REVIEW: Cat House by Michael Peak

Halina, a spayed cat, lives like an ordinary house cat in a human home with other cats who work as prostitutes. But in the Canyon lurks coyotes whose demon leader hates not only the altered females of Halina’s Den, but the entire cat world. With the feline world in turmoil, Halina knows she and her Den must somehow survive the murderous wrath of the coyotes.

Warnings: rape, sexism, slut-shaming and sex worker-phobia

Category: M/F

Cat House is one of the most unique and strange novels I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the more boring novels, which is quite surprising given its wild subject matter. It is a book about cat sex workers, and I was certain that a book about cat sex workers would have to be, if nothing else, entertaining, but I was… unfortunately mistaken. Let’s get into how such a wild premise managed to miss every note that makes an interesting story.

The biggest thing of note is that the prose is very dry and lacks the kind of personality that I would hope for from a story like this. I feel like the xenofiction cat POV could have been quite playful, but instead the writing is just very abrupt and matter-of-fact. It doesn’t leave much room for the more whimsical tone that this could have taken, and it didn’t really feel like I was reading about cats as much as I’d have liked. The story follows a group of spayed female cats running and working a cat brothel. The other cats in the neighbourhood dislike this and think that it goes against the natural order of things for cats who have “the scar” and cannot make babies to continue to have sex, as well as offensive to charge male cats for sex in the first place. The story is, thusly, a political one about sex-work and societies reactions to sex-work, but it largely doesn’t make much sense because the sex-worker cats don’t really have any motivation to be sex-workers aside from wanting to have sex even though they aren’t supposed to, which makes charging for it strange when if the only thing you want is to have sex, you could just… have sex. One of the principle complaints the other lady cats bring up is that these women are encroaching on them being able to have sex with the male cats, but if mating with them is free and mating with the spayed cats costs a mouse, why would this be the case? There is also a side plot involving a group of coyotes that want to eat all the cats and a cougar that saves them from the coyotes but its honestly not very interesting.

There is a severe lack of much personality from the POV characters. The cats are incredibly boring and lacklustre, and really any one of them could be swapped for another, as they are entirely interchangeable. The lack of any concrete motivation for anyone really hampered my ability to care about what was going on and who was doing what, who was sleeping with who and who wasn’t sleeping with who. But as boring as the cats are, they aren’t as bad as the human characters, who are actively annoying. Every so often the plot brings us to how things are going with the humans the cats live with, and how they deal with the cougar that has been sighted near their neighbourhood, and these chapters were honestly the most dull of the entire thing. I could care even less about the human’s relational drama than the cat’s, and the lead guy was a total loser. And the final nail in the coffin with this book was the incredibly stiff, wooden dialogue that made every scene a slog to get through.

Xenofiction can be so interesting, especially in the ways that you can showcase a view of humans and human things through the eyes of a character that is not human. Playing with the fact that the audience will be familiar with something the POV character is not can be a really fun time, and the author does try to do that with this story. The cats live with humans who they refer to as ‘Paladins’ and there are many passages of them observing their humans with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. There’s also a lot of mythology baked into the culture of the animal characters, including creation stories and deities for the animal characters to revere. It’s not a bad job overall in worldbuilding actually, and I’d say it’s the most interesting aspect of this book. How the cats interact with each other and with humans is great, and I think that the author shows some amount of creativity in crafting a picture of what the world might look like through the eyes of our house cats.

Imagine my disappointment that there isn’t much if any actually descriptive sex in this book. Oh, people talk about sex a lot; the human character talks about how much he wants sex, the cats talk about how weird human sex is, the cats talk about how much they like sex, whether or not it’s right to pursue sex in the ways that they are, which cats they like having sex with vs other cats they think are creeps. There’s a lot of discussing sex but very little actual on-the-page sex. The biggest exception to this rule is a distressing to read rape scene where one of the male cats who had been banned from the brothel comes back to enact vengeance, which brings me to just how much anti-sexwork and slut-shaming there is in this book. The narrative of course comes down on the side of the sex-worker cats and seems to be attempting to showcase sex-worker’s troubles and traumas but I really don’t think it’s handled especially well, certainly not with the kind of sensitivity I would hope for.

All in all, it’s mostly a very boring book, despite it’s concept having the potential to be one of the most fascinating books ever. I like the ideas in the book, I’m less of a fan of how they were executed. I wish that the author had committed more fully to the concept, and hadn’t shied away so much from actual sexual content, and I wish that it had been written with much more personality than it was.

Have you read Cat House? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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