A cat - who might be more than he appears - helps a young ballerina from France make it big in England in Mercedes Lackey's sixth Elemental Masters novel, Reserved for the Cat.
While this is the sixth book in the Elemental Masters series, it is certainly accessible to first time readers of the series. While there are no real spoilers that I could tell, or anything beyond basic 'fantasy world magic' to know, there may be some that I missed, so be warned. Otherwise, read on
Ninette has had a terribly hard life. Even though her mother has the marriage certificate to show that she was married, and Ninette is legitimate, the reality of the situation is that Ninette's father disappeared long ago. And unfortunately, there's not much legitimate work for a single mother. At least it's a good thing that little ballerinas are supposed to be so thin.
When Ninette's mother dies, and a backstage grudge leaves Ninette without a job, she has some hard choices to make. As the hunger clouds her judgement, help comes from an unexpected source.
A brown tabby cat, one that she remembers hanging around where she's lived, begins to talk to her. It delivers her a money pouch and a train ticket, and before she knows exactly what's going on, it has a new life created for her in the theaters of England. Using the name of a famous but remote Prima Ballerina from the Russian Ballet, Ninette assumes the name Nina Tchereslavsky. With a completely fabricated arrival story, involving a yacht crash, she inserts herself into the lives of a group of performers. Performers who just so happen to be Elemental Masters themselves.
Of course, the transition certainly couldn't be as easy as nearly starving and keeping track of an intricate backstory and new languages. Someone, or something, else has already stolen Miss Tchereslavsky's identity. Even though a young upstart with the same name a continent away poses no threat to it, it's the principle of the matter that counts. Even with a theater full of Magicians and Mages, this threat might be too much for Ninette's protectors to handle.
Unlike some of Lackey's earlier Elemental Masters books, there is not much tying this story to 'Puss in Boots,' its nominal inspiration. There's a talking cat, of course, and one of the battles in the end is familiar is well. At this point, though, the universe in which these books are set is a rich tapestry, with many characters to draw on, and their reliance on the original tales can be less. In all, Reserved for the Cat is a light read, full of memorable characters both old and new.
Highs: With less of a focus on a romantic subplot than others in this series, there is more page space for Ninette to learn about herself and her gifts, both onstage and off.
Lows: The ways in which a girl can make money with no skills in France in this time period are handled with tact, but may cause some questions in the youngest of fantasy readers.
Verdict:A lovely read set in a well-defined universe and is a strong recommend for almost any reader.
Further Reading: Unnatural Issue, Daughter of the Forest