Warriors: Omen of the Stars #1—The Fourth Apprentice. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $6.99.
Seekers #4: The Last Wilderness. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $6.99.
Seekers #6: Spirits in the Stars. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $16.99.
Seekers (Manga Book 2): Kallik’s Adventure. Created by Erin Hunter. Written by Dan Jolley. Art by Bettina M. Kurkoski. Tokyopop/HarperCollins. $6.99.
Erin Hunter is a one-woman publishing industry. Keeping track of her ever-expanding stories of animal quests and adventures – which involve animals that have some human characteristics but are nevertheless not fully anthropomorphized – is well-nigh impossible. The books exist as hardcovers, softcovers and graphic (manga) novels. Within Hunter’s primary Warriors series, there are multiple sub-series. And the possibilities seem always to grow as Hunter expands the range of her characters, introduces new ones, changes the forms of characters’ interactions, focuses and refocuses the stories by highlighting new animals or conflicts, and generally keeps things as thoroughly mixed as possible – confusingly so in some ways, since the interrelationship among series is not always clear (in terms of what happened when relative to what happened in other groups of books). Nevertheless, Hunter’s stories are invariably well told, and she is sufficiently aware of the confusion that her multiple plots may generate so that she provides maps and, in the case of her many cat-focused stories, lists of major and minor characters and capsule descriptions of their appearance and their place within the clans. The Fourth Apprentice, the first book in the sequence called Warriors: Omen of the Stars, which was originally published in 2009 and is now available in paperback, has to do with the enigmatic prophecy that Jayfeather and Lionblaze of ThunderClan will hold the stars’ power in their paws – which means what, exactly? Does it refer to the actual stars, to StarClan, or to something else? The two apprentices await the visit of a StarClan warrior to a third ThunderClan cat, whose destiny will be linked forever to theirs. Prophecies abound here, notably one about the re-emergence of ancient grievances. It is left up to the apprentices to try to unravel the many mysteries – which they will begin to do in the next book, Fading Echoes. Readers who become really involved in the world of Warriors will especially enjoy the bonus “Adventure Game” offered at the end of this paperback: it includes and expands upon elements of the cats’ adventures.
In addition to continuing to produce Warriors volumes of several types, Hunter has been creating a separate series, Seekers, which focuses on bears. It is only a single series at this point, although it is fair to assume that if it succeeds with readers as Warriors has, there can easily be spinoffs and additional series here, as there are in Warriors. The Seekers series has now reached its sixth book, with earlier ones coming out in paperback and, in some cases, as illustrated manga volumes. The Last Wilderness, the fourth book in this series, is about what initially seems to be a journey’s end – but turns out only to be the start of a new one’s beginning. Toklo (grizzly bear), Kallik (polar bear) and Lusa (black bear) here reach the Last Great Wilderness, the near-legendary place they have been seeking in the first several books, with the help of their shapeshifting guide, Ujurak. But then the friends start to drift apart, each following a different set of instincts dictated by Hunter’s understanding of the impulses that drive real-world bears. This remains a story of friendship, though, because when there is a disaster in the Last Great Wilderness, the friends find themselves together again, and on a new quest – which is also a continuation of the old one. The story continues in the fifth book, Fire in the Sky, and now in the sixth, Spirits in the Stars, which focuses on Kallik’s territory – the ice – and shows how the cold and snow take their toll on Toklo and Lusa. But the friends are in less dire straits than the bears they eventually encounter on land, which are ill with some unknown condition that the friends need to figure out, even if it means the seeking of one of their number will end in this frozen place.
The manga versions of Hunter’s stories simplify the tales while making them more readily accessible. Kallik’s Adventure tells of the cub and her brother, Taqqiq, and their mother, Nisa – the stories the cubs hear, the way they learn of the world around them, the unlikely friend they make when they disobey their mother, and the cubs’ growing understanding of the sacrifices they must make in order to live in their harsh polar environment. Well paced and nicely illustrated, it is nevertheless less effective than the Seekers novels themselves. But its aim is different: this and the other manga books are for ages 8-12, while the novels are for ages 10 and up; and although the difference may not seem substantial in chronological terms, the novels do expect more of readers through their greater depth of characterization, their longer descriptive passages and their lesser insistence on action scene piled upon action scene. It seems perfectly reasonable that readers pulled into the worlds of Warriors and Seekers by the manga books will move, in time, to Hunter’s original, deeper stories, which weave a richer tapestry even as they expand in so many directions that their relationships can sometimes be a bit difficult to follow.