Have you ever wondered about cats? Why they sleep for so many hours at a time? What it is they do at night? Why they stare at things that aren’t there? Sometimes it seems that just about everything cats do is a mystery—a possibly unsolvable one. Well, unless, that is, you start looking at cats through the lens of R.M. Callahan’s The Dark Yule. Then, everything makes perfect sense.
The Dark Yule follows the adventures of Pumpkin Spice, a Maine Coon cat who is just trying her best to make sure her human, Morwen, and her baby—er, Morwen’s baby—are not in danger from the various supernatural forces that roam Kingsport. These include things like night-gaunts, beings not quite in the material realm that are somewhat bat-like and dangerous to human children. Or ghouls, who roam graveyards and will happily chase cats from hither to yon if it means getting a decent meal in. For Spice, though, things take a turn for the worse when she discovers that things are not as they seem in Kingsport. She ventures to the dreamlands—the realm sof the immaterial and a gathering place for all cats—to gather help from other felines and their knowledge of their past lives, as well as all around Kingsport. They have only a very short amount of time to stop this mysterious Dark Yule, or things are going to be very bad for everyone involved, not just the cats.
It is not often that you see a fantasy story told from the perspective of an animal of any sort, though if you had to pick one a cat would be the one to pick. I think that the peculiarities of cats were captured perfectly. And the fantastical explanations and reasons for those peculiarities was clever and made perfect sense. I really liked how the world was described from the perspective of our four-legged feline friends. The culture and society of cats was well thought out and the character of Pumpkin Spice herself was charming to read. The worldbuilding from a fantasy perspective was also done really well in this book. I have rarely seen an urban fantasy that ventures outside the realm of elves, faeries, vampires, werewolves, even dragons, hiding in plain sight and being revealed slowly over time. This book also explores the fantastic, revealing more of the world over time, but the creatures feel more like an H.P. Lovecraft novel, more Chthulian, and definitely more apt to the interaction of cats.
As far as the actual characters themselves, there are a few to watch out for. Spice, being the main character, naturally has more moxy and gets into more trouble than her other feline friends. This makes her rather unusual for a cat—cats are more likely to discover what the trouble is before running away, instead of running into trouble. Her friends, Dot, Libby, and Cinnamon, note this and chide her for it. Before following Spice right into the midst of the trouble. I think the characters are very well thought out. Each personality is unique and fun to read, especially considering the fact that the breed of cat shows through their personalities. Spiece as a Maine Coon is big enough to take on just about anything. Libby, the Devon Rex, is a bit more cautious and apt to flee. Dot, a mix of who-knows-what, is saucy and capable. And Cinnamon, a Savannah cat, is a bit unusual but willing to help. The thought that went into these characters shows through into a stunning collection of characters that are great fun to read.
My only critique for this book is that the end seemed a little confusing. Yes, the cats weren’t quite certain of all the details that were happening—as they were dealing with humans and magic—but there were a few details that slipped through the cracks. I think this has to do with pacing a little more than it does actually leaving things out. Naturally, events are moving faster at the climax of the novel and the details tend to get muddied when moving quickly. However, there was enough clarity to ensure that the reader knew what had happened during the really important bits. And the less important bits were explained in the following book. (Which was also really fantastic, by the way. Actually, all three of the books were great, and I am now eagerly awaiting book four.)
Apart from the pacing at the end, I think this book is a shining example of taking the ordinary—though suffer telling a cat they are ordinary at your own peril—and making it into something extraordinary and perfectly reasonable. R.M. Callahan manages to paint a picture of cats and magic that had me looking at my own cat in a new, slightly-scary, light.
The Dark Yule is a very good read for anyone interested in a Chthulian urban fantasy adventure in which the heroes of the day are the feline creatures doing their very best to wake us up at two in the morning. The characters are well-developed and fun to read and the story is a great progression from slightly-worrying to downright-dangerous. I would highly recommend this book to fans of the genre (and those outside the genre). This book, and its follow-ons, have made my list of best books read for 2019. Now, on to book four!