Tears still run down my delightfully swollen face as I write this, muttering something darkly about “those ****ing books”. I told myself I wouldn’t cry. I tell myself this every time I open one of these ****ing books. And then I just end up blubbing uncontrollably.
I’m talking about the Warriors books, a micro-library of novels written by several authors under the collective pseudonym of Erin Hunter. So here’s the thing: they are middle-grade books and the characters are all … well … cats. I know, I know, not your kind of age group and not your kind of characters (sorry, no faltering heroines and no smouldering, dark-secret-bearing heroes either). But let me tell you something potentially quite shocking and controversial … The Warriors books are some of the best books I have ever read, for children, young adults or adults. They are shamelessly sitting right near the top of my desert island books list. If the world were to end tomorrow, I would grab Harry Potter and Warriors – okay, I would need quite a large bag to accommodate them all, but there’s no baggage allowance in the apocalypse.
I’ve been a fan of Erin Hunter’s books ever since they first came to Blighty. I was working in a bookshop at the time during my sixth form years, and in the staff room was a table piled high with proof copies (this must have been 2003/4, which makes me really old!). I used to ferret around for young adult titles, but on that fateful day, a bright orange proof copy with the silhouette of a cat jumped into my hands. This book is about cats? I wondered to myself. How good can that be? The answer was very. Very good indeed. I was hooked from the start when a young pet cat called Rusty is taken in by a clan of wild cats who live in the forest. As he is trained to become a warrior, he has to fight not only the prejudices against him, but the dangers that threaten the clan’s existence.
Correction, I wasn’t just hooked, I was completely in love. These books embody that lost sense of a connection to nature that gives me daily pain. They are about survival, friendship, betrayal, fulfilling potential, fear, courage and understanding. And they are brutal. Oh, here come the tears again. Don’t think that just because they are middle grade that they are soft and fluffy and everyone rejoices in a happy ending. They are brutal. Like, Game of Thrones brutal, only for cats. I have the exact same mantra reading these as I do Game of Thrones: “Don’t get attached to anyone!” Of course I do. How can I not? They are cats after all! I don’t get anywhere near this upset over human losses as I do when one of those brave cats sacrifices themselves or is tragically killed for some preventable reason. The episodes those cats go through are the kind of plots you have to be mentally prepared to endure. In fact, I have to take quite lengthy breaks in between devouring two or three books at a time to rest my emotions. Do not read if you are feeling fragile! Middle grade they may be, but patronising they are not. There are no pulled punches here.
After the first book, Into the Wild, was released, the Warriors books seemed to go into some kind of publishing hiatus in the UK, which vexed me hugely. I began to think I was the only human on Earth who truly understood the value of these stories. But then, a few years later, Amazon obliged, and I was able to buy imports from the US. And I’ve been devouring all things Warriors ever since. Here’s my current collection, occupying an entire shelf by themselves.
And this just about scratches the surface (no kitty pun intended). These are just the main storyline books, which come in sets of six. There are numerous other novellas, manga books, guides and story collections available. If only I had unlimited funds! I’ve just finished the boxset on the left, Dawn of the Clans, which are stories about the origins of the clans, so a prequel to Into the Wild. I’m not going to tell you why I’m blubbing, but I will tell you this: just read them. Or even just read Into the Wild, and if you are the right kind of person, then you’ll understand why I will never stop spouting on about these books. The Erin Hunter team has written other series about dogs and bears, but I’ve tried them out and I didn’t like them as much. They really are middle grade in tone, but you’ll find no such patronising writing in Warriors. Just stories that verge on the emotionally unbearable and characters that will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s a wonderful, huge and constantly giving world to fall into. Thank you, collective authors of Erin Hunter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And as a fresh wave of tears surge down my cheeks, I bid you happy reading and leave you with a link to find out more.