Warriors: Omen of the Stars #3—Night Whispers. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $6.99.
Warriors: Omen of the Stars #5—The Forgotten Warrior. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $16.99.
Warriors: SkyClan & the Stranger (Manga Book 2)—Beyond the Code. By Dan Jolley. Art by James L. Barry. Harper. $6.99.
The four-person team collectively known as “Erin Hunter” (authors Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry and Tui Sutherland, plus editor Victoria Holmes) continues to turn out, or churn out, reliably interesting and reliably complex stories of cat clans, under the umbrella title Warriors. The many threads of these multi-generational stories do tend to bog down a bit in middle volumes, though. In the Omen of the Stars sequence, Night Whispers, which is now available in paperback, is the third book of six, and The Forgotten Warrior is the fifth. Night Whispers is about the aftermath of a battle between two of the four major cat groups, ThunderClan and ShadowClan. ThunderClan’s medicine cat, Jayfeather, and the warrior Lionblaze are determined to find out why the battle occurred, so they can prevent further evil from marring the clans’ lives. The Warriors books always use lots of characters, carefully providing each with a brief introduction before the book starts – and also showing maps of the cats’ camps and the geography of the area where they live. These guideposts help readers keep straight what is going on and where things are happening. The books are full of fairy-tale elements that must be taken at face value – not only the entire foundation of Warriors, about cats’ intelligence and forging of civilizations, but also the cryptic warnings scattered throughout the series. One example from Night Whispers: “‘When the Dark Forest rises, ThunderClan must face its greatest enemy alone.’” The cats’ enemies are ones that, in the real world, might indeed be threats to felines – foxes and badgers, for example – but here their malevolence is planned and orchestrated, making them more deadly than in the real natural world. On the fringes of the cats’ realm are humans (“twolegs”), but they have little to do with the story. Instead, human perceptions are given to the cats: “Ivypaw chewed on her mouse, a little surprised to see that the ShadowClan camp worked just like ThunderClan’s. What did you expect? Mice and squirrels doing the work for them?” Night Whispers is part of a buildup to the coming “final battle” (although there is never really a final battle in Warriors); thus, the novel is less significant in itself than as a way station. It is followed by Sign of the Moon and then by the newest book in this particular sequence, The Forgotten Warrior – which is itself part of a continuing buildup to the not-yet-released The Last Hope. In The Forgotten Warrior, the movement toward that last-in-the-series volume continues as Dark Forest spirits gain strength even as tensions among the clans mount and approach a breaking point that could shatter the whole cat civilization. The plot is typically convoluted, involving a wandering cat called Sol, a former “kittypet” who claims to have saved Molepaw and Cherrypaw from a fox and is therefore welcomed to ThunderClan by some cats – but not by others, who are suspicious of him and his story. Sol turns out to be a deceiver and sower of discord, but it takes the other cats quite a while to sort things out. Sol eventually reveals his motives and proves to have poor fighting skills, but is not killed and is allowed to run away as the climactic battle with the Dark Forest cats looms. Readers who enjoy following the intricacies of these stories and their many dozens of cat characters (the partial ThunderClan list in The Forgotten Warrior includes 36 cats, and that is only one clan) will not be disappointed in the latest book, which carries this particular story thread ahead effectively enough.
An easier entry point for readers who are not sure whether they want to wade all the way into the Warriors world are the several manga series based on the novels, which are written by Dan Jolley, with James L. Barry providing the art. Although they are illustrated simplifications of Warriors tales, the manga books are themselves not always easy to follow, since the art is in black-and-white and the cats are differentiated in the novels largely by color. Furthermore, there are multiple manga series, just as there are multiple Warriors novel sequences. Still, the short manga books are action-packed and interesting enough to help potential readers of the bulkier novels decide whether they want to sink their teeth and claws more deeply into the Erin Hunter sequences. Beyond the Code is the second part of the Skyclan & the Stranger trilogy, which will conclude with After the Flood. Sol is a key to this book as much as to The Forgotten Warrior. In the manga work, he desperately wants to become a warrior and has just joined SkyClan, approved by Leafstar. But it soon turns out that Sol’s desire to be a warrior is not enough: he may not fully understand or respect the rules of the warrior code, and that could spell disaster. In fact, it does spell disaster for the clan, leaving Leafstar with an important decision to make as to whether Sol is trustworthy and is really capable of becoming a clan warrior. Faster-paced and simpler than the all-text novels, the manga book ends with a question rather than a decision, so even here, readers will need to wait for the next entry in the series to find out what happens. But all the Warriors books are continuing sagas, and those who decide to follow them need to be prepared for many cliff-hangers and a great number of inconclusive ends to parts of the intertwined stories.