This book is about a young man, Troy Horan, dispossessed of his inheritance on his own world, Norden, who when the book starts is living as a sub citizen in the Dipple on the planet of Korwar. By chance he gets a job in a pet store where he discovers that animals with strange mental powers are being used for nefarious purposes by the shop owner. He also finds that he can communicate mentally with these animals (two cats, two foxes, and a kinkajou) himself. Unknown to its perpetrators, he finds himself drawn into the plot, but on the side of the animals, and manages to forge a unique relationship with them which eventually wins them through to the nirvana they all seek. This book is not just about plots and counterplots, and the balance between the different powers that seek to control the planet of Korwar, but about the relationship between man and animals and the potential for good or evil if this balance is changed, allowing the animal to move to a position of equality. It is also about personal freedom and integrity and the inner struggles within Troy himself as he battles to remain true to his allegiance with the animals and what he believes to be right, in the face of intimidation and temptation.
The action of several of Norton's science fiction novels have begun on Korwar, whose people deliberately chose to make the planet a playground for the rich and powerful of the galaxy. Ironically, this is the best possible protection for Korwar from the interstellar corporations represented by those same people - while they often plunder worlds for natural resources, they won't foul their own nest. Despite their protection, however, Korwar isn't untouched. During the great war between the Council and Confederation governments (its aftermath appears in several books, such as DARK PIPER), the capital city of Tikil became the site of a refugee camp. After the war, those whose worlds were gone, whether destroyed or traded away at the peace table, had nowhere else to go, so the refugee camp became the Dipple, an unofficial 3rd face of Tikil making an ugly contrast to the expensive haunts of tourists or even the working city of the spaceport and warehouse district. The Dipple is a perennial problem, and CATSEYE follows Troy Horan, brought to this sterile warren as a youngster from the plains of Norden. There are only three options open to a Dipple-dweller: attempting to join the Thieves' Guild (as Ziantha of FORERUNNER FORAY escaped), signing on as indentured labor for a frontier world (as Niall of JUDGEMENT ON JANUS did), or scraping by without sub-citizenship by competing in the very tight casual labor market, as Horan does. Consequently, while the protagonists of FORERUNNER FORAY and JUDGEMENT ON JANUS also came from the Dipple, Troy Horan's story is the first to concentrate on Tikil and Korwar - the other tales leave the planet early in the story. On the morning the story opens, Troy has incredible luck - the assigner has a job for someone with "knowledge of animals", and Troy's reply that he has that of a Norden herd rider lands him indefinite employment at Kyger's pet shop, which provides exotic pets as status symbols for the rich. Troy's initial worries about the decade separating him from any contact with animals aren't a problem - his initial work assignment to help retrieve some new acquisitions from the port lengthens when an attempted hijack en route puts a full-time Kyger employee temporarily out of action. But why would anyone try to hijack a shipment of exotic animals bound for a life as pets - even as pets of the Gentle Fem San duk Var, rich and influential though she is? Delivering a fussel hawk and accompanying its first hunting expedition with a Ranger of Korwar (and giving us our first glimpse not only of Korwar's huge unspoiled nature preserves, but of the mysterious Forerunner ruins of Ruhkarv) leaves him with an impression that Korwar's guardians are taking an unusual interest in what is, after all, only a pet shop. After all, it's not *illegal* to convince credulous rich people that their little darlings can't survive without special diets, available from Kyger's. :) Then the routine of delivering special pet food to a Sattor Commander's beloved kinkajou is disrupted by murder - and Troy covers the kinkajou's odd behavior with a plausible story for the police. He finds himself wondering just how intelligent these animals are - and whether he should ally himself with Kyger, who may provide a permanent escape from the Dipple, or with a certain cats-eye view of the world. (Ruhkarv, and the disastrous fate of the last archeological team ever allowed in the place, are mentioned in some of Norton's other works - DREAD COMPANION mentions it in passing, while a Zacathan scholar in BROTHER TO SHADOWS attempts an experiment with a revised version of the device that brought final disaster to the Ruhkarv team - but CATSEYE provides more information about Ruhkarv than any other story to date.)
Andre Norton, a cat lover, wrote this SF book called Catseye which is an excellent SF read for older kids or young adults, about Troy who helps in a pet shop in a world where animals are novelties. There is a lot of description of this world and its machinery, but Troy gradually comes to know the small animals - cats, foxes, a kinkajou which likes to sit on his shoulder - and one of the cats begins a telepathic communication with him, after which he realises that a plot is in progress. Older kids and young adults will enjoy this well-described tale. You may also like a book called Star Dog about a race of spacefaring dogs that accidentally loses a member on Earth.
I'd mixed this up with another Andre Norton story. Does anyone know what the story about the young boy from The Dipple who gets on a space ship and there's a box in the hold which turns out to contain a telepathic cat is called??