BOOK REVIEW: Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams

written by David Steffen

Tailchaser’s Song is a fantasy novel by Tad Williams, published by DAW books in 1985.  The story is set in a world of anthropomorphized cats, a quest fantasy with the young cat Fritti Tailchaser as the hero.  It is set in something like the real world, but from the perspective of cats, where humans are known as the race of M’an, descendents of cats who have been deformed by an ancient curse.

Tailchaser is a young feral cat, living near one of the towns of M’an, but not in a house.  He has always been an ambitious cat, wanting to make a name for himself, though he is happy with his life, and with his female companion Hushpad.  Local cats have started disappearing mysteriously, and the local leadership of the cats organizes a delegation to the royal feline court of Harar to report the disappearances and solve the mystery.  Soon after the start of the story Hushpad and the family of M’an who fed her mysteriously disappear.  Something insidious is afoot, and Tailchaser sets out to find out what it is, he is not included as part of the delegation so he sets out alone.  Soon he befriends a troublemaking kitten Pouncequick in the wilderness, who joins him in his journey.

The feel of the story as a whole is very epic fantasy, though it takes place in something like our world, it will be very familiar in tone to some of Williams’s later books, like the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series.  It’s interesting that “praise for the author” quotes on the cover refer to Watership Down by Richard Adams, about a group of anthropomorphized rabbits trying to find a new home after being driven from their own by impending disaster.  They are similar in a lot of ways, but this goes more into the fantasy realm–Watership Down was only fantastical in the sense that one of the rabbits had premonitions and the rabbits had some social structures that seemed unlikely in the wild.  Tailchaser’s Song, on the other hand, has entirely fantastical elements.

I love Williams’s work (the Otherland series being my favorite thus far) and so I’ve been meaning to go back and read his first published book.  I can definitely see similarity in the style and how that grew from there.  This one has some pacing issues, in my opinion, it takes a while to get going, and it takes a while after that to really get into what I’d call the main conflict of the story, and it frustrated me how little the stated quest really had to do with the story, in large part because Tailchaser really has no clue what’s happened to Hushpad so he’s really just setting out in a random direction hoping someone will know, without really any clear idea why they would.  Overall, it’s an enjoyable book and a reasonably quick read, and will especially appeal to you if you like anthropomorphic animals and quest fantasies.