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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Prince Of Cats by D. E. Olesen (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Prince Of Cats over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel E. Olesen is a Danish writer holding a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. When not searching for inspiration in musty tomes, he travels around Europe looking for castles to explore and calling it research. His first novel, The Eagle’s Flight, is available for free from his site. Other than writing fiction, he also writes a blog discussing literary theory, usually as it pertains to fantasy, and a blog series discussing the image of the hero in Western society, from mythology and up to modern times.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: To stay alive, Jawad must succeed where all others have failed: he must catch the Prince of Cats. More legend than man, the Prince is draped in rumors. He can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile. He is a ghost to walls and vaults, he laughs at locks, and Jawad must capture him before powerful people lose their patience and send the young rogue to the scaffold.

Ever the opportunist, Jawad begins his hunt while carrying out his own schemes. He pits the factions of the city against each other, lining his own pockets in the process and using the Prince as a scapegoat. This is made easy as nobody knows when or where the Prince will strike, or even why.

If suddenly collide, Jawad finds himself pressured from all sides. Aristocrats, cutthroats, and the Prince himself are breathing down his neck. Unless Jawad wants a knife in his back or an appointment with the executioner, he must answer three questions: Who is the Prince of Cats, what is his true purpose, and how can he be stopped?

FORMAT/INFO: The Prince Of Cats is 215 pages long divided over twenty three titled and numbered chapters alongwith a glossary and map of city of Alcazar. Narration is in the first person solely via Jawad al-Qasr. This is a standalone volume of The Legends Of Adalmearc series.

November 26, 2018 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Prince Of Cats and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Shen Fei and typography by Damien Muir.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): The Prince Of Cats by Daniel E. Olesen caught my eye mainly because of its world settings which were inspired by Arabic history and lore. The author was kind enough to let me know about the book and hence I was super excited to receive an ARC.

The plot begins with Jawad, a thief who’s currently languishing in a prison called the Tower of Justice but commonly called the Finger due to its appearance (see city map below). Coerced into a deal for his release, Jawad agrees to find the Prince Of Cats and potentially alert his new employer about the Prince’s plans. Leashed to the hip with the head of security of the Al-Badawi household, Salah al-Mansur, a grim man of violent tendencies who doesn’t think of him any better than a gutter rat. Jawad has to prove his worth to Azal Al-Badawi, the leader of Dar-al-Allawn one of the Hundred Houses of Alcazar while keeping himself safe from Salah’s ferocious ministrations. Things get even more complicated as Jawad scours the city for news about the Prince Of Cats, whilst trying to avoid the attention of the local gangs.

Things start complicating as they do in such crime novels and that’s where the true beauty of this book lies. There are many reasons why this story kept me fascinated and riveted. Chief among them is the world (or in this case city) settings of the story which is very much modeled on the Arabian kingdoms of yore. The author showcases a world that will feel very fresh to most western based fantasy readers and reward folks (like me) who prefer to read more of a non-eurocentric settings. The author diligently inserts Arabic/Urdu/Persian words (hamam, mamluk, effendi, etc.) to further deepen the settings and it resonates very much with the story & characters as well.

The second and perhaps the best part of the story is the narrative voice. We have a sole POV throughout the story and it’s through Jawad’s eyes and voice that we the readers are veritably transported into the city of Alcazar. Jawad is one of those refreshingly dishonest characters who by virtue of his unscrupulousness injects a solid amount of fun into the happenings. His actions and behavior very much reflect the following golden words by the bard:

 “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any. In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.”

Jawad almost always looks for the sneakier solution to any problem in his path, doesn’t really care about an honest living and is never dishonest about his nature to the readers or the characters around him. It’s quite refreshing to read about him and he joins a certain pantheon of lovable rogues such as Locke Lamora, Daniel Faust, & Royce Melborn. Jawad’s antics and decisions are what solidly fuel the story while providing humor and intrigue to keep the readers upbeat even though certain portions of the story are quite dark. His earthy humor and quick witted nature are brought to the fore vividly and we almost forget that while lovable, he's a deadly rogue nonetheless.

While the story is shared through Jawad’s senses, the rest the characters aren’t any pushovers either. There are quite a few such as Salah Al- Mansur, Zaida Al-Badawi, Ishak Al-Labdah who either share a solid or antagonistic footing with our protagonist but reveal themselves to be three dimensional as the tale progresses. A particular funny character is Ishak who provides a lot of humor with his memory lapses but yet is a powerful healer and chemist that is famed for his work. While the story doesn't have many female characters, it does give us two solid ones who are refreshing to read about. They don't quite fit any particular mold and thus add to the story's stakes.

The pace and plot twists are solid from end to end and the way the author ends the story. I want to read the sequel and get to know more of these characters as well as the lands around the south cities. This world is just too enticing for a one off and I for one will be bugging the author for more. With books such as these there’s always going to be a few complaints. Primarily, the end twist is one that can be predicted from miles away. It still doesn’t detract from the read and perhaps the author wasn’t hinging the story on it solely. For me there wasn't any other negative to this story. 

(map by Kim Ji Won)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): I’m tired of a medieval western setting in fantasy books. It seems many authors feel the same, and they set their stories in more exotic places. The Prince of Cats takes place in a secondary world influenced by Middle East traditions and landscapes.

The dexterity of hands determines how well a surgeon, a musician or a thief perform their art. PoC’s protagonist Jawad is a skilful thief, maybe not as good as a legendary Prince of Cats who can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile, but he knows what he’s doing.  

Jawad has plans and schemes he wishes to accomplish, but things don’t go as planned and he suddenly finds himself in the centre of the conflict between rich merchants, cutthroats and the Prince himself. Time plays against him, and he must find answers soon. Otherwise an appointment with the executioner may look like a decent option.

I liked Jawad and his voice. He makes an impression of a kind-hearted smartass and he’s difficult not to like. Even taciturn Salah warms to him with time. He easily wins readers and other characters’ sympathy with charm, easy-going attitude and cunning. 

Side-characters and antagonists felt real. While there aren’t many women in the book, the one we get presented closely (Zaida) doesn’t come across as sex-fantasy or damsel in distress. I appreciate it.

A well-crafted combination of humour and drama keeps the reader’s attention, lending moments of honest excitement to the story. The plot is not without its flaws. The Prince of Cats’ identity isn’t difficult to guess, but Olesen handled developments well enough to keep me invested in the story.

TL;DR - short, sharp, fast and witty with a good sense of place. Sigil Independent Guild members’ releases continue to impress me. If you’re looking for a way to discover quality self-published books, have an eye on them.

CONCLUSION (MIHIR): Daniel E. Olesen weaves an incredible tale within an Arabian Nights setting and armed with the gritty outlook of The Lies Of Locke Lamora. Jawad the jewel thief is a gem of a character and I hope the writer writes more of him and in this setting. The Prince Of Cats is my new favorite crime fantasy story that outdoes the reader’s expectation with a twisted and briskly paced plot.



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