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Unread 09-29-2006   #1 (permalink)
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Default Mark Of The Cat: Year Of The Rat

"The 'Outer Regions' were created by the artist Karen Kuykendall, whose book of paintings, The Cat People, and her justly famous Tarot cards immortalized these fantastic lands and peoples. There exists among Ms. Kuykendall's records a complete "Travelers' Report" upon which this book is based."-Andre Norton, from her introduction to Mark of the Cat/Year of the Rat In Mark of the Cat multiple award-winning Andre Norton presents a novel of magic and adventure-the unforgettable story of a boy's journey of discovery, from trial to triumph. Hynkkel, commanded by his father to travel into the unknown in a test of survival, starts out with almost nothing, but the red-gold sandcat pendent worn around his neck as a reminder of his killed cat. His trek will bring him to a cave where he will enter the secret world of the a trial that will mark his destiny. In Year of the Rat, Andre's never before published sequel to Mark of the Cat, we find the natural water sources of the five queendoms of the Outer Region drying up. Hynkkel, not fully recovered from his previous trials, must now find a way to stop this loss and recover the missing water. For in a desert climate, water is the key of life. To do so he must first find out who, or what, is causing the water loss and where it is going. When he and Murri, his sandcat, set out on their journey they make another, even more startling, discovery. A being of ancient evil has returned and along with it has brought the desert rats, hoards and hoards of deadly desert rats, bent on one thing-to destroy the queendoms one by one. Can Hynkkel both find the missing water and stop the rats before all succumb to The Year of the Rat?
Customer Review: The Despised Emperor
Mark of the Cat/Year of the Rat (2002) is an omnibus edition of the Outer Regions novels, including Mark of the Cat and Year of the Rat. The second novel has never been published prior to this volume. The Five Queendoms of the Outer Regions are each associated with a particular gemstone: Vapala with the Diamond, Kahulawe with the Sapphire, Thnossis with the Ruby, Azhengir with the Topaz, and Twahilic with the Emerald. Each queendom varies in its terrain, customs and products, but all are ruled by a Queen and owe allegiance to the Emperor. Vapala is the richest queendom in water -- thus having much more vegetation -- and considers itself to be the only civilized queendom in the Outer Regions. The Emperor has grown frail and his death seems imminent. Haban-ji has ruled long and peacefully, but his passing will lead to dissension among the Queendoms. His son, Shank-ji, has openly expressed his intention to undertake the trials to be the next Emperor, thus keeping the office within the queendom of Vapala. This break with customs has irritated many traditionalists, especially in the other four queendoms. The people of the Outer Regions have a religion similar to Druidism, but they do not have gods and goddesses per se. Rather they have aware and intelligent Essences that guide each queendom and have aspects peculiar to that specific queendom. A greater Essence guides the Five Queendoms as a whole. Each child is taught how to communicate with the Essences, but some persons have greater abilities to contact and receive information from them. In Mark of the Cat (1992), Klaverel-va-Hynkkel is a native of the Queendom of Kahulawe. He is the second son of the last full commander of the queendom's forces. Hynkkel is not a warrior, showing little talent with traditional weapons. He is skillful with sling and staff, but these are considered to be merely tools of the common folk. He excels in the maintenance of the algae ponds, is talented with animals, and surpasses all others in trading with merchants, so he has been allowed to work as a servant to the House of Klaverel. Yet his father Meguiel treats him with disdain and his brother Kalikku openly calls him a weakling and tries to bully him. Hynkkel goes to market one day and is summoned to a sick animal belonging to Ravinga, the doll maker. He calms the animal and searches the mane for the salsuckers that frequently torment yaksen. Instead, he finds an evil amulet -- a desert rat tooth with strange markings -- that Ravinga knocks from his hands and ritually destroys. She then gives him a round pendant fashioned with the head of a Sand Cat by a master craftsman. When Hynkkel comes home from the market, he is met by his brother and sister. Kalikku immediately notices the pendant and tries to take it, but Melora-Kura, his sister, blocks this effort and asks to make a drawing of it for her files. Hynkkel learns that they have come to fetch him for the choosing feast of Siggura, his other sister, who has just come into heat. Since she is envious of Kura, Siggura is sure to make a big production of the ceremony; Melora-Kura has never come into heat and doesn't want to, but Siggura really doesn't believe anyone would not desire to be the center of attention at such a feast. Hynkkel immediately dumps his burdens in his hut and goes to prepare for the ceremony. Mieu, the kotti who has adopted him, refuses to follow, but rather stays behind to guard the pendant. Hynkkel spends many hours preparing for the feast; finally returning to his hut, he finds Kalikku standing over an injured Mieu. The kotti has stoutly defended the pendant, for blood is dripping from Kalikku's right hand. When he checks his kotti, Hynkkel finds her near death. Kalikku immediately accuses Hynkkel of killing the kotti and taunts him with the truth that their father would believe him over the despised Hynkkel. The pendant is under Mieu's body, protected from the thieving brother. Hynkkel sadly wraps her body in a colorful scarf and buries it under a rock cairn. He is still grieving for his friend when a herdsman comes to tell him that his father wants to talk to him at once. Within his father's house, Hynkkel learns that his father has decided that he will solo, performing the journey alone through the desert that is required to claim adulthood. Of course, his father foregoes the usual feasting and other aspects of ceremony, but rather takes him out blindfolded into the desert and then completes the abbreviated ritual by knocking him out and leaving him with his few weapons and other goods. In Year of the Rat (2002), Hynkkel is the new Emperor, but he has many enemies, including Shank-ji, who blames him for his lost hand. Shank-ji has raised the banner of revolt and is gathering young men from the various queendoms. He patrols the trade roads and comes upon a caravan under attack by desert rats. Two Sand Cats have assisted in the defense of the caravan, but Shank-ji deliberately kills both cats, ignoring admonitions from the caravan leader and orders issued by the Emperor. Ravinga learns of this defiant act almost immediately and sends Allitta to tell Hynkkel. Murri hears about it at the same time and stalks out of the palace in a rage. Hynkkel declares Shank-ji to be an outlaw and the news is promulgated throughout the Outer Regions. Queen Yuikala of Vapala has plans of her own, one of which involves having her granddaughter Berneen become the Emperor's Companion. Yuikala obtains a foul drink that induces heat and forces Berneen to drink it. Of course, it might cause her death and Yuikala would dislike losing such a convenient tool, but some things must be risked. Luckily for Hynkkel, he already has plans for presenting Allitta as his Companion. With a necklace and stone from Ravinga, Allitta emits the special smell indicating that she is in heat and every male in the palace notices her condition. Although Yuikala breaks tradition to present her granddaughter ahead of Allitta, Hynkkel ignores her gauche maneuver and approaches Allitta instead. He immediately shows his pleasure and takes Allitta back to the throne with him. Yuikala is incensed by his humiliating actions and Berneen flees from the hall. Hynkkel and Allitta independently discover the presence of water ways under the Outer Regions and separately explore the tunnels. Allitta finds Hynkkel, Akeea the Blue Leopard and Murri fighting a water monster within a tunnel. She gives a timely pull to disengage Hynkkel from the monster and he uses her spear to kill the beast. After a brief discussion, Hynkkel leaves the tunnel to sneak into the room of Mohambra, the Imperial Cat Keeper, where he is provided with a powder that soothes and heals the wounds inflicted by the monster on Akeea, Murri and himself. These wounds take some time to heal, so Hynkkel puts his Progress on hold. When the Progress finally leaves to pass through each queendom, Allitta and Ravinga are included. So is Yuikala, but she stays at the tail of the huge caravan. The first stop is Kahulawe, Hynkkel's home queendom. In these stories, Hynkkel has been enlisted against the evil Dark Lord who is using the desert rats as a weapon against the Five Queendoms. He is creating larger, smarter rats and even rat-men to lead the common rats into attacks that will result in certain death to many people, although many more rats will die than people. What does Quinzell care about a few rats? There are always more being born. The Dark Lord also has tools among the people of the Outer Regions. Shank-ji is uncertain about the wisdom of following Quinzell, but he is always willing to use the advantages that such attacks give him. Yuikala also plots to her own advantage, even using forbidden tools. She also calls upon the Essences as appropriate to her position, but the Essences are not fooled! Highly recommended for Norton fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of exotic cultures, political intrigue and magic. -Arthur W. Jordin
Customer Review: Mark of the Cat & its long-awaited sequel
Ms. Norton's tales in this instance (two full length novels bound into 1 volume) are set in Karen Kuykendall's Outer Regions, which previously appeared only in artwork, without actual books to provide a backstory (to the best of my knowledge). Yes, we finally have here not only a reprint of _Mark of the Cat_, but its long-awaited sequel. I'd provide separate reviews of both, but the sequel has so far appeared only in this volume, and a detailed discussion of the sequel presupposes knowledge _Mark of the Cat_. Overview: The Outer Regions are desert country, mostly lacking open water, where life depends on occasional algae pools, where in a famine year (mercifully, rather rare) the Ministers of Balance may be called out to decide which animals live, and which die - and even which people. The great sandcats of the desert are greatly feared, and are hunted despite their intelligence. Paradoxically, the great leopards forming the Emperor's guard are much revered, and as for ordinary cats, killing a 'kotti' is a capital crime. The people depend on trade between the 5 queendoms: Kahulawe, Thnossis, Azhengir, and Vapala, which have roughly similar governments (all ultimately answering to the Emperor) but somewhat different cultures. These aren't purely hereditary offices; an Emperor competes in various deadly trials to win the office, designed not only to ensure fitness but an acquaintance with the lives of his people. Even to be recognized as an adult, a youngster must pass his or her 'Solo': the youngster is knocked out and stranded in the desert, and must find his or her way back to civilization alone. Both books alternate between 2 narrators: Hynkkel of Kahulawe, and Allitta, last survivor of a fallen noble house of Vapala. Allita provides us with a close-up view of the capital in the last days of the dying emperor Shank-ji, whose son (against tradition) intends to try to win his father's office. Allitta is also apprentice to the doll-maker Ravinga, whose enchanting miniatures aren't the most magical thing about her. Primarily, though, this is Hynkkel's story. As a herder and the least-respected member of a warrior clan in Kahulawe, Hynkkel comes to his Solo late since his father doesn't think he amounts to much. The lonely rock 'island' where he awakens isn't entirely deserted, however: a swarm of the vicious rats of the desert occupy it in such numbers that they've killed one sandcat, and would have pulled down another if Hynkkel hadn't intervened with his slingshot. So it is that Hynkkel not only sees the sandcats' dance and song, but gains a blood-brother: Murri, the half-grown cub of the sandcat he rescued. So it is that Hynkkel doesn't return to his clan after his trial, but seeks a new life, leading him eventually to the capital and the dollmaker's shop. _Year of the Cat_ picks up shortly after the first book, during the preparations for the coronation of the new emperor - when a fallen house such as Allitta's can request reinstatement, if she comes out of hiding. The emperor's first official progress through the Outer Regions will be marked by trouble: the water table is dwindling, and the desert rats are endangering the trade routes that tie the queendoms together. Soon the sandcats and humans must decide to end their enmity, or both peoples will fall to the evil coming out of the Plain of Desolation... One distracting misprint: the name "Vapala", that of the Diamond queendom where the Emperor holds court, is misspelt all the way through this 1st hardcover printing of _Year of the Rat_, and I mean *every* occurrence, even though it's spelled correctly throughout _Mark of the Cat_ (1st half of the volume). Of the 5 queendoms, this is the worst name to get wrong, since it's named most often. It distracted me to the point where I had to go look it up, wondering if I were imagining things. I got over it, but one wishes it hadn't happened.

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