Title: The Mark of the Cat
Author: Andre Norton
Series: Hynkkel #1
Hynkkel is no warrior, though he comes from a House of warriors—to the eternal disappointment of his father. So while his strong and skilled brother gains all the honor, Hynkkel is little better than a servant. When his father finally allows him to solo (a wilderness survival test that bestows the status of an adult), he encounters some of his world’s largest predators, the sand cats. But rather than perish beneath their claws, he strikes up a friendship . . .
This is an interesting bit of worldbuilding. Hynkkel lives in a very dry land, so most of the terrain is desert or similarly inhospitable. There’s a prologue that sets up some very basic information about how the world works, though if you skip it much of that information does come eventually in the story. In some ways it feels a bit shallow, as there are very few species which occupy this place (I think there are more strains of algae than types of creatures), and the existence of so many sand cats without similarly large herds of prey animals also strains the credulity a bit. But it does make for a different kind of world, hot and dry and harsh, where life must be chiseled from an unforgiving land.
The story is told in first person, but switches between Hynkkel and Allitta. Irritatingly, nothing marks these transitions other than a scene break—often the switch occurs within the same chapter, which was jarring the first time especially because Allitta doesn’t narrate until quite a ways into the story, so I had no idea the point of view was going to change. I liked Hynkkel better anyway. Allitta’s sections mostly serve to introduce a few additional pieces of information and show how certain forces are manipulating Hynkkel’s path.
The only other real problem is that as the story winds to its obvious conclusion, it isn’t really done yet. And the sequel is hard to find (and based on the reviews, may not be entirely worth tracking down either). It doesn’t even leave off in a wonderful place, either: Hynkkel has achieved more than he ever set out to do, but the social circles now around him are mostly wanting to see him dead. Not to mention the never-seen mysterious magic-worker who has been sending hordes of rats against the land hasn’t even surfaced, much less been stopped.
It leaves me with rather mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed it well enough, but the lack of an actual ending is really annoying. And the reader will probably have guessed Hynkkel’s destiny fairly early in the book, which makes some of the late middle a slog. Read it if the setting sounds interesting, because the plot’s rather standard fare. I rate this book Neutral.