Author: Bettie Sharpe
Release Date: 27 June 2011
Length: 34,000 words
Publisher: Carina Press
Source: review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon
Grade: 5 stars
Goodreads appetizer: Once upon a time there was a scheming, lying tart who cared for nothing but her own pleasures and her shoe collection.
Once the peerlessly beautiful Lady Catriona, consort to the king, Cat's fortunes fall far when her aged husband dies. The king's wizard turns her into a cat and tries to drown her in the mill pond. Fortunately Cat is a clever survivor and enlists the help of Julian, the miller's youngest son, in her plan for revenge.
She originally sees Julian as a mere pawn for her plans to break her curse, but as they work together Cat comes to know and care for him. Even if the curse can be broken, can a good-hearted man love a woman who has been as vain and selfish as Cat?
Let me say before anything else, that I never really cared for Puss in Boots (the classic fairy tale whose modern retelling Cat's Tale is) as I never considered it a true fairy tale: it didn't have a princess or prince as main character but a miller's son, and the story wasn't about the romantic storyline but about how the miller's son thanks to the cat's cunning made his fortune. So I was curious to see why someone would choose to retell this tale which isn't heavy on the romance and magic aspect of classic fairy tales, and Bettie Sharpe made me understand.
Bettie Sharpe spins surprising twists on the original version of the old classic Puss in Boots: here the Cat is actually Catriona, a noble young woman, who is extremely vain and selfish but as her beauty is legendary it enables her (and her strategic cunning as well) to marry the old and widowed king. It is only after the king's death that problems arise as everyone wants to seize the power and Lady Catriona messes with the wrong man: the kingdom's most powerful wizard, who as revenge of Catriona's meddling turns her into a cat and throws her in the river, intending for her to drown.
But luck is on Catriona's side: she escapes and discovers that not only she can talk in cat form, but that at moonlight she can revert back to her human form.
I won't recount how things happen from here, because it follows pretty truly the original tale, but I will tell you what I found so extraordinary about Bettie Sharpe's retelling.
I LOVED that her heroine was flawed. Big time! And she knows very well that she is vain, a liar without morals or goodness of the heart.
If he was not besotted by my beauty, what hope had I of keeping him? I had nothing else to offer—I had neither virtue nor kindness, nor any of the domestic skills expected of most wives. And as clever as I thought myself, I had to admit my cleverness owed more to innate cunning than trained intellect.
It was refreshing and highly unusual to meet such a negative heroine, and yet her honesty and realistic acceptance of her faults was what made her sympathetic to me despite her shortcomings. Even though Cat evolved a lot throughout the novel, mostly thanks to the hardships she had to overcome and Julian's beneficial influence, I loved that Bettie Sharpe didn't belie the basis of her character and make her out to be a sweet and shy maiden, because Cat is most certainly not that!
“Will you mind, very much, being the Marchioness de Carabas? It is a step down from Lady Catriona, Consort to the King.” It was on the tip of my tongue to say something endearing like, “I would not mind being Catriona Miller, so long as I were with you.” But it wasn’t true.
Cat's Tale was full of humour: the tongue in cheek kind and winks to the original version, as well as intelligent, witty lines.
“What shall I call you?” It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him my name, but then I thought better of it. The Lady Catriona was a dream to him, a prize to be won. He would not want her if he learned she had been turned into an animal by her ex-lover. I did not want to alter the image of Catriona he had in his head—the glimpse of my face through the carriage window those years ago. And so, I did what I have always done in order to get what I want. I lied.
“We cats, among ourselves we do not have names.”
“Well, then, I shall have to make up a name.” He was silent for a moment. “I know. Let’s call you Boots.”
“Definitely not. ‘Puss’ isn’t a name, it’s an invitation to ribald puns.”
“What am I to call you, then?”
“Call me Cat.”
And what was lacking in the original, is aplenty in Bettie Sharpe's version: Cat's Tale has romance! Yay! :-D The kind of sweet and heart wrenching romance
“Please say you forgive me,” I whispered. “Please.” Forgiveness warred with anger on his face, but I knew forgiveness would win. He was too kind by half. Too kind to his brothers. Too kind to me. His brothers would have stolen his possessions, but if I’d my way, I would steal his heart. I was too much in love to let him alone, and too selfish to set him free.as well as plenty of steamy, tingling romantic scenes - make no mistake Cat's Tale is definitely a tale for adults! *fans herself*
Julian the hero was dreamy. His innocence, generous heart and goodness made him unique in the sea of jaded and experienced heroes. In Cat's Tale the traditional gender and romance novel roles are reversed: it was the hero who was good and innocent and it was the heroine who was in charge and protecting the hero by her machinations.
Again I must repeat what a fascinating character Cat is. Her blunt honesty, strong will as well as modern and feminist independence make her real and a true woman of the 20th century.
No! I chased the thought from my head. I wanted to live. Not for Julian, but for myself. We have all read tales of love where each would die without the other, but my love was not some sorry, sniveling substitute for self-hatred. I would not wither for want of him. I would live and love him though he loved me not. I would live and love again, now that I knew how. I would fight. And fight I did.
And to conclude: Julian's words summing up Cat the best:
"Most people merely live in the world, but you change it to suit your wishes.”
Verdict: Through Cat's Tale Bettie Sharpe showed me that the story of Puss in Boots has so much more to offer than a classic "prince meets princess, they fall in love, have to vanquish a villain and live happily every after" story. And for that I thank her!
Bettie Sharpe's writing has everything one would wish for in a great story: wittiness, humour, emotions and great characterisations, all packed together through excellent and fluent writing.
Cat's Tale is an amazing modern fairy tale retelling, one that I believe every fairy tale fan should read!