Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria, by Rahma Krambo – Book Review By Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria, by Rahma Krambo
Yuba City, CA, Reflected Light Books, July 2011, trade paperback $6.99 (261 pages), Kindle $2.99.
This is an attractive and easily-read fantasy for Young Adult and adult cat lovers, announced as the first in a series. It emphasizes “magical realism” rather than any s-f or fantasy nature. The animals can just talk, that’s all.
Marco is a pampered young housecat who learns to read when his human, young Lucy, leaves books out where he can get at them at night. Soon he is lost in what Lucy likes to read, which is Young Adult adventure and fantasy. The reader will recognize The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Three Musketeers. “In the wee hours of the night, Marco became a warrior, a wizard, a wanderer, but he was always the hero. When Marco read, he forgot he was a cat.” (p. 2) An emergency – the reader will recognize Lucy’s grandmother being rushed to a hospital – empties the house of humans. After a couple of days alone, Marco ventures outside.
Marco does not fare well as an urban feral cat. His wandering takes him to an old library full of so many wonderful books that he almost forgets his search for food. He is shy, and he avoids anyone until he comes to one room:
“Marco moved into the doorway. On a long table sat a cat. Not the same as the one in the window. This one, larger and silver-spotted, was hunched over a book. All around him were stacks of books, and he seemed not to notice anything except what he was reading. His tail, laid out to the side, quivered in annoyance.” (p. 18)
This cat is Cicero, not just the museum’s elderly library cat, but the Guardian charged with protecting an ancient book of power. When the fabled Library of Alexandria was burned about 1,500 years ago, “Akeel, the Master Librarian risked his life to save a handful of rare mystical books. To protect them from falling into the hands of those who would destroy or misuse them, Akeel appointed the library cats, the very ones who followed him out of the burning building, to guard the ancient books of power. Centuries later, successors of these literary felines faithfully remain at their posts.” (website blurb). The surviving books, including the book of power, and the Guardian Cats have spread afar. But Cicero is aware that he has grown old and has not yet appointed a successor. Several candidates had proven unsuitable. Could Marco be that successor?
“He [Cicero] had to remind himself that intelligence was only one aspect needed to be a Guardian. Wasn’t it his own reverence for knowledge that had blinded him before? Hadn’t he learned how deceiving appearances could be?” (p. 28)
Cicero, who can travel through time and space, takes Marco on a series of journeys:
“Cicero completed putting his fur in order and then they were both gazing at the winged horse [a statue] who was reared back, his front legs pawing at the air. ‘Time traveling is always risky, and this trip is especially difficult,’ he began. ‘We had to come a long way to get back to the fourth century. Over sixteen centuries.’
Marco had no clue what he was talking about.” (p. 39)
Spoiler warning: The mysterious ancient book of power is revealed on page 55 – or is it?
“Akeel set the book back on the table. ‘No one knows its true origin, but it appears to have come from some other world. The Book of Motion is the most amazing book in the library; unlike most scientific explanations of life, this one leaves room for God. No, that does not do it justice.’ He tried again. ‘The Book of Motion is more like an affirmation, as though sent by a Higher Power to show us what is possible.’” (p. 55)
It’s the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb:
“‘Marco, the most important thing you need to know is that The Book of Motion was a gift…’ He [Cicero] paused. ‘Bestowed upon humankind for our understanding and benefit. But like anything, it can be used according to the intentions of its keeper. Take a carpenter’s ax for instance. It can be used to fell trees and create, to build dwellings for families. Or it can bludgeon the life out of someone.’” (p. 57)
As an ex-librarian, I love the word-portrait of the Library of Alexandria in its glory. If Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria has a problem, it’s that the testing of Marco goes on for too long:
“When they were comfortable, Akeel turned to Marco. ‘You have a lot of questions, no?’
‘No? Oh, but yes,’ said Marco. ‘I don’t even know where to start, except I have one for Cicero. Why did you bring me here? I mean, why me?’
‘That will become obvious,’ Cicero answered. ‘But not yet. There is more to learn and…’ Cicero’s eyes pierced his soul. ‘You must be found worthy.’” (p. 62)
Marco’s and Cicero’s journeys through time and space take them to exotic places, some dangerous such as the burning of the Library. For furry fans, there are talking animals like Polo the bouncy ferret, the Dead Cats Society, and the enemy raccoons:
“They had black masks and attitude – raccoons, they must have been, although none of the cats had ever encountered a live one. There were only three, but their presence was intimidating and the cats had their hackles up.
‘Did I say you could eat outta my dumpsta?’ said the biggest varmint, a disreputable looking raccoon with a deep scar on one ear.” (p. 98)
More ominously, there is always the Guardian Cats’ human enemy; the spiritual descendant of those who burned the Library:
“He needed men attuned to great leaders, like Hitler. Like Himmler. He would be the Grandmaster. Under his breath, he whispered Himmler’s favorite word, ‘gnadelos’, no mercy.” (pgs. 111-112)
I don’t know who Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (cover image by Laurie L. Snidow) is more for; animal-lovers or book-lovers. I am both, as a furry fan and a retired librarian, so this seems like a book just for me. It comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but since Krambo has said that it will be the first of a series, I am looking forward to more adventures of Marco, the new Guardian.