(Reviewed by Shanna Shadowfax OCT 10, 2007)
“Shaking, Ratha crept forward, her torch casting orange light on the path. As the torchlight fell on the pack, they cowered . . . ‘This is my creature. I have brought it to the clan. I am Ratha, who once herded three-horn deer. Now I herd the Red Tongue.’”The Clan of the Cave Bear, part Jungle Book, Clare Bell’s prehistoric feline fantasy takes us into the world of a clan of sentient cats called the Named and one spirited yearling named Ratha. Back in print after many years, these works are back on the shelf and in the hands of eager readers again.
This first book is Ratha’s story, her journey in discovering her own strength as she changes roles from herder, to rebel, exile and heroine. When a spirited Ratha discovers ways to handle the fire that so terrifies her people, she doesn’t realize that her actions will lead to exile, and a loss of all she’s ever known. As Ratha is forced to grow up and struggle through hardship to find her way, she must learn what road to travel, despite the price she pays to walk it. When the Clan who exiled her is threatened with being destroyed, she must decide if she will be the key to their survival against the attacks of the Unnamed.
Reading this again after so many years I was pleasantly surprised to find this book has lost none of its impact and strength. Ms. Bell has created a harsh prehistoric world that her cat clan lives in. This is not a land of magic or easy choices. Each choice leads to inevitable consequences, even when it may be the right choice to make. The author’s deft handling of her characters allows for readers to suspend their disbelief and really visualize this band of sentient cats that herd animals for food. The cats still have to contend with the lack of hands and the demands of their nature, but the personalities and societal pressures are very familiar and all too human. While the tale moves quickly and is relatively short, this is not a light story—there are extremely poignant moments, and triumph is often mixed with tragedy. It’s a powerful story. It’s the story of what makes a leader and what kinds of roads they often travel. It’s the story of love and loss and betrayal. It’s a story of big cats in an unforgiving wilderness and how they survive.
It is not a cute or cuddly story. It’s a serious adventure and coming of age tale that will likely appeal to young teen and young adult readers. Given some of the mature elements in the story, this may not be as appropriate for younger readers: the complex characters and mature relationships make for demanding reading. If you want to read more about Ratha and her clan, take heart! There’s more to the The Named series and they are all back in print and the brand new Ratha’s Courage is due out this month! If you like cat stories like these, you might want to check out Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams and the Catfantastic story anthologies edited by Andre Norton.
- Amazon readers rating: from 51 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Ratha's Creature at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
The Named Series:
- Ratha's Creature (1983)
- Clan Ground (1984)
- Ratha and Thistle-Chaser (1990)
- Ratha's Challenge (1991)
- Ratha's Courage (October 2007)
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About the Author:
Clare Bell was born in England in 1952 and moved to the US with her family in 1957. She worked in oceanography, electrical engineering, test equipment design and mechanical engineering before she wrote her first book, Ratha's Creature, the story of a prehistoric wildcat who learns to tame fire.
Her stories tend to show sociological themes as well, exploring the changes that are brought about in culture through technology. Bell also enjoys creating plausible and workable alien critters (the aronan fliers in People of the Sky).
Bell has degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, biology and chemistry and has continued working in technical areas in addition to writing fiction. She became involved in building and designing electric vehicles (EV) and spent a year in Norway working on a production EV.
After moving to a remote site in California's coastal mountains, she and her partner put together their own solar and wind systems and experimented with a power-generating waterwheel. A naturalized citizen of the US, Bell now lives with her partner-become-husband, Chuck Piper, in the hills west of Patterson, California.