This debut YA fantasy sees a group of friendly forest-dwelling animals fend off a clan of savage predators.
Tango the black cat lives in an ancient, majestic forest filled with companionable critters, including possums, raccoons, squirrels, a bear and others. With him are three more felines, Sonar, Ally and Koda. They live together harmoniously, enjoying the forest’s splendor and seasonal rhythms. They also must rely on each other to protect against a gang of vicious bullies—like Valgar the vulture and Howler the coyote—who would terrorize and decimate their population. Luckily, a kind wizard named Fozzly lends the forest-dwellers his healing magic whenever necessary. Fozzly, who’s good friends with Tango, has revealed to him the existence of the destiny-altering lifestone, which has been missing since the wizard’s homeland was destroyed by frigid weather. Fozzly also mentions his nemesis, Darlok, who may have stolen the lifestone in the past and whose whereabouts are unknown. One day, turmoil strikes when the adventurous Sonar gets lost in the northern lands; he ends up in foul Mandor, the home of the belligerent carnivores. Initially, Sonar takes up with a tomcat named Spike—but he thinks it’s only a matter of time before forest raiders recognize him and try to hurt him. Do Tango and the others dare mount a rescue in enemy territory? Combining dreamy fantasy settings with high adventure, Thomas’ debut novel is a lavish treat for young adults and animal lovers. In one pleasantly odoriferous scene, Ally notices “the sweet, soft smell of late summer flowers mixed with the pungent odor of pine needles.” There are fascinating animal facts, too, as when Diablo (a hawk) “enjoyed riding the thermal air masses without the...noise and strain of using his wings.” Occasionally, the prose may offer a vocabulary workout for younger readers—“frenzy of adrenaline soaked havoc”—and some of the violence gets quite grisly, like “a streak of exposed muscle all the way from his mouth to his ear.” That said, Thomas parlays this narrative edginess into an emotional win, leaving the cat-flap open for a sequel.
A lovingly rendered world that welcomes readers of every stripe.