For this month’s TBR Challenge read, I decided to hit the virtual TBR pile. It’s not as large as the dead tree one, but it still exists. I’m glad I decided to pick something from the Kindle because Bettie Sharpe’s novella Cat’s Tale ended up being wonderful. This inspired retelling of Puss in Boots is definitely a Desert Island Keeper read for me.
The story, told in first person, takes us inside the head of the beautiful and very spoiled Catriona. In the beginning, the scheming, devious Catriona uses her looks as well as a few tricks to catch the eye of the widowed king. This marriage takes her from rural obscurity to a very pampered existence at the palace – until the king dies. At that point, Catriona tries to protect her position by getting mixed up in palace intrigue and after crossing the wizard Galfridus, she finds herself turned into a cat and tossed into a millpond to drown.
Fortunately, Cat survives her swim but remains trapped in cat form. She recruits the miller’s youngest son to help her in her quest for revenge and to regain her rightful place. To those who have read the original Puss in Boots, it would not surprise anyone to learn that the grand plan involves the promise of wealth, a title and the hand of a princess. Cat, of course, does not tell him about her own agenda, but the miller’s son Julian is in a rather deperate position himself and he goes along with her plan. Given that Cat believes, “Every grand plan begins with the right pair of shoes,” she manages to convince Julian to outfit her with a little cat-sized pair of boots. And so it is that a boot-wearing cat and a miller’s third son set off on a grand adventure.
The story definitely uses some touches from the original fairy tale (Cat holds Julian out to be the Marquis of Carabas, for example), but Cat and Julian are both clearly drawn and the romance that builds between them in this framework takes the Puss in Boots motif in a very new direction. As narrator, Cat is clearly self-serving, spoiled and devious. Julian recognizes these things in her and yet he finds himself getting very attached to his talking cat companion. For Cat, who has always used her looks and her body to manipulate men, the experience of having only her wits available to try to convince another is a new challenge. As Julian responds with friendship to her, the reader gets to see Cat stripped of pretense and learning what it is to genuinely love someone. For most of the story, Julian only knows Cat as a cat, but this cat is nevertheless his dearest friend. Listening to the conversations in which Julian recognizes the importance of the friendship is wonderful because the author manages to write scenes which show Julian’s fondness for the self-centered Cat as poignant without losing sight of the inherent absurdity of a man being best friends with a talking cat.
I don’t want to discuss exactly what happens when Julian inevitably discovers the secret of the spell that binds Cat because that goes too far into spoilers. I’ll simply point out that the romance that develops manages to be truly touching without losing the pointed humor that sets the tone for much of the story. Julian’s still just a little bit of a pushover and Cat remains nearly as devious as ever and yet they still fall in love. It’s a love story that is very convincing and character growth that we see in Cat especially makes it just beautiful.
The language of the novella is wonderful and pulled me into the author’s world from the very beginning. It’s been a long time since I felt like I really got the know a character the way that I got to know Cat in this story. Even as the rather amoral tart that she is at the beginning of the story, Cat is quite engaging and the fairytale world in which she operates is on in which readers will like to linger. This has definitely been my best TBR Challenge read yet!
– Lynn Spencer