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4.8 out of 5 stars
Varjak Paw
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2003
This book is great. I read it cover to cover in one afternoon. If you like compelling story telling, intriguing characters that leave you wanting for more and ideas that make you think; then this is for you.
The story telling has the fine craft of someone like Phillip Pullman (must have been all those drafts) but also has the imaginative quirks of someone perhaps a bit more off beat like Neil Gaiman. The book draws on elements from the best of story telling in a coming-of-age way. Varjak goes on an inner journey from confused, insecure cat, who is uncertain of his place in the world (isn’t this all of us?) to a cat who has learnt to trust in himself and friends and that pain and joy are part of life.
On the way, he finds out that not all cats get food in a bowl, not all humans are friendly, that things (especially dogs) might not be how they first appear, and of course how to fight.
The illustrations also add to the atmosphere of Varjak’s world (as might be expected from such a highly respected artist as McKean) and are well worth spending time over. Without giving too much away, other moments I liked: Varjak hunting, the interactions of Varjak and Holly (might there be love in the air?) and the empathy between the fearsome black cats. Some readers may find the dream device to speak to Jalal (the ancestor cat who does much of the teaching) a bit “seen that too much already in other books” however it does work quite effectively
The book sets the scene for more Varjak adventures and I look forward to the next one. I’d like to know more about the other gangs of cats, the history of Jalal and where Varjak is going to next in his life as he continues to find out what it means to be Varjak Paw. Like how we all have to learn who we are and our possible place in the world.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2003
Varjak is the coolest feline for kids since Disney created the Aristocats. He may start off as a dreamy young Mesopotamian Blue from a sheltered family, but soon he learns the mean streets of the city as well as Top Cat. He wins the trust of the tough street cat Holly and finds Cludge the dog (but not before some extremely amusing conversations with cars, which he thinks are dogs) who help him win over his family and protect them, and the other animals of the city, from the sinister Gentlemen.
Varjak is in the great tradition of children's literature's unlikely heroes. But he demonstrates that his difference is his power, and through the dream-guidance of his ancestor Jalal, who teaches him the Way of the Paw, he becomes a courageous and generous leader. The book leaves you wondering about Varjak's future adventures -- will he and Holly become more than friends? Will the city be safe now the Gentlemen are gone? And will we see more of the terrifying and intriguing Sally Bones, Holly's arch-enemy. I defy even the most grown-up spine not to tingle at Dave McKean's eerily gorgeous illustration of Sally, brilliant white against a black background.
McKean's illustrations, particularly of the dream sequences, will bring the book to life for younger children and fascinate older readers who, like me, are fans of McKean's work. Their integration into the page is superb, and they leave plenty of room for the young reader's imagination.
My six-year-old trial subject loved the book so much that he is busy creating his own next adventure of Varjak in black crayon, and trying to learn the Way of the Paw with its subtle lessons of observation, self-knowledge and teamwork. So I say hurry up and write the next one, SF Said, or he will beat you to it!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2005
I would highly recommend reading this book to children as young as 5 or 6. I thought the descriptive language would be too challenging for my 6 year old daughter but after the first chapter she was begging me to keep reading and has never been so eager to go to bed. This was the first novel I read to my child and although Dave McKean's illustations are not to my taste my daughter liked them. This book has opened up a whole new world of discovery for my daughter. The author SF Said has taken a subject matter which modern children can, especially boys (or tom boys), easily relate to and using exciting langauge in a very unpompus way challenges children to really visualise and become part of this story.
This is a fantastic story for adults and children alike. We can't wait to read Varjak Paw The Outlaw.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2004
This book is a great read for all aged kids, I have a friend who read it at the age of 8, I wizzed through it like a rash and im 12! Its a great summer read, to read by the pool or to read curled up by a fire in winter! The storyline is amazing and makes you have alot more respect for cats you see living on the streets. Vajak Paws adventure is really gripping and you cant put this book down! There are funny parts, happy parts scary parts and there are sad parts which are the 4 key ingrediances for a great book! I was hooked and i felt so sorry for Vajak Paw being alone in the big dark and wet city after living like a prince with the coutessa. All together I give this book a outstanding 5 stars!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2003
I read this book from cover to cover late into the night. The world from Varjak's eyes is a beautiful, terrifying and ultimately captivating place where he must learn how to trust himself and in turn how to chose between those he can trust and those who do not deserve his trust. The power of Varjak's journey lies in the detail the author supplies; the cat's eye view of the size and shape of the world is mesmeric. It is enhanced by the subtle and twisted comic-style illustrations; white and black tones are put to their best use to challenge the reader's preconceptions. This is a world where the most familiar things are the most dangerous to the kitten's identity, and nothing is quite what it seems. The philosophy of the book and the shades of love for friends, family and self it explores left me entranced. I can't wait for the next installment.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2004
I read this as an adult choosing books for a children's library and highly recommend it for the older reader - probably about 9 up. I read it myself in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime!
The book tells the story of Varjak, a kitten who longs for adventure and to escape from the confines of his complacent 'pure-bred' family. Sinister happenings mean that sooner than he thinks Varjak has to fight for survival, and also to find out what is really worth fighting for. What are the terrifying 'Vanishings'? And can Varjak learn the 'Way' of his warrior ancestor in time to save his friends?
The mix of fantasy with important themes, such as the impossiblity of ignoring evil while remaining good oneself, is never too heavy-handed. The illustrations are also excellent and evoke a real sense of danger. One critisism is a significant loose end which seems to be forgotten about at the exciting finale. But lets hope this just means there will be a sequel soon...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 February 2003
This was a book I could not put down. It speaks volumes about courage, spirit, adventure and the great spirit within us all. Yet it is a simple story of a cat who must find his way, a book that can be appreciated by those of any age.
I read it on the beach and under the zig zag palms that Varjak seems to long for, and I learn't a great deal about those palms and about ones place in the fabric of the environment we live in.
I feel there is a great deal of wisdom within the book, and everytime you read it you will learn something new and appreciate a different view of life and the world we live in. It is also a special story that can be likened to age old fairy tales and contemporary masters.
Buy this book it is a welcome addition to anyone's library and is timeless....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 March 2011
I certainly wasn't expecting this fairly obscure and underrated children's book to be anywhere near as good as it is. Ignore the clichéd and pedestrian opening chapters - from there onwards the narrative opens up into a breathtaking and powerful coming-of-age story, by turns charming, sinister and exhilarating.

Said knows how to keep a narrative moving effortlessly and it's a shame that few adult novels manage to be so frightening or uplifting. There are strong female characters, dastardly villains and glorious set pieces and it's no insult to say that parts of this novel reminded me of both Watership Down and Kafka on the Shore. An added bonus were the atmospheric illustrations by Dave McKean, who really understands how cats move.

Personally, it impressed me far more than Harry Potter or His Dark Materials and would be my personal pick for best children's story of recent years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2003
I stumbled across this book, and it's really really wonderful. It would make an excellent gift for anyone that loves cats, or even someone who hated them but is interested in what lies below the surface of the feline nature of reality! I was able to read it with my kids (who also loved it) but enjoy it on an adult level at the same time. And the illustrations are beautiful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2015
My 10yo son started reading book two of the Varjak Paw series at 2pm today, and by 4pm, he had finished, with a satisfied grin on his face. Now, if my 14yo had done, this, I wouldn’t have been surprised. My eldest son is a voracious reader who would read walking down the street if I let him. But my 10yo is what is more commonly (and ignorantly in my view) called a ‘reluctant’ reader; that is, he, quite rightly, asks a book to earn its demand upon his precious time. He has Roblox, Minecraft and Dragonballz to play, homework to do, lego to build and videos to create. For a book to hold his interest at bedtime is one thing; to make a call on his daylight hours is a big ask. But against all odds, Varjak Paw by SF Said joins the Hall of Fame, becoming the fourth book that my 10yo son read in DAYLIGHT.
But enough from me. I asked my 10yo why he liked the Varjak Paw books so much, and this is what he said:
‘I loved Varjak Paw because it’s about animals, marital arts and adventure. Varjak Paw is a Mesopatamion cat, who in book one lives with his family as a pet. But when two black cats kill an elder of the Paw family, Varjak draws on the ancient tales of Jalal Paw and The Way (an ancient martial arts practice) in an effort to save his family. But to save his family, Varjak has to go into the outside world and gain the trust of dogs, helped by his new cat friends Holly and Tam. But with gangs all around, he realises that the outside world is not all it seems from the inside. I loved this book because it was thrilling and gave the animals the emotions of humans
In Book 2, Varjak Paw has to learn the 7 parts of The Way form Jalal the Paw, and take on the ultimate enemy, Sally Bones, the leader of the gangs who is out to destroy Varjak. Once again, Varjak unites with his trusted cat friends Holly, Tam, and Cludge the dog. But can he destroy the evil Sally Bones and her hold on the city? I loved this book because it is exciting from the first page to the last’.
According to my 10yo, this book is suitable for 8-13 year-olds, and imaginative adults. In fact, he has given both books today to his 75-year-old granddad to read, as they like to share and talk about the books that they love. Both books are short, beautifully illustrated, and should appeal to these mythical ‘reluctant’ readers, who just need interesting characters in exciting situations to engage them: the Varjak Paw series fits the bill perfectly. My child’s only complaint is where is the next one?

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