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Warriors by Erin Hunter – Series Review

Into the Wild (cover)When I hear my twelve-year-old weeping, I know one of two things is happening: a) she’s reached the climax of another Warriors book, or b) there’s been another tragic death in a Warriors book. This massive series has been my daughter’s singular book obsession for roughly a quarter of her life. She occasionally takes a break and reads something else, but with every new Warriors release, she comes back to the series the way adult fans of Malazan clamor for each new book. The Warriors books fill one book shelf now, and are halfway to filling a second in our house.

I decided to write a review of Warriors because I see a lot of requests on fantasy boards for books middle graders would like, and I can attest that Warriors fits that bill. It’s like Watership Down, but with cats instead of rabbits. The cats are all feral (except for the occasional housecat, or kittypet, who runs away from home), and they live in groups called clans, which exploit different ecological niches, leading to each clan having different defining characteristics:

Thunder Clan: good hunters and fighters, these cats live in deciduous woodlands and seem to have a very strong connection to the spirit world. Many if not most of the series protagonists come from Thunder Clan.

Shadow Clan: these cats live in thick evergreen forests and are fierce fighters. This clan is the Slytherin of the Warriors world; many of the series antagonists come from this clan, although it has its heroes as well.

Wind Clan: these cats live on open moors and are known as lithe, speedy rabbit hunters, not brawny fighters. The protagonists of Dawn of the Clans come from Wind Clan.

River Clan: good swimmers, these cats don’t mind getting wet and subsist mostly on fish.

Star Clan: this is the spirit realm, where the cats go after death, and which provides spiritual guidance to all the clans.

Midnight (cover)Each book is loaded with intrigue, action, and drama as the cats face various challenges within and among the clans. There are frequent battles, both single combat duels and massive brawls involving dozens of fighters. The violence is vividly described (something to note for parents of young children), and the body counts tend to be high and include favorite characters. There is also a romance or two in each book. The liaisons are always off-page, but some affairs are illicit, and there are a fair number of kittens, with uncertain pedigree, which always plays into the plot. The storylines are always cleverly composed, with lots of narrative twists and surprises (even for the adult reader).

Magic is present in the books but is mostly limited to spiritual guidance and prophesies from Star Clan, plus clairvoyance and other forms of extrasensory perception by some of the cats. The felines are also preternaturally intelligent, with a complex community-oriented culture with warriors who hunt and fight for everyone (including cats too young or old to hunt for themselves) and a medicine cat with expertise in herbology and healing.

Star Clan directs a naming convention in which each cat has a core name plus a suffix that changes as the cat grows to adulthood. All kittens and adolescent cats’ names carry the suffixes –kit or –paw. Once the cat reaches adulthood, the clan leader, in consultation with Star Clan, will add a unique suffix. Finally, if the cat rises to become clan leader, the unique suffix will be dropped and replaced with -star:

– Firekit, Bluekit (birth to about 6 months of age)
– Firepaw, Bluepaw (apprentice to either the warriors or the medicine cat, from 6 months to about a year)
– Fireheart, Bluefur (adult cat)
– Firestar, Bluestar (clan leader)

The Fourth Apprentice (cover)The name-parts reflect colors, cat features, and nature: leaf, pool, cloud, fire, sand, blue, white, gray, claw, and whisker are common cores and suffixes, which makes for a lot of really similar names. The parent who casually reads a chapter here and there at bedtime may feel like she’s rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude and having just as little success tracking who’s who. My daughter has no trouble keeping identities straight, however, and she scoffs at her parents’ bemusement.

Other aspects of the worldbuilding are cleverly done, incorporating feline behavior and a cats-eye worldview. Cars are horrifying monsters that bring death. Roads are thunder paths and greatly feared as the trails on which the monsters run. Humans are twolegs, and human houses are twoleg nests. Time is marked not in years but in moons (months) and seasons: newleaf, greenleaf, leaf fall, and leaf bare. Distances are measured according to animal-kind: whisker-length, tail-length, mouse-length, fox-length.

Erin Hunter is a pseudonym for a team of writers that includes Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Tui Sutherland (Wings of Fire), Gillian Philip (Rebel Angels), Inbali Iserles (Foxcraft), Victoria Holmes, and Rosie Best (Skulk). In our house, we also love Iserles’ Foxcraft series, which is a beautifully lyrical trilogy about a young fox named Isla, who is searching for her family. All of the Erin Hunter team are terrific writers of energetic prose full of gut-jabbing action and heart-rending pathos. My daughter says:

The Warrior series is really good because it has so much. There’s drama, and love stories, and it makes you feel so many different emotions. Some books keep you on edge and you can’t put the book down.

So far, my daughter’s favorite series is the fourth, Omen of the Stars, which she says has, “the ultimate ending” and which features her favorite character, a blind medicine cat named Jayfeather. A grouchy curmudgeon (even as a kitten), Jayfeather is nevertheless deeply empathetic and has supernatural abilities that make him one of the most important cats in all the series. She’s also a huge fan of Dawn of the Clans, and she believes its protagonist, Graywing, may be Jayfeather’s ancestor.

Moth Flight’s Vision (cover)Her favorite stand-alone novels are Bluestar’s Prophesy, Firestar’s Quest, and Moth Flight’s Vision. Bluestar’s Prophesy is a prequel to the first series, The Prophesies Begin, and chronicles the life of Thunder Clan’s head-cat from kittenhood to her death. The Prophesies Begin follows the life of a kittypet named Rusty, whom Bluestar recruits into Thunder Clan and who is called Fireheart upon achieving warrior status and Firestar when he eventually inherits the clan leadership from Bluestar. Firestar’s Quest is the last story written from his point of view.

Finally, Moth Flight’s Vision takes place shortly after Dawn of the Clans series concludes and follows the life of the first medicine cat as she learns how to communicate with Star Clan. I think between Bluestar’s Prophesy and Moth Flight’s Vision, my daughter went through an entire box of tissues.

Come to think of it, there’s an inverse relationship between tissue boxes and shelf space in our house—as the shelves fill with more Warrior books, the tissue boxes empty.

Tragedy is a series hallmark. Feral cats lead hard lives, and Warriors doesn’t shy from that reality: cats die. They die as young kittens and aged elders. They die from wounds, cold, starvation, and illness. They’re hit by cars, mauled by badgers and dogs, drowned by floods, and burned in forest fires. But, their communities continue to survive and thrive, whatever befalls them. Time and again, they show courage, resilience, and compassion. They defend against invasions, resist tyrants, and band together to seek resources and defeat outside enemies.

They are Warriors, and amidst the tragedy, they triumph.

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One Comment

  1. Summer H Paulus says:

    Been running circles around this series for a while, meaning to pick it up but never getting around to it. Your review has convinced me that I’m truly missing out on something wonderful and I need to get my butt in gear to read it.

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