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Cats in the City of Plague
A.L. Marlow, author
As a great pandemic rages in a city in Medieval France, humans begin to blame cats. Instead of being petted and adored, cats are thrown out of their homes, killed and burned without explanation. Leander can’t understand: He and his fellow cats never did anything wrong, and according to the legend of Le Chat, humans and cats are supposed to have an understanding. When Leander is forced out of his home, he must leave behind his life of comfort to seek safety. Along with several other cats, Leander aims to flee the city and return to the wild where cats once lived. But time is running out. Crossing a hostile city at night, they make a harrowing escape. Leander soon learns that though he can live in the wild, the partnership forged by the legendary Le Chat with humans is the true path for the cats of the world.
Marlow's fiction debut delves into the world of 14th century France, presenting a thoughtful portrait of a historical plague from the unique perspective of a city's cats. Leander, who considers himself a good cat, upholds his end of the bargain between humans and felines by keeping mice out of the apothecary garden. But the humans of the city are acting strange, and the cats can’t understand why. As plague ravages the town, the humans’ fear turns to distrust and violence against anyone suspected of the Devil's work—from Leander's beloved apothecary, whose herb garden has long been a refuge, to the cats themselves. With the city no longer safe for them, they must make a dangerous journey to an uncertain future in the forest, with only each other to rely on.

Plague is certainly a timely subject, and Marlow's choice to present it from a non-human perspective creates a welcome, fascinating distance. The many cats of the city have charming and distinct personalities, from the brash Eusebius, to the inquisitive twins, and the wise and powerful Innocent. However, the cast is extensive, and the short length of the novel precludes much in-depth characterization. The human interactions are informative but often lack narrative momentum. Still, the theme is engaging, and the unspoken comparisons with today's world will ring true with readers: on one hand, the humans seem to be taking the plague seriously, but on the other, many turn to wild rumors of miracle cures, desperately seek scapegoats, or distrust actual sources of medicine.

Although Marlow’s plot is slow to get started, it eventually transforms into a tense and dramatic journey through the city, powered by the danger and sacrifice inherent in tales of epic quests. Ultimately, the story will appeal more to fans of historical fiction than to animal enthusiasts, but cat lovers will enjoy the lore of Le Chat and the eccentric relations between the humans and felines.

Takeaway: This intriguing story of cats facing the Black Death presents well-researched history and an engaging quest.

Great for fans of: Tad Williams’s Tailchaser's Song, Richard Adams's Watership Down.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A