This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later with next to no spell/grammar checking.
I didn’t have high expectations of this book. It’s about an 11-ish year old kid, a talking cat and some rats. I dunno, the setup just didn’t capture my imagination.
I was delightfully wrong. This book is amazing.
So first, the boy plays very little role at the beginning and is more of a figurehead for the cat & rats troupe. Which is not quite true, but the animals definitely take the stage.
The premise is of course your classic Pied Piper story. Except the rats and Maurice (the titular cat) got contaminated by the latent magical field seeping out of the garbage of Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University. The fantasy equivalent of a radioactive spill. They all became sentient, gave themselves names and learned to speak.
And because Maurice is a cat, he convinced them to find a dim boy with a flute, have the rats visibly infest a city and then the boy will show up and lead them away — for a fee.
This of course, works great right until the last job they plan to do. At which point things get horribly wrong.
I’ve had so much fun reading this book. The cat is the most cat-like character I’ve ever seen. The rats are all absolutely amazing. The names they gave themselves are on par with Ian M. Bank’s Culture spaceships. Throughout the book I was always anxiously waiting for another rat to be introduced so I could delight in learning its name.
And for them, as sentient beings, everything is new! How to build and run a society. The meaning of life, morality, ethics, afterlife, conscience, religion and consciousness — it’s all up there to be figured out! They’re trying to move past their basic animal nature, but it’s not easy and they struggle.
I really felt for these little creatures, contrasting the steps they’ve made in a few short months to where we, the humanity have got, and how little ahead (and sometimes behind) we are. I’m tearing up just writing this and thinking back.
Change the packaging and this would be a great philosophical essay. And yet, it’s also a wonderful fairy tale of the old — where bad things happen and where imperfect beings need to make hard choices.
There is so much more than meets the eye in this book, but if you’re content to just follow the story, it’s still wonderful!
And it is completely standalone. You can pick it up without any fear of missing something out from the other 40+ books in this huge series.