Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Tailchaser's Song

by Tad Williams


Ambitiously Tad Williams has attempted to write a fantasy whose hero is a cat. The story is a quest which begins when Fritti Tailchaser finds that a young female cat, Hushpad, has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Further cases of vanishing felines and some grisly deaths strike a sinister chord. Something very evil seems to be about to take place, and Fritti soon finds himself setting out to find the cause of the problems.

Williams tries hard to get us to see things from the point of view of the cats, and at times almost succeeds. The trouble is, cats simply don't quest. It's not in their nature to scheme, hold council, fight in an organised manner, or not lie around all the time. And cats, friend or foe, are found behaving in a most un-catlike manner throughout the book. A pact made with the squirrels takes the story straight into Brambly Hedge territory. The characters behave like humans, and the plot only makes sense if that is what you imagine them to be.

The language of the cats is a source of annoyance. We know that animals can't really talk, and readers are prepared to put that aside for the sake of fiction. Why then does Williams invent a tongue, the Higher Singing, which has the reader reaching for the glossary at every page? It's confusing, irrelevant to the story, and far more irritating than plain English.

Tailchaser is just about sympathetic enough to carry you along with him, although he is a little blinkered. Any human being reading would be able to see the twist at the end coming from the time of Hushpad's disappearance.

The motivations of the villains are explained mostly in terms of blind, cringing obedience to their leader. Although we are dealing with cats, they are very much stock characters. The finish leaves a few loose ends hanging and could perhaps do with a little more closure. Then again, I had had enough by that point.

Tailchaser's Song is only distinguishable from the vast majority of sub-standard fantasy in that the main players are all feline. The cat part fails because it comes across as just a gimmick. Other than that it's a standard adventure story. If you still enjoy animal tales with a touch of sword 'n' sorcery, there are far better ones to be found. Not his best work.

Book Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
More about Tad Williams


snowrajih     12th January, 2005 20:15pm

i must disagree with Rosalind Jackson: Tailchaser's Song is not massacred fantasy. The storyline was unique--which in today's overpopulated fantasy market, is quite a feat. Williams' writing career is just starting in this book (i believe this is his debut...) so go figure that it's not as "mature" as his later novels. However, that does not detracted from the overall story. i have read Tailchaser's Song at least 7 times: the first time being when i was 9 years old, and i just finished it again this morning (i am 28 now). Intentionally or not, it is filled with many life lessons and every time i read it, i get something new out of it. i think that is part of what defines a classic, yes? i always have a copy of it.

i will say, i do like the old cover better with Tailchaser and Pouncequick on the front, Scratchnail on the back. However, i can't wait to get a closer view of the new one.


Misho     1st September, 2005 16:31pm

Very nice

Kitty Lover     2nd November, 2006 03:29am

Please note that I have not read this book in years - heresy, I know, but I just forgot about it or couldn't find it - and that the last time I read it was probably about six or seven years ago, so bear with me if I completely butcher the book.

I love all the characters and the languages. I think the languages really make the book better. (Then again, I am the sort of hardcore fantasy fan that likes books like "Fire Bringer" and "The Sight" by David Clement-Davies, and that I'm making up my own language.) But I think the languages, as well as the clever names, really add to the story.

I really don't remember too much more of the story, except that one of my favorite characters loses something that is very dear to him, and that it seems as if no cat can live without. I hope that was not a spoiler - I think it was too broad to be one. One more thing - I liked the intriguing plot twist where a minor character turned major. Not gonna say more because if I do I'm probably going to butcher the book entirely. Please don't send me hate mail if I already did. IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!

Bluestocking     24th November, 2006 09:45am

I think Rosalind Jackson has been overly harsh in her review of "Tailchaser's Song". Okay, so perhaps it isn't exactly Hugo-Award material -- but at least in my opinion, it's still a highly creative and well-crafted story. As for Ms. Jackson's criticism that "we know that animals can't really talk, and readers are prepared to put that aside for the sake of fiction. Why then does Williams invent a tongue, the Higher Singing?" -- you might as well ask why JRR Tolkien bothered to invent Elvish given that the Elves of Middle Earth are perfectly capable of communicating with Men and Dwarves, or why Gene Roddenberry bothered to invent the Klingon language. Isn't this the whole *point* of fiction, especially science fiction -- imagining new possibilities? Yes, we know that animals don't "talk" as such and that there are no such things as Elves or Klingons or dragons or whatever...does that mean people shouldn't imagine that there are, and write about it?

If "Tailchaser's Song" has a flaw, it's that it's a little too strongly reminiscent of "Watership Down" right down to the creation of the animal language -- Lapine is transformed into the Higher Singing, Hazel and Tailchaser are both insignificant individuals who become heroes, the darker aspects of Efrafa amplified become Vastnir, and Hearteater as General Woundwort intensified. Nevertheless, this is a highly entertaining story which has a permanent place on my bookshelf and which I never get tired of reading.

Jemma     5th May, 2007 23:27pm

I personally loved Tailchaser's Song. It's my favorite single novel, and I wish there was a second book. I love how Williams involoved how cats really think as well as the exciting story, and the characters are wonderful. Tailchaser's Song is an amazing book, and if anyone has something bad to say about it, I don't care to hear it!