This review was contributed by Ben G
In Brief: Interesting and enjoyable. Question of animal intelligence.
Published in: 2003
Age Range: Children+
Period: Near Future
- Charlie Ashanti is the hero of the story who, as a result of a childhood encounter with a leopard, is able to speak to cats, he is the only child of
- Aneba and Magdalen Ashanti who are scientists and who are both kidnapped by a gang for reasons unknown.
- Rafi Sadler is some kind of low level 'hood' who is responsible for the kidnapping, however as he is not particularly clever it is clear that he and his dog Troy are working on someone else's orders. Charlie escapes Rafi and runs away with a circus where he encounters the mysterious liontrainer Maccomo.
Charlie Ashanti, the hero of the story, is able to speak Cat, which is not only the language of the domesticated variety but also that of the wild kind, such as lions. This ability is certainly helpful in the futuristic London where stray cats roam free and are in plentiful supply. There are aspects of this futuristic world which are alien, such as the lack of cars and the very frequent use of the river as a means of travel, however other aspects such as the use of mobile phones are far more familiar. Charlie returns home to find his parents gone and the only clue to their kidnapping a strange note written in blood which turns out to be a formula as well as snippets of information from local cats who seem eager to help him. Charlie quickly figures out that teenage hood Rafi is behind this kidnapping and has to make a quick getaway from Rafi and his dog Troy, ending up on board the Circe, a magnificent circus boat bound for Paris, which is coincidentally where Charlie's parents are headed. On board the Circe Charlie readily befriends the circus lions who jump at the chance to become his accomplices and thus make possible there escape. An intricate plan of escape is drawn out by Charlie and the lions, involving escape directly after the main show in Paris, doing this Charlie hopes to be reunited with his parents and find out the reason for his parents' kidnap.
Taken overall this book is interesting enough to make enjoyable reading, but parts of it don't engage your attention. You could cut chunks out of the middle of the book and still have the same story. The description of the big show in particular seems long and drawn out, and there are other examples.
Interestingly, Zizou Corder is not a real person, but is mother-and-daughter team Louisa and Isabel Young. I wonder if this explains a certain unexpected inconsistency as, for example, when the story is told from Charlie's first person point of view and then switches to a more third person point of view.
The plot is imaginative even if the period and setting are a little unoriginal, and although most of the baddies, particularly the ones who guard the parents, are 2d cardboard cut-outs, there is enough character development to make it interesting. The aspects of African culture thrown in are also a nice touch and make the book a little bit more readable.
The author states at the front of the book “I don't know for sure that anyone will be able to talk Cat. But I don't know for sure that they won't either.” Charlie's blood is accidentally mixed with that of a leopard and while this is merely a plot device it does perhaps raise a question or two about genetics and animal intelligence.
The cats and lions are not the animals of the Narnia stories, who are human in everything but physical appearance. These cats can rationalise like humans but maintain 'cattish' instinctual behaviour. Perhaps this is a subtle suggestion that we are little more than animals. Clearly, in the Narnia stories Aslan gave the animals the power of reason, however there is no explanation as to where cats get the power of reason from or why.
One aspect of the book which seems rather clumsy is that of attitudes to marriages between black and white people. Of course, nowadays this is perfectly normal, yet there are references to this at regular intervals and the author appears slightly defensive and perhaps has a bit of an axe to grind.
Charlie was absolutely terrified by the idea of being the Lionboy — and at the same time he was delighted and excited and amazed. Lionboy- how cool was that! Working for Maccomo- how frightening was that! And Lions... Real, big, beautiful, strong, wild, golden Lions. Charlie's breath came a little short when he thought about it. Remember your big-cat blood, he said to himself. Your leopard blood...
Maccomo's eyes narrowed. He suspected Charlie of something, and Charlie could tell. But he didn't know what Maccomo suspected him of — and nor, if truth be told did Maccomo know. And actually— Charlie suspected Maccomo too, and he didn't know of what either. So between them there was an air of unexplained fear and mistrust: not the best air to have around when starting a new job or taking on a new helper. But funnily enough each of them resolved to deal with it in the same way; in fact almost exactly the same sentence went through both their heads: “I don't know what's going on with this character, so I'm just going to keep an eye on him and see what happens.”
Sunday 31st July 2005