Sometimes, you pick a book off the shelf because it has a great cover. When I saw Lynne Jonell’s The Sign of the Cat had arrived, I decided to take it home in spite of the cover (which I found looked a little dated), and I’m certainly glad I did. This middle grade novel about a young boy on a rollicking adventure was a blast to read, full of danger, evil plots, humour and cats! This was a very fun book, and while I could spot many of the plot twists coming, that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of it.
Warned by his mother to ensure that he never tried too hard or succeeded more than other children, Duncan has been chafing under her restrictions for years. He was told he must never be top of the class, never win at fencing and, oddly, never walk around without his hat on. Duncan bristles under these directions, not understanding why his mother wants him to hide his excellence. He knows she loves him; she works long hours teaching music in order to keep him fed, sometimes going without food herself.
Something else which makes Duncan unique is his ability to speak Cat. Taught by his elderly feline friend Grizel when he was very young, Duncan confides in his beloved pet all of his frustrations; while she advises him to heed his mother’s warnings, Duncan is a young man determined to find a way to do his very best. One day, while attempting to find work on the docks, he runs into the Earl of Merrick, the much-loved hero who has been searching tirelessly for the missing princess. Everyone in the island kingdom of Arvidia knows the story of Charles, the bad Duke, who betrayed the King and tried to kill the Earl of Merrick. During the conflict, the princess was lost and has been for years now, with the Earl searching tirelessly for her. So when Duncan meets the Earl on the docks, he is stunned and excited, even more so because the Earl invites him aboard his ship. What follows is a sea-faring adventure, full of intrigue, betrayal and mystery.
This is a fun fantasy novel that isn’t too bogged down in fantasy-world details, so it’s a good choice for readers who don’t like (or are reluctant to try) high fantasy. Duncan is a sweet character, who has a little bit of a rebellious streak in him (which makes him more interesting), but it is his kindness that will really win readers over. He is trusting, which is what gets him into trouble early in the book, but also smart, so he is able to get himself out of his predicaments. While the story starts off a little slowly, once the adventures begin, the pace really picks up.
The Sign of the Cat was a very enjoyable middle grade fantasy book, that will appeal to lovers of adventure. It’s a delightful stand-alone (so far), which means the reader gets a satisfying conclusion when he or she turns the very last page. So if you are looking to try out a fun and fantastical adventure, give The Sign of the Cat a try!