In Tailchaser’s Song, a fantasy novel by Tad Williams, much like Watership Down by Richard Adams, we are drawn into a world where animals rule the day. Adams’ book was about rabbits and their ways; the hero of Tad Williams’ world, however, is a cat by the name of Fritti Tailchaser.
The story begins near the Old Woods where Tailchaser and his feline cohorts frolic. All is well until the day young Tailchaser’s romantic interest, Hushpad, disappears without warning. He begins to ask around and ultimately takes his case to the Meeting Wall where the mature cats discuss things of interest to the cat community. He learns that other cats have been disappearing without a trace. The elders designate a small group of younger cats as emissaries to the distant cat court in Rootwood. Tailchaser, however, is not chosen to go with them. Nevertheless, he takes it upon himself to set off in search of his lost love. He is joined by an even younger cat, actually, a kitten, by the name of Pouncequick.
The bulk of the book describes the many adventures and misadventures of Tailchaser and Pouncequick. They meet a plethora of interesting characters in the book, from the squirrel lord Snap (and his brother, Pop), to the great bullfrog named Mother Rebum. Along the way, Tailchaser picks up a variety of cat-companions, such as the fela Roofshadow, and the crazy old cat named Eatbugs. The tale is interspersed with cat-legends and stories detailing a whole pantheon of cat deities and heroes.
Although, I, as an adult cat-owner, found the book interesting, I would not recommend it for the young (obviously, the book is over 300 pages long so the really, really young would not be interested in reading it themselves anyway, but parents who might consider reading it as a bedtime story should be warned). As an animal-lovers story, it differs from Watership Down in a number of aspects. 1) This may seem like a small detail, but cats are predators. They eat mice and hunt squirrels. Some children may find this unsettling. 2) There are a few oblique references to cat-poo (yeah, I know everyone knows it happens… but I don’t think we need to read about it); again, it is a small detail, but some people might find it objectionable. 3) Much of the action, I think, is a bit too intense for young children. A number of cats die, sometimes under horrible circumstances, particularly toward the end. 4) This is probably the most important: the enemies Tailchaser ultimately comes to face with are too horrific for children. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will leave it at that. And 5), there is a little implied love lesson at the end of the story that I think would be lost on the very young.
On the whole, as an adult-reader, I enjoyed the book up until the very end. I’m a big fan of Tad Williams, but this book (I believe it was his first), had an unsatisfying ending. Not necessarily bad, but I didn’t think it measured up to the rest of the story. It just felt too disconnected.