Review: 'The Cat's Eye Pub', by James Robert Jordan
3 years after the events of Bound to Play, chakats Midsnow, Blacktail, and their family have made the move and immigration to Chakona the self proclaimed home world for the chakat species.
With intentions of opening their own business they are unaware of the many obstacles and challenges they will face. All while Midsnow's troubled past atempts [sic.] to catch up to hir." (back-cover blurb)
The Cat's Eye Pub, like Bound to Play and the forthcoming A Chakat in the Alley, is set (with permission) in Bernard Doove's Chakat Universe. It features those hermaphroditic centauroid felines, along with the humans, Caitians (bipedal felines), Rakshani (bipedal like Caitians but taller and more tigerlike), skunktaurs, and other species of Doove's 24th-century interstellar civilization.
Doove, a.k.a. Chakat Goldfur, has been writing chakat stories since 1995; has seven books of them including the Ursa Major Award-winning Life's Dream (2007) and Flight of the Star Phoenix (2012); and allows his friends to write their own stories in his Universe. To an extent, readers of The Cat's Eye Pub are expected to be familiar with the chakats and the 24th-century universe that they live in, but the background can be picked up fast. The only aspect that really needs getting used to is the hermaphroditic chakats', foxtaurs', and skunktaurs' unique pronouns, since neither "he" or "she" are appropriate: shi and hir. The single-gender species like the humans and Caitians still get to use "he" and "she".
Midsnow and Blacktail are the mothers of Midsun and Grill, the chakat teenagers who were the protagonists of Bound to Play. In that novel, the adults were in the background. In The Cat's Eye Pub they and especially Midsnow are the main characters. They have gotten married and Midsnow is about to become a mother again (remember, they're hermaphrodites). In 2349, they move with their cubs from Melbourne on Terra to Marpletown on Chakona. The story introduces several other young characters, seemingly at random, who will settle in Marpletown and gravitate to Midsnow's and Blacktail's new business: Shnu´rrárre (a.k.a. Whiskers), a Caitain who ran away from home to escape domineering parents; Starfield, a chakat orphan who was raised by Wolftaurs and grew up with a sometimes-embarrassing lupine body-language; Starpelt, a chakat searching for Midsnow's missing niece. They each make friends among the Marpletown inhabitants.
The Cat's Eye Pub is a human-interest melodrama, allowing for the fact that the only humans among the cast are very minor supporting characters. Firstly, the Marpletown Chief Justice who had previously indicated that there would be no trouble with opening the pub has died, and been replaced by a reactionary who not only refuses to approve a liquor license, shi tries to order the new building torn down. Secondly, Whiskers' parents have tracked her down and ordered her home, and her father has enough political power to make her life miserable if she refuses. Thirdly... well, all the friends, and their friends, unexpectedly start having a bad time all at once; some of it coincidentally and some not. Jordan does a good job of making it all seem believable.
This may seem like a common human-interest novel only with (mostly) chakats; but chakats being what they are, there is much casual and open sex between everybody almost all the time. Chakats are also empaths (and some are telekinetic), so a chakat can tell another chakat's real feelings toward them. Jordan, copying Doove, keeps it in good taste and makes it seem perfectly natural since the chakats are not human and are merely following their natures. Midsnow is so pregnant that shi waddles. And the chakats seem almost normal compared to other characters like the offworld college student Ian, whose parents were a skunktaur and a foxtaur (hyr pronouns are hy and hyr), and who undergoes involuntary sex changes. The hermaphrodites sometimes wonder whether they should act more masculine or more feminine, since they are both and can change personalities at will.
The group of chakats and a Caitain gradually work out their individual problems in the course of making a success together of Midsnow's and Blacktail's pub.
The novel does have one serious problem. All of the antagonists are so blatantly villainous that it is obvious to everyone else that they are clearly in the wrong, making the protagonists' victories virtually inevitable. A minor problem but an annoyance throughout the book is the apparent lack of any proofreading. I complained about this in my review of Bound to Play, but if anything, the errors are worse here. Punctuation is floating like "ceased ,and", or missing altogether. Dialogue is missing either the beginning or ending quotation mark. Words are missing or misused. "... a different was unfolding." (p. 9) A different what? "Immigration" in the blurb above should be "immigrated". Doove said in the comments to my Bound to Play review that the chakat word "chakker" should never be capitalized; it is capitalized here. There are common misspellings such as "to" for "too" and "use" for "used". It's a pity that such a basically good story is marred by so many easily corrected errors.
This book, like Doove's, has many illustrations; 25 by eleven different Fur Affinity artists, not counting the wraparound cover by Braulio Buendia Arrieta. The interior artwork, in black-&-white in the trade paperback, is in full color in the Kindle edition, making the Kindle edition the recommended choice. Recommended? Yes; despite the book's problems, The Cat's Eye Pub is a feel-good story featuring charismatic non-humans whose difference is more than window-dressing. I enjoyed it; I think that you will, too.