As part of my ongoing attempt to figure my way out of my writer’s block, I’ve started looking at prompt generators and hoping the more ridiculous ones would catch on. “Why don’t you write something about… magical… um, uh… cats,” I told myself in desperation. This seemed like a good idea until about three seconds later, when I remembered that a ton of people, even some of my favorite authors, had already done this. At least I got something out of it—I dug up an old book that I hadn’t reread in years. The Book of Night with Moon is about magical cats, but to my surprise, it was a lot more adult than I remembered it being.
Trigger warning for mentions of animal cruelty after the jump.
The Book of Night with Moon, published in 1997, is set in the Young Wizards universe, but though our human wizard protagonists appear a few times, this book is largely about cat wizards. Yes—cat wizards. As stated in the Young Wizards books, every species has its wizards and its non-wizards, and cats are no different. Rhiow, our protagonist, is a housecat who lives with her humans, Susan and Mike, in New York City. Unbeknownst to them, however, she leaves their apartment for hours at a time on wizardry business with her team, Saash, Urruah, and newcomer Arhu. Together they look after the gates that allow for interplanetary travel in New York City—cats are especially suited to this role because they can see the “strings” that hold these gates together and allow them to operate. But recently, all the gates have been acting up, and they’re not sure why…
Though The Book of Night with Moon is about cats, it’s not as cute and fluffy as its protagonists would imply. The Young Wizards series covers many mature issues, but starts out as primarily a series of kids’ novels—The Book of Night with Moon talks about more adult issues from the very start. As a housecat, Rhiow has been spayed, but some of her teammates haven’t been altered, and sex and sexuality are discussed frequently and in detail. As cats living alongside humans, there’s also a lot of rather graphic discussion of the cruelties humans can inflict on cats, whether it’s something innocent like feeding them disgusting cat foods, or more horrible, like trying to drown them as kittens. Rhiow lives comfortably, but some of her team members live in dumpsters and survive by hunting and begging for scraps. Strangely enough, I wasn’t really bothered by any of this when reading it as a child, which could have been me just cheerfully skipping over concepts I didn’t fully understand at the time. I would definitely hesitate before recommending it to kid-me today.
However, that’s not to say that this is bad, just perhaps not child-friendly. Writing from the point of view of cats and other animals has the potential to seem infantile, because the author could write about cats as just cute pets, rather than as individual thinking beings. Author Diane Duane never does this. Her cats are fiercely independent, never auxiliary to the human characters, and the feline worldbuilding is excellent—all the above issues are things that cats would really discuss, and the cats even have their own language, Ailurin, which they use for talking with each other when they aren’t yowling at us dumb humans. Rhiow might spend most of her time napping or eating, but the book treats this as just a natural part of her life, not as something cute or adorable. In short, the book really feels like it was written from a cat’s point of view, not a human pretending to be a cat.
What was really memorable to me as a child was the relationship between Rhiow and her human Susan. Rhiow has been with Susan ever since she was a kitten, and though Susan isn’t a wizard and doesn’t speak Rhiow’s language, the two are very close. Though I have a cat now, I didn’t have a cat when I first read this book, and it made me wonder if the cat I would someday have would like tuna (spoiler alert: he does) or like to play with scraps of string and fabric (spoiler alert: he doesn’t). Now that I do live with a cat, rereading the book made me reflect on how cats try and communicate with their humans, as hopeless a task as it may seem.
For a book about cats, The Book of Night with Moon is surprisingly but definitely adult fiction, and it’s a little harder to get through than the YA Young Wizards books. However, as its worldbuilding would imply, it’s a great addition to the Young Wizards books—we get to see a side of the wizard community that the other books rarely explore, and we get to do so through a layered and detailed exploration of a culture that intersects with our own, but is very different. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of fantasy, cats, and Diane Duane—just maybe don’t give the book to your kids.