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A step up for the series, but still not quite enough
on 26 September 2013
Set in the same universe as Weber's Honor Harington series, Treecat Wars is the third novel in the prequel Star Kingdom series, one which is being co-written by Jane Lindskold. This series is aimed straight at the YA market, and focuses on a teenage Stephanie Harrington and the events following her discovery of the treecats on the planet of Sphinx. The first novel in this series, A Beautiful Friendship, was a massive hit for me, setting everything up nicely and delivering a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fire Season didn't manage to meet the lofty expectations I had, and ultimately fell flat on many fronts. It was with great trepidation that I picked up Treecat Wars, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found with its pages.
One of the biggest problems I had with Fire Season was that it just wasn't sure what it wanted to be. Was it aimed at the older YA crowd, as the more adult themes and discussions suggested? Or was it aimed at a younger audience, with details of relationships and unsure pacing on the treecat front present? Fortunately Weber and Lindskold seem to have combined their writing much better this time, with Treecat Wars having a much more stable and even narrative. Yes, the anthropologists are still around, and discussion about sentience and treecat behaviour is still present, but it's easier to read, not as full on. The same goes for the relationships between our characters - it's not as young as it was previously. Don't get me wrong, both aspects are far from perfect, but they are at least consistent this time around. And let me tell you, that makes the world of difference.
Treecat Wars picks up in the aftermath of Fire Season, and while the human population of Sphinx is carrying on as normal, it's not the same for the treecats. This is perhaps the biggest focus of the novel, looking at a couple of treecat clans and examining the effect the fires had on them. It's done very well, with Weber and Lindskold expanding the treecats further, allowing us to see them as a society and their interactions with each other. Yes, this has been done in the earlier novels, but the events of Treecat Wars adds a depth that wasn't present before.
The relationships are also a large part of the story. With Stephanie and Karl off-planet, Stephanie's relationship with Anders is put to the test. Although he's only a planet away, it's clear that they both find it hard with only video messages to keep in touch. And Anders also has a friend in Jessica, and her treecat Valiant, that is around more often for the xenoanthopologists to talk to and see the human/treecat bond. While at times it comes across as simple teenager problems, at others there is a much better portrayal given which allows more empathy with the characters.
One of the more surprising things I found with Treecat Wars is the relative lack of focus on Stephanie and Lionheart. Instead, Weber and Lindskold have chosen to follow other characters, which is a departure from the previous novels. One of the big appeals of this series is the fact that we're following a Harrington, and especially the first to meet and bond with a treecat. Removing that from much of the story doesn't do itself many favours, though it does give the benefit of multiple viewpoints and opens up different avenues to explore.
For all its improvements over Fire Season, Treecat Wars is still a simple novel. The issues faced within by the characters are not overly challenging, and certainly not as action-orientated and exciting as I would have expected with such a rich and diverse environment to play with. It's a shame, because this series is starting to come together with a narrative that flows rather than stumbles. Now, if the issues and challenges faced by our characters could be have some more depth, and - let's be honest - more appeal and interest, things could get very interesting. All I hope is that the next entry doesn't simply meander along, but instead provides a meatier storyline.