Synopsis: Just a typical kitten saves the afterlife story, dddisguised as a book about death. In a world where every culture’s mythology is real, Medusa’s sisters want revenge on Poseidon, Troy is under siege again, and the Yakuza want their homunculi (mythological artificial humans) back. Near Atlantis’ Chinatown, a kitten and her human campaign for homunculi rights. Against them are Japanese death gods, an underworld cult, and a fat Atlantean bureaucrat. The main character dies (more than once) and a few underworlds’ way of death is threatened. Also with giant armored battle squids.
You know that saying, “everything but the kitchen sink”? This is basically what Nathan Croft has done. He’s mixed just about every fantasy and mythological trope into one story, and therein lies the problem. The idea behind the book is clever, but the result is confusing and has left me conflicted in regards to my feelings toward it.
The main character is an adorable winged kitten who has just begun the first of her nine lives. She sacrifices that life when she saves the life of a homunculus. Thankfully, she has eight more to go. She teams up with Tyro who is determined to fight for the civil rights of the homuncului. This quest sends the pair all over the known world, and quite a few other ones. During their travels they meet all sorts of gods and goddesses, mermaids, dragons, fey, vampires, and just about everything mythological and fantasy figure and creature you can possibly imagine. The problem is that there are so many characters, and different POVs that I almost instantly became lost. Because the cast is so large, there really isn’t any room for actual character development. This also makes the plot seem fractured in places which adds to the confusion.
What is especially frustrating is that I think this book would have worked much better if the author/editor had been a little more choosy about who and what was going to be part of the story. I’m a firm believer in “quality over quantity”, and I think this adage could have served a purpose here. That said, the story is quite imaginative, and has plenty of action which makes it a fairly quick read. There’s also a lot of wry humor which helps balance some of the darker, more disturbing moments. Underneath the fantasy elements there’s a very serious political undercurrent involving the groups against the supposedly “soulless” homunculi and those who are trying to help them. This has a direct correlation to some of the social injustices taking place today. I found myself wishing that the author had focused on this a little more.
Overall Homunculus and the Cat is a flawed but still enjoyable story that will appeal to teens and adults who enjoy light-hearted fantasy and are looking for something a little different. If you like the irreverent humor of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, I definitely suggest you try this. It is the first book in a planned trilogy and despite my reservations, I’m interested in seeing where Nathan Croft goes next with this.