should mention 101 Dalmations, because I was just thinking that there is more than a casual resemblance between the villains Langston and Cruella De Vil, and their two long-suffering henchmen. Both Langston and De Vil have suave public manners but in private are choleric and scream and rant at their hapless underlings a lot. Both Langston’s Nate and Seth Tobias, and De Vil’s Horace and Jasper Badun are comedy-relief bumblers who drive their bosses into paroxysms of exasperation. Windrusher and the Trail of Fire is not without deliberate humor, and DiGenti mixes it into the suspense smoothly. He also uses enough originality to make it more than just a copy of 101 Dalmations – Nate and Seth are a lot more dangerous than Horace and Jasper.

This is not a cutesy kitty book. Above all, Windrusher, the cats that he is to save, and the sanctuary are placed in an original yet equally desperate peril that will hold your attention. And Wind’s feline maneuvers to save them are plausible and seriously cliff-hanging.

The three novels are self-contained, so if you have not read any, you can start with this conclusion of the trilogy as well as with the first book. But if you enjoy one, you will enjoy the other two.

Comments

Your rating: None

You'll forgive me as this has very little to do with your review but I figure if anyone here will know what I'm talking about it's you. There were two cat books I read as a kid and found really good but I don't recall ever seeing someone in the fandom mention them, which I find a bit sad. Did you ever read either "Carbonel" or "The Kingdom of Carbonel"? They were about Carbonel, the king of the cats, his service to a witch, relationship with two children and, in the sequel, his kittens and authority?

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Carbonel, the King of the Cats, and The Kingdom of Carbonel, by Barbara Sleigh. The first was published in the U.K. and the U.S. in 1955, so I would have been fourteen when I read them. I’m afraid that I remember almost nothing about them, except that I enjoyed the first book so much that I read it several times.

Yarst! I see on Wikipedia that there was a third book that I did not know about, Carbonel and Calidor: Being the Further Adventures of a Royal Cat, published in 1978.

Thanks for reminding me of them. I see that the Los Angeles Public Library has the first two. I will check them out. They may be too juvenile for me now, but I expect to enjoy them all over again.

Fred Patten

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And the County of Los Angeles Public Library has Carbonel and Calidor. I have all three books reserved now. Although the first editions are long out of print, there are newer editions of all three books available. I look forward to seeing whether the modern Furry fan would enjoy them.

There are doubtlessly many old children's and Young Adult fantasies that are long out of print that readers would enjoy today. When the first Harry Potter book came out and was such a sensation, I remember thinking, "What's so special about this book? There are lots of British juvenile fantasies like it." Apparently the others were out of print for so long that most modern readers didn't know about them.

Fred Patten

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I also saw on Wikipedia there's a third but I never read that. I have my mother's copies, the 1970's reprints. Strangely, and I checked, the first one is just called "Carbonel" even on the title page. I haven't read them in years so maybe they are aimed too young now but I have fond memories of them and I've also learned that just because something is aimed at kids doesn't mean it's bad. More of a risk might be that they are too old for people to enjoy now, though I think that'd be a sad state of affairs.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None

I won't know about the Carbonel books until I get and reread them (and read Carbonel and Calidor for the first time), but the fact that there are current editions of all three books in print is encouraging.

I remember once reading The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit, and enjoying it as an apparently contemporary example of young-children-find-a-magic-object-and-get-into-magical-trouble fantasy until they use it to visit the Prime Minister in London, and it is Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. I didn't know when Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister, but I did know that Britain hasn't had a titled P.M. for a looong time. I looked it up; he was the P.M. from 1905 to 1908. But otherwise The Story of the Amulet seemed so modern!

For an example of "stories that are too old for people to enjoy now", I have found the Horatio Alger novels fascinating. The idea of a young man being considered a successful adult when he is earning a whole $10.00 a week seems incredible. A salary for a standard New York City job of $1.00 a day was not considered too bad. Most 19th century (and 20th century) Young Adult novels are written in "good English", but Alger's characters speak in the street slang of the late 19th century, and I literally had to refer to an old dictionary to find out what some of the words meant. Spondulix? Nobby? Or this is from Ragged Dick, which is free on Project Gutenberg, set in New York City in the late 1860s:

“How do you like it?” asked Dick, surveying Johnny's attacks upon the steak with evident complacency.

"It's hunky."

* * * * * * * *

Two-dollar bills were the most commonly used paper currency, and people regularly use paper money issued by private banks. People buy newspapers from newsboys for “a shilling” and get change. I knew that British small change was not used in America as late as the 1860s, so I looked it up. “A shilling” was common American slang for a dime until just before World War I, and “a sixpence” was a silver 5¢ piece. 5¢ pieces made of nickel, which led to the current slang for a 5¢ coin, were not in use before the 1880s.

* * * * * * * *

"You're a brick," he said.

"A what?"

"A brick! You're a jolly good fellow to give me such a present."

* * * * * * * *

People eat “luncheons” and ride in “omnibuses”. The words were not shortened to lunch and bus until the 20th century.

* * * * * * * *

"Don't you dare to call me a female, sir," said the lady, furiously.

"Why, you aint a man in disguise, be you?" said Dick.

and

"You can't tell by looks," said the lady, sourly. "They're deceitful; villains are generally well dressed."

"Be they?" said Dick.

and

"How old be you?" asked Dick, beginning to feel more at his ease.

* * * * * * * * *

“In course they are.”

and

"In course," said Dick.

and

"In course he is."

and

"That's kind in you," said Fosdick, gratefully.

and

"In course I am," said Dick.

After a couple of other examples of “in”, I was beginning to think that it was standard 19th century usage for “of”, until I came to this:

"I suppose that means you, Dick," said Fosdick, laughing.

"In course it does."

"You should say “of” course," said Fosdick, who, in virtue of his position as Dick's tutor, ventured to correct his language from time to time.

* * * * * * * *

Horatio Alger is a real eye-opener for late 19th century Americana!

Fred Patten

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October 20. This article in today's New York Times, about updating "The Country Bear Jamboree" at Disney World (so it's anthropomorphic), is also about things that are too old for people to enjoy now -- except for the people who don't want them changed, for nostalgia's sake.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/20/arts/country-bear-jamboree-at-walt-disney-worl...

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics