Even though I officially stopped reading the franchise when the 4th series ended, I picked up a couple of the new spin-offs from the library recently out of curiosity. They were Mapleshade’s Vengeance, Tigerclaw’s Fury (both of which I will write analysis on eventually) and Tallstar’s Revenge.
From when I first encountered him in the first series he quickly became one of my favorite cats. He seemed the most noble, impartial and fair of all the leaders in that era. I loved his friendship with Firestar, and the horrible decision he made because of it moments before his death. But all that’s a discussion for another time.
I went into his book with high expectations, and while I did enjoy it, I felt like it really lacked focus. The first half of this book was a set up for the main conflict: Tallstar’s identity crisis. At the start of the novel, Tallpaw has decided he wants to be a moor-runner. However, his father wants him to become a tunneler, and Tallpaw is conflicted between pleasing his father and doing what makes himself happy. Later Sandgorse is kill while showing one of the visiting loners the tunnels, and Tallpaw decides to continue his father’s legacy. However, Heatherstar has banned tunneling, and Tallstar is driven to get vengeance for his father in order to get closure.
Talltail’s motivation just before he leaves WindClan is to explore the world rather than being trapped forever in the moor. It is a sentiment he’s expressed even before Sandgorse’s death. He no longer feels at home in WindClan because he’s alienated himself from his clanmates. He’s made his happiness dependent on his father’s love and acceptance and now that it’s impossible for him to get either of those things he wants to escape and find something new.
Now on paper, this sounds like an excellent story, but like with most Warriors’s stories, the execution is the weak point. In the second part of the book, the conflict changes into a revenge story. But Talltail’s desire to avenge his father is only a symptom of the larger inner conflict, which the book never gives any real conclusion to. In order for the ending to be satisfying, Talltail needs take control of his life, and separate his father’s happiness from his own. In the book they start to do this, but don’t really connect the dots well enough.
While they are in the Twolegplace, Jake helps tear up Jay’s prey so she can chew it. This is a very clan-like gesture. It is at this point that Talltail could begin to realize that what made him happy was taking care of his clanmates and doing what was best for them, and that’s he’s lost sight of that, becoming bitter and making others around him miserable in the process, as Reena pointed out to him earlier in the book.
But in order for that to work, we as the reader must feel that WindClan is a good place for Talltail to be, but in this instance, there are far too many cats that were borderline unlikable for me to really want Talltail to go home. First there’s Palebird who ignored Talltail pretty much his whole life, then there’s Shrewpaw who blamed him for his mother’ death and teased him endlessly. Both of these create unnecessary conflict and just makes me wish Talltail left forever with Jake. And although one can argue Palebird is there just to make Talltail feel more alone, Shrewpaw’s role only further muddles the already cloudy message.
The point of the story is that Talltail is suppose to do what makes himself happy, but Shrewpaw is written as if Tallpaw only chose to be a moor-runner so he wouldn’t be teased for being a tunneler. If the story was about Tallpaw learning he should do what makes him happy regardless of what others think about it, Shrewpaw would be a good source of antagonism. As is, he’s just a confusing, unnecessary addition that makes us question Tallpaw’s motivation.
By the end of the book, Talltail discovers Sparrow really was really responsible for his father’s death. But there are certain words used in the portrayal of the scenes just before Sandgorse’s death that lead me as a reader to believe otherwise. First it is mentioned that Tallpaw “overheard” Sandgorse and Sparrow whispering to themselves. It all seems very secretive, and it happens right after it was pointed out by the clan how dangerous tunneling is and after a collapse had already JUST HAPPENED!
Afterwards, Sparrow never once tries to explain to Tallpaw what the situation really was. When I first read this, it made it seem as if Sparrow was some sort of master-mind who lead Sandgorse into a death-trap. And when Sparrow’s innocence was revealed, it felt very odd. Sandgorse’s death needed to be set up much better if it’s to deliver its intended effect.
Sandgorse himself isn’t much better. For the beginning of the book, this is okay because he’s acting as the antagonist. But by the end, once he gives Tallstar one of his nine lives, there needs to be much more focus on the two of them, showing that Sandgorse really did care for his son, and regrets ignoring him just because he didn’t turn out exactly the way he wanted. It is one thing for Dawnstripe to continuously tell Tallpaw his father loves him, but the reader won’t buy into it if Sandgorse never proves his affection.