One of the great things of having a reading list with more than 160 book on it is finding yourself reading, and enjoying, books you wouldn't have picked out for yourself (yet strangely this didn't happen with many of my high school reading lists). One such book is Ratha's Courage, by Clare Bell, the fifth book of the Named series (2008, Imaginator Press). This book could be described as Watership Down Meets Clan of the Cave Bear (only with prehistoric cats as the main characters, and a different plot, feel, and style from either, she adds helpfully). But seriously. Watership Down is the only "sentient animals as characters" book I love, and Clan of the Cave Bear was amazingly successful at capturing prehistoric life, and Ratha's Courage works for me in similar way.
Ratha is the leader of a clan of prehistoric, sentient cats, who has led her people into a settled existence as herders rather than hunters, with fire tamed to serve them. But this peace is threatened when delicate diplomatic relations with another clan of hunter cats collapse...for the hunters share a group mind, and how can one society, that prizes the contributions of each individual, coexist with another in which the song of tradition dictates every action?
After a few doubts about sharing a story with sentient cats, I found myself swept into Ratha's world. I hadn't read any of the previous books, but this was not an issue. The cats became real characters in my mind, and their problems were gripping.
Ratha's Courage has an interesting publishing history. The first four books were written in the 1980s and 1990s, and this book was written 14 years later, when the first four were reissued. But due to publishing issues, it didn't see daylight until an independent publisher, Imaginator Press, took it on. I see in the front of the book that other new Ratha books have been written, and I am a tad surprised (given that I still don't consider myself a fan of sentient animal books) at how much interest I have in reading them....and, of course, in going back to books 1-4.
But it will have to wait, because, like I said, I have this reading list--all the wonderful, sweet, strange, and fascinating books nominated for the Cybils Awards in the science fiction/fantasy category (which you can see here).