November 06, 2008


Warriors: Power of Three—Book Four: Eclipse. By Erin Hunter. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Warriors: Tigerstar & Sasha (Manga Book 1)—Into the Woods. Created by Erin Hunter. Written by Dan Jolley. Art by Don Hudson. Tokyopop/HarperCollins. $6.99.

The Porcupine Year. By Louise Erdrich. HarperCollins. $15.99.

     The world of Erin Hunter’s warrior cats continues to expand, not only as Hunter writes new stories but also as others adapt existing tales to new formats. The fourth book in the Warriors: Power of Three series picks up the tale of the three grandchildren of legendary ThunderClan leader Firestar: Lionpaw, Hollypaw and Jaypaw. At the end of the previous book, Outcast, Jaypaw finally decided to share with the other two the prophecy he had heard from the ghosts of their ancestors: Three will come, kin of the cat with fire in his pelt, who hold the power of the stars in their paws. In Eclipse, the three young cats, their knowledge and abilities still developing, know their destiny is crucial not only to ThunderClan but also to the three other Clans and the cats’ entire way of life. Yet the three apprentices take to their coming power quite differently. Lionpaw dreams of becoming undefeatable in battle – his is truly the way of the warrior. Hollypaw wishes to become a great Clan leader. And Jaypaw, the visionary of the trio, retains an inward focus, with visions not only of the true past but also of a future for all the Clans, including ShadowClan, RiverClan and WindClan as well as ThunderClan. As in all of Hunter’s books, threats emerge both from outside (the Clans are suddenly attacked, which has happened often before – but in a way with which they may not be able to cope) and from within (the warrior code itself is called into question). As always in the Warriors series, there are issues of power and loyalty, battle and romance, and the true meaning of strength. The watchword here – as it is in the Warriors books in general – is well expressed by one character: “Listen to your inner voices, to the instinct that in every other cat would merely help them find food or shelter. Who’s to say that in you, these instincts won’t help you achieve more?”

     Among the achievements of the Warriors series itself – not just the characters within it – may now be numbered the start of a new set of graphic novels, Warriors: Tigerstar & Sasha. In her introduction to Into the Woods, Erin Hunter explains that these books provide a chance to follow one of the byways of the series: the relationship that develops between Tigerstar and Sasha, the loner – even though Tigerstar had sworn himself the enemy of all cats outside the Clans. The graphic novel nicely handles the first meeting of Tigerstar and Sasha, an abandoned “kittypet” who has killed a frog near the border of ShadowClan’s domain, and who replies to Tigerstar’s warning to stay away, “You can keep your frogs, and anyway, who needs borders? There’s plenty of prey in the forest.” The growing relationship between the two cats, and the bad blood between ShadowClan and ThunderClan, form the basis of the narrative, which ends at a dramatic point – where the next book in the series is sure to pick up.

     The Porcupine Year, for ages 8-12, is a story of humans, not animals, although there is a porcupine in it – and the relationship between humans and animals is very much a part of it. Louise Erdrich’s book is her third about a young 19th-century Ojibwe girl named Omakayas, and her family, following The Birchbark House (2000) and The Game of Silence (2006). The Porcupine Year is set in 1852, when Omakayas is 12, and follows her family after it is forced by the coming of white settlers to leave its home on the Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker. A porcupine that stumbles into the family’s life, pointing his nose toward the West, comes to symbolize the family’s journey, which Erdrich bases on her own family’s history. The book is nicely written and filled with warmth and traditional Native American values; readers of the two previous books will certainly enjoy it. But it does partake of what used to be called the fallacy of the “Noble Savage,” suggesting that the old ways are inevitably best and the new ones (and those who bring them) offer nothing but harm. This is a view as one-sided as that of the white settlers who so casually (and often brutally) displaced the Native Americans from their traditional lands. The hardships that Omakayas and her family face and overcome on their journey are well told, and the narrative of the way these troubles cement the family members’ relationships is heartfelt and believable. And the insights into Ojibwe culture – including a glossary and pronunciation guide to the Ojibwe language, offered as an appendix – are attractive. But the nearly unremitting nobility and steadfastness of Omakayas and her kin, even if it is based on fact (as interpreted by Erdrich as a descendant, of course), is finally rather hard to swallow, making the book a largely one-dimensional one, even for preteens.

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