The Fifth Book of the Named by Clare Bell. Imaginator Press, 2008. Review copy. Clare Bell's teen fantasy series The Named was published in books one through four from 1983 to 1994. They went out of print but fans kept the stories alive online and demand for more has brought them back into print. I was delighted at the opportunity to read books one and two, Ratha's Creature, and Clan Ground, before reading Ratha's Courage.
This is the type of fantasy book I really get into. Ratha is a prehistoric cat that is leader to a clan of sentient large cats. They live in community and herd grazing beasts as a source of food. They can talk, which distinguishes their race from the other large cats living in the area that are not able to speak or think rationally. I was tickled to realize that they often had more empathy and social finesse than I could expect from myself. I think I learned something of family and friendship ties, as well as good leadership skills, from reading about how Ratha (the clan leader) and her friends dealt with conflict, trauma and aggression. I wish there was another volume for me to read right now cause I could really enjoy spending more time in Ratha's world.
One thing I really enjoyed was the sensual way Bell describes the world from the cat's perspective. Scents, movement, and tactile sensations are a vibrant part of the character's awareness of their environment and activities. When they get upset their fur itches or whiskers twitch. They frequently get important sensory information from their cat's Jacobson's organ in the mouth, which allows them to detect pheromones in the air. Bell's cats use this information to make decisions about behavior, bonding, and problem solving. By observing how the cats relate we can become more aware of how our own interactions and decisions are effected by our sensory awareness.
For more about the story in this volume, links to reviews and the author's blog, click here. Read sample chapters from the books here.
If you or your teen readers are interested in fantasy and alternate prehistoric worlds this book is highly recommended. It does contain scenes dealing with cats in heat and rape conflicts, so I would not recommend it for younger teens or below.