“Oh it’s gonna be the way you always thought it would be
But it’s gonna be no illusion
Oh it’s gonna be the way you always dreamt about it
But it’s gonna be really happening to ya…
With no words, with no song,
I’m gonna dance the dream
And make the dream come true!”
The tale of a young French ballet dancer, raised in poverty, whose life is forever changed by the intervention of a mysterious benefactor.
Said benefactor is, of course, a cat.
How many humans have been favored by such benefactors without realizing to whom they owe their sudden twists of fate? Too many, friends. Too many.
This novel is actually the sixth entry in a lengthy series of standalone novels by Mercedes Lackey. Or maybe it’s the fifth? In any event, each volume has the author reinterpreting classic fairy tales in a modern, urban-fantasy setting. Reserved for the Cat opens in Europe in 1910 and, while the author and the publisher openly declare that it is a loose adaptation of “Puss-In-Boots”, there are also shades of “The Red Shoes” in here. A young ballerina who uses inadvisable magical means to get ahead finds those magical means taking over her life and leading her down dread paths? Hrrm!
The narrative itself, as well as several of the characters, make compelling arguments for the later feminist revolution which demanded equal opportunities for women – as the young dancer furiously defends her identity theft on the grounds that poor women in those days had fewer options than did men. When she is turned out from the ballet company with which she begins the story, the poverty-stricken heroine’s only options are ultimately marriage and prostitution – a fate from which she is saved only by the cat’s intervention, and the sickening possibility of which looms large in her mind ever after. The author does not leave this argument without some moral ambiguity, however, as it should be noted that the victim of her crime is another female performer whose reputation and livelihood she could very well have destroyed. And the fate of the cat is bound up with a particular female magician whose wickedness and madness were dismissed by male magicians on the grounds that, as a woman, she couldn’t possibly be as bad as all that.
Now, it is worth noting that the cat is not, in truth, a cat. Without giving too much away, he is an elemental being feigning felinity to pass unnoticed among the press of humankind. But one can hardly blame him for choosing to impersonate a feline; if you had the choice, human readers, I have no doubt that you would make the same choice. Really, the most surprising feature is that he is an elemental being of Earth rather than the arguably more appropriate Air or Fire. He’s a rather no-nonsense creature, for all his cunning and well-intentioned deceit, which I suppose is in keeping with the character of certain breeds – and he does choose to imitate a Tabby, a very practically-minded variety indeed.
He suggests that the heroine refer to him as “Thomas”, and it is to Lackey’s credit that I did not resent the fairly obvious pun.
There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this! The cat is not the protagonist and not truly a cat, his name is a clumsy pun, it’s an adaptation of one fairy-story with bits of another bolted on, and there are moments of thunderously-didactic feminist preaching which pop up here and there. In the hands of a less talented, less wise author, this could have been a disaster – but it is not! Kudos to Ms. Lackey! Even the finale (which anyone acquainted with the original fairytale will be anticipating from the moment the book begins) is handled very well, following the original story closely enough that when the author surprises us with another twist it feels like a welcome change rather than a Tim-Burton’s-Planet-of-the-Apes-level “re-imagining.”
So, this book is good. It is a solid read, and a welcome adaptation of one of my own personal favorite fairy-stories. But it is ONLY good. And that qualifier makes me less enthusiastic about this book than I might otherwise have been. Even truly terrible art can spark some passion, and a well-written bit of potboiler pulp can leave one eager to recommend something which one would otherwise gladly admit is “hardly Shakespeare.” Tommy Wisseau’s film The Room is a perfect example of the former, just as Diana Rowland’s “White Trash Zombie” series is an excellent example of the latter.
But something which is merely “good”? Well, that’s a problem.
This is the first book by this author which I have read, and my human has not read anything by her since he was in grade school; but judging by the quality of the prose contained herein, to say nothing of the pacing, I think the best I could say about Ms. Lackey as a writer is that she is…workmanlike. Sparks of literary genius and genuine emotion flare up here and there (the concept itself is exquisite!), but there were several characters who felt entirely unnecessary and there were large portions in the second half of the book in which the author defaulted to the dreaded “tell-rather-than-show” approach. I was absolutely gripped through the first half of this novel, but at the midpoint – the point at which, for example, the dread “Giant” is introduced – I found myself rapidly disengaging from the story being told. The prose became flat. The characterizations became superficial. The relationships felt forced. Oh, the cat had some good one-liners about what it means to be a cat, so the author didn’t entirely give up on her artistry.
But these flares and flashes of brilliance became increasingly few and far between as the book continued; and even the closing scene is charming primarily because it focuses on the titular feline and finally explains the title. It felt almost like the author grew bored and forced herself to finish, resulting in a rich, enchanting first half and a grudging, distracted second half.
As a result of this inattention and lackluster conclusion, Reserved For The Cat is the very definition of a “3 out of 5 stars” book. It’s good, definitely, but that’s all it is. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I also wouldn’t rail against it. And whereas Meow If It’s Murder at least had the uncomfortable zoophilia subtext and odd authorial flaws to keep it interesting, this book feels like yet another disappointment – a good thing that could have been great had the artist only cared enough to make it so.
 And the book subtly indicates that, when the former is not contracted for love, it amounts to the latter.
 Come to that, certain breeds of cat are inordinately fond of Water as well. For all that William Blake did to associate tigers with fire, for instance, the solitary hunters of the Indian jungle adore a good swim.