Have you read this book?
It was with some anticipation that I cracked open E. E. Knight’s newest offering, Choice of the Cat, the follow-up to The Way of the Wolf. I enjoyed The Way of the Wolf quite a bit and was eager to revisit Knight’s post-apocalyptic world.
The Way of the Wolf gave us the origins of Knight’s main character, David Valentine. Choice of the Cat bring us David’s further adventures, some four or five years after the events of The Way of the Wolf. Now an officer in Southern Command, a military branch of the human resistance, David leads a squad of other Wolves in guerilla strikes against the Kurian order. The Kurians invaded Earth some 45 years previous, decimated the population, and pretty much took over. They rule through fear and brutality, using humans as food. But it’s not meat they eat, but rather the life force as channeled to them by their Reapers. Reapers are Knight’s version of vampires, practically indestructible creature who steal the life force of their victims and transfer the energy to their Kurian masters.
There remain some strongholds of human resistance, assisted by the Lifeweavers, enemies of the Kurians. It is the Lifeweavers who bestow on a chosen few humans the enhanced abilities that make one a Wolf, Cat or Bear, special soldiers in the war against the Order.
During a fierce battle, and when the commanding officer is wounded, David takes charge. He is able to fight his way out and escape, but his former commander files charges and David is forced to resign from Southern Command. During the battle, he met a Cat by the name of Alessa Duvalier, who recruits him to be a Cat, solo operatives who work behind enemy lines using stealth to gather information. Alessa sees to David’s training, after which they set out to investigate the rumors about a new organization by the name of the Twisted Cross, made up of Reapers who fight with firearms and in an organized manner, something previously unheard of. David and Alessa cover a lot of territory as they ferret out the Twisted Cross rumor.
Knight presents a story distinguished by its detailed, convincing setting and well-developed characters. It’s obvious he has intimate knowledge of the world he’s created and of the characters he writes about. There’s a new maturity to Valentine, representing convincing growth from the boy/young man he was in The Way of the Wolf to the seasoned veteran he is in Choice of the Cat. He’s not a cookie-cutter hero either, blithely blazing away and mowing down enemies, but is instead full of doubts and fears, one minute a cold-blooded killer, the next a compassionate humanitarian willing to sacrifice himself for a cause he feels is just. He has a genuine complexity that enables him to effortlessly step off the page and into the reader’s imagination. The relationship between David and Alessa is especially well done, realistically portraying two comrades-in-arms who deal with the ever-present threat of death through their humor and reliance on each other. The smallest details of how life works under the Kurian yoke are evident, adding even more verisimilitude to Knight’s already convincing world.
Lest Knight’s head get too big, I have to call him on an inaccuracy. It doesn’t impact the story in any way, but since I’m a nit-picker…. A few times, Knight makes reference to former Air Force bases and specifically to the former Air Force major commands of Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Tactical Air Command (TAC). Oops! During the Air Force reorganization in 1991-1992, SAC and TAC merged into Air Combat Command (ACC), so at the time of Earth’s defeat in the early 2020s, SAC and TAC were 30 year-old relics.
Choice of the Cat is a sequel that surpasses the original. The writing and story are smoother, the plot less disjointed, the characters and world even better realized. I highly recommend Choice of the Cat to speculative fiction fans who enjoy science fiction/horror hybrids, and especially to fans of apocalyptic fiction. I eagerly await Knight’s next installment, Tale of the Thunderbolt.