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A Controversial Creature, part 1
The Outlaw Varjak PawBook Review
by Georgette Tan
"The Outlaw Varjak Paw" is the long-awaited follow-up (long-awaited by me, in any case) to SF Said's "Varjak Paw", the story of a Mesopotamian blue cat who escaped his life as a house kitten to see what is outside his comfortable existence.
He found the outside world fraught with danger - cars, dogs, weather, and cat gangs that aren’t prepared to share the territory with anyone else.
In the first book, Varjak Paw learned a feline fighting style called The Way of Jalal through a series of dreams, where he visits his ancestor and master warrior Jalal. He used Seven Skills to defend his friends and newfound freedom from Sally Bones, the thin white cat with one ice-blue eye who has the run of the city.
In the second book, winter has set in and food is scarce. Varjak, Cludge the dog, and his feline friends Tam and Holly, are out hunting when they are cornered by a patrol from Sally Bones' gang.
The thug cats inform them that Sally Bones has taken over all the neutral ground in the city, and that all the food found there belongs to her. Anyone caught stealing will be punished.
Varjak nearly kills Razor, one of the captains, in the fight that breaks out in that encounter. He is declared an outlaw by Bones. When Mrs. Mogg's clan shelters him, the patrol takes a kitten hostage to lure him out.
On the way to rescue little Jessie, the group encounters Omar and Ozzie, the Orrible Twins and the strongest cats in town. Forced to join Bones' gang, they had recently fled and are also outlaws.
In order to survive the winter, Varjak and friends must also embark on a seemingly foolish quest - to find the secret city where mice are plentiful and cats will finally live free from Sally Bones' tyranny.
The leadership role is thrust upon a reluctant Varjak because he is the only cat who has stood up to Sally Bones and survived. He would have been a force to reckon with sooner, if not for his naiveness towards city life. His personal growth makes up most of this book.
Tams and Holly are there to help him through the practical side of being a street cat, but when a few encounters go horribly wrong, Varjak must search deep within himself to find the strength to fight the big fight.
The dream visitations with Jalal continue. This time, the older cat also focuses on the finer points of The Way, invoking the classic mentor and student relationship some of us might remember from Karate Kid movies.
Once again, illustrator Dave McKean brings Varjak's world to life with his gritty black and white illustrations. McKean is known for his work with Neil Gaiman on the graphic novels "Violent Cases", the "Black Orchid", and "The Sandman" covers.
His ink-work is full of rough lines and splatters. Some of his illustrations look incomplete, but I would say it passes for a cat captured in kung-fu mode. The stark black and white gives away to softer grey in the dream sequences, while consistently retaining the harsh lines that make up the theme.
There are plenty of images here. Some are proper illustrations, while a handful of others make up the background of the page. On one or two pages, the text and image merge to look almost like a comic without interrupting the flow of the story.
Here's another cause for excitement: while poking around online, I found that The Jim Henson Company will be adapting the book as an animated feature. It will be directed by McKean, who already has Mirrormask (with Gaiman) under his directorial belt.
Varjak Paw is online at http://www.varjakpaw.com .
Published by Corgi Books
Paperback, 267 pages
Georgette Tan writes for a Malaysian newspaper. She is fond of movies, long walks on the beach and clichés.
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