Having seen it mentioned on Goodreads, I picked this book up hoping for a fun, light-hearted fantasy romp after finishing The Elfstones of Shannara (which quite frankly was a bit of a task).
And a fun fantasy romp I was certainly given; the plot follows Cat, a young woman who disguises herself as a boy in order to stow away on a skyship and escape her conniving father. Once on board, however, she discovers hidden truths about the political situation of her homeland that compel her plot a coup against the governmental regime.
The premise sounds good, but the ideas themselves sometimes came across as cliched as a result of the writing style, which lacked sophistication in places. There were also simple editing errors that detracted from the book’s overall professionalism, and subsequently the story itself.
That being said, the characters were well-developed and had enjoyably witty interactions; the verbal acrobatics between Cat and Fox (one of the secondary protagonists) were some of the best pieces of prose in the book. The decision to give them matching feline-themed names was also not lost on me.
On the other hand, the book invoked a lot of ideas about gender that I didn’t agree with. Cat is very aware of the imbalance between men and women in her society, and disguises herself as a boy to try and redress this balance (as well as for escape purposes), but once her true identity is revealed she constantly comments on the fact that she can never be as ‘big’ or ‘strong’ as the men, belittling herself in the process. Her comparisons didn’t really serve any other purpose than to disempower her and reinforce the distinctions her society purports.
There are also issues of entitlement and ownership in the book, with several of the male characters trying to lay ‘claim’ to Cat as theirs. In some scenes this is passed off as romantic affection, and sadly condoned. Sigh.
My biggest issue, though, was with the epilogue, where Cat is forced to marry a man she does not love for ‘the sake of the country’. Although the book did make a few attempts to lay some groundwork for feminist ideas, the ending erased any of that for me by pretty much reinforcing the idea that the women have almost zero free will in this novel. Cat goes from being controlled and restricted by her father, to having to marry a man she doesn’t love because her social status merited it. Unsurprisingly, this just didn’t sit well with me.
All in all, this was a fun book with some likable characters, but the last couple of chapters spoiled it for me, and the ending let down the overall story.