Oct 7, 2007

Varjak Paw by S.F. Said

Varjak Paw is the youngest kitten in a family of pure-breed Mesopotamian Blues. His is a family of distinct cats: they eat the best food, they play with the best toys, and they don’t go Outside. In fact, everything Varjak knows of the outside world is due to the tales his grandfather tells him, tales that have been passed on through the generations. Varjak is not very popular among the family – pure-breed Mesopotamian Blues are supposed to have green eyes, and his eyes are amber-coloured. Besides, his curiosity about the world and about the tales he is told about it is not, his family says, becoming for a cat of his calibre.

The family lives in a large mansion, the Contessa’s house, but lately things have been changing. They haven’t actually seen their mistress in a long time, and there are rumours that she might have passed away. When a strange Gentlemen and his two eerie black cats begin to visit the house, Varjak realizes that his family is in danger, and that it’s only by going Outside that he might have a chance to save them.

I am a fan of children’s and YA books, but among these there is a particular kind of book that I like best: books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series, or anything by Philip Pullman or Diana Wynne Jones. These are books for younger readers that adults can read in a whole other level. Books that you find something new in if, after reading them as a child, you revisit them later on. I was hoping that Varjaw Paw would be one of these books, but, for me, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

However, this is not to say that I didn’t like it. It’s an engaging, fast-paced and entertaining story. It is also not to say that it was a superficial book. It spoke of the importance of both friendship and self-reliance, of wisdom and humility. What I thought it perhaps lacked was a certain subtlety in the way these points were made.

But I am more than happy to read a book just to be entertained by a well-told story, and that was what happened in this case. Varjak Paw was a good character, and so was Holly, the street cat he befriends. I was even fascinated by the dreaded Sally Bones, the mysterious white cat that rules the city’s streets, and I hope the sequel will have more about her.

I think this is a book I would have enjoyed more at a younger age, but I am still glad to have read it, and like I just said I am interested in the story enough to want to read the sequel. Sometimes that is all I ask for in a book. Besides, Dave Mckean’s wonderful illustrations alone would have been enough to make this book worthwhile.

Other Blog Reviews:
A Fondness for Reading
Stuff as Dreams are Made On

Rhinoa's Ramblings
Katrina Reads
The Hidden Side of a Leaf


  1. Hmmm, Now I'm really curious to read this one and see how I'll feel about it! I think that sometimes authors don't give their audience enough credit even if it's a very young audience and think that they have to spell out their message in a very blatant way...sounds like that's what happened with this one. Still sounds like a good read though and like you said, the McKean illustrations are worth it ;)

  2. I hadn't heard of this one, but it sounds different and interesting.

  3. Chris: I think that's exactly what happened - the author underestimated children. They don't need a point to be made again and again and again to be able to understand it. Unfortunately this is a problem with many children's books, and even with some books for adults. But ah well, it wasn't bad enough that it made me dislike the book, and I still had fun with the story.

    Trish: The story in itself is quite original and interested, and I think that and the illustrations make it worth reading.

  4. I have this and the sequel to read on my TBR shelf. It sounds pretty cool and I am sorry it didn't quite live up to your expectations. Give me a month or two and we can compare notes.

  5. Annie absolutely loved this one (of course, she is 10)...wonder if she'll love it as much when she's older.

  6. The cover is great!

    Speaking of Coraline, I just finished it, but have to mull it over before writing a review.

  7. Rhinoa: It wasn't as good as I thought it'd be, but still, it is a cool book.

    Debi: I can definitely see why Annie loved it. And it's not like adults can't enjoy it, but you know, there's not as much to it as in the case of "The Tale of Despereaux", for example.

    Dewey: The cover was pretty much what sold me. I look forward to your review of Coraline!

  8. It unfortunately sounds like it doesn't live up to the amazing cover art. Sorry to hear that.

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  10. I think the amazing cover art and illustrations were the reason why I had such high expectations. But oh well, it was still a good book.

  11. I bought the book because of the cover (and illustrations, hahaha) but I had fun reading it as it is such a light read. Maybe that's why I likened it to watching a martial arts film.

    Then again, I agree with you that this is not really an adult novel. At least not in the same vein as Coraline, the series on Tiffany Aching or any DWJ.

    The sequel is darker somewhat though. I could lend it to you (in case you decided not to buy the second book) but you're there in Great Britain and I'm somewhere in Asia. Hahaha!


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