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