Erin Hunter, Warriors #1: Into the Wild, (HarperChildrens, 2003)

Somewhere deep in the forest, four clans of wild cats have staked out their hunting grounds. Fiercely protective of their territory, each clan defends its space from the other three. Into this microcosmic world a young housecat finds himself struggling to be accepted.

Warriors #1: Into the Wild would have been a favorite of mine if I had run across it when I was nine or ten. It has the mythic elements of a warrior tale, recast through the eyes of a young cat named Firepaw who joins the Thunderclan. The storyline, while being predictable for an older reader, is charming and engaging, and I can see this novel setting a solid stage upon which many more stories can be told, and told well.

Young Firepaw, upon acceptance into the Thunderclan, soon learns that the forest is divided neatly into four territories, each home to a different clan of wild cats. As he studies the way of a warrior cat, he meets with fierce struggles in the wild and constant political battles within the tribe. Through it all he tries to stay true to his heart, the tribe, and the warrior code.

Along the way, the reader learns tidbits of cat lore, from the manner in which they scent their territory to feline field dressing of war wounds. The concept of nine lives is employed in a very curious cat metaphysic system which illuminates and enlivens the story, and while the ending doesn't resolve everything, neither did it leave this particular cat-lover dissatisfied. I expected this to be a pleasant, simplistic children's tale, and was surprised to find it so engrossing! I predict Erin Hunter will make quite a few fans with this book and those that follow.

The book suggests a readership of ages 10 and up, and I agree that scenes in this book would be a bit too much for children any younger. The forest of Warriors is a wild place, and the ferocity of the natural world of this book, like that in Jack London's White Fang or Robert C. O’Brien's classic The Secret of Nimh, is thoroughly explored in the prose. Erin Hunter's talent lies in presenting vivid, colorful depictions of these cats, their surroundings, and the other creatures that inhabit the forest. The writing is fresh and concrete, and made for an enjoyable read for this 'Twoleg', even if I am a bit older than this novel's average reader.

Old or not, I might just have to pick up Warriors #2: Ice and Fire.

[Wes Unruh]