The Catacombs is a dreary place, ruled by Killdeer and his chief assassin Billycan. Some of the older rats who live there can remember back to the glory days when Trilok was in power and was a fair leader – the days before the bloody coup and the flood that killed many. But Billycan’s nemesis Juniper is back with a promise of a new city the weary rats can escape to…
Ok, I’ll admit this isn’t my usual type of read at all – despite my fondness for The Secret of Nimh (the first movie I can remember seeing in the movie theater). Real rats are icky. But these aren’t ordinary rats - they’re more like humans with rat bodies (think Ratatouille).
I was quickly drawn into the story, which involves some noble rats – Juniper, his niece Clover, the orphaned Nightshade brothers, and the awesomesauce Mother Gallo – plotting to overthrow the decadent Killdeer, sadistic Billycan, and the Kill Army they’ve amassed. There are daring rescues, nighttime escapades, long-lost loves and more. None of it is too explicit (this is middle grade after all), but it is fun. I especially liked how Wagner integrated the humans and the earthworms into the story.
I think I might have enjoyed Billycan’s character the most – he’s evil, but he owns it. And he can blame it on his terrible past as a lab rat. OK – so I wasn’t pleased about his cat-killing ways, but he is mutant rat after all, so as long as he stays away from my kitties, I’ll try not to hold a grudge.
The only thing that took me out of the story somewhat was the constant description of each and every rat’s fur and markings. I have no problem getting the 411 on the main characters’ appearances, but do I really need to know that some random rat is a gorgeous shade of licorice? (No, I don’t).
NIGHTSHADE CITY is available now in hardcover. And lucky for me, I hear there’s a sequel in the works all about Billycan! For more information about the book, visit the author’s blog.
My debut YA novel LEVEL 2 (Simon & Schuster BFYR) is out now. My debut picture book CHICK-O-SAURUS REX (w/ Daniel Jennewein) comes out with S&S on July 23, 2013. I've been blogging about books since April 2008.