Twilightfall defends Mapleshade.
Unlike the infamous Ashfur, Mapleshade’s fate in the dark forest is far less contested. Due to her leading role in the Dark Forest, her outright cruelty to Crookedstar, and killing of Spottedleaf, she tends to be a rather unpopular character, typically only appreciated for her villany. But cats are judged on how they lived, not their actions after death. And while she was alive, just like Ashfur, Mapleshade’s only true crime was loving too much.
In the novella Mapleshade’s Vengeance, Mapleshade is banished from Thunderclan due to bearing a Riverclan tom’s kits. She attempts to take them across the river to their father’s clan, but all three die while crossing and Appledusk blames her. She then takes vengeance against the cats who she believes caused their death before dying and going to the place of no stars. Yet with careful examination, Mapleshade is sentenced to the Dark Forest for crimes other cats have been excused of.
The key thing to fully understanding Mapleshade’s actions in the novella is that she is clearly mentally unstable during most of the titualar “Vengeance.” Before meeting Appledusk, most descriptions of Mapleshade emphasize her loyalty an potential to become deputy and perhaps even leader. In fact, in the Warrior Cats Ultimate Guide, Unlike Thistleclaw, Hawkfrost, or Tigerstar, her motivations don’t lie in ambition or power; instead, all she wants is to stop the crying of her dead kits. She regularly hallucinates her dead kits, and seems to genuinely believe she is being told to take revenge by Starclan, literally thinking at one point: “StarClan, why are you doing this to me? I fell in love, that’s all! And now I am made to suffer more than any cat has before.” At the end of the novella, she still has this lack of stability, believing that the Place of No Stars is for cats who have suffered as much as her, which really doesn’t place Starclan in a positive light if that’s the case.
The first murder Mapleshade commits in the novella is that of Ravenwing, who outed her kits as half clan and caused them to be banished, resulting in their death. While this may seem unforgiveable and a certain sentence to the place of no stars, this is really no different from Hollyleaf’s murder of Ashfur. Compare the two scenes:
Hating his power more than he ever had before, he had reached out to his sister’s memories. She was stalking Ashfur along the WindClan border stream, treading lightly, avoiding boulders where her claws might scrape or ferns that would brush against her fur. Ashfur, intent on hunting, never noticed she was there. Hollyleaf followed him like a shadow until they came to a place where the bank was steep and slippery, and the stream was a foaming snake far slippery, and the stream was a foaming snake far below. She pounced on him from a rock, gripping his shoulders with her forepaws and twisting her head around to sink her teeth into his throat. Inside the red mist that clouded her senses, Ashfur was nothing but prey, something that had to be killed to protect the warrior code and the future of her Clan.
Mapleshade froze, convinced that her heart was thudding loud enough for the medicine cat to hear. But after a moment Ravenwing carried on, his paw steps the softest whisper in the silence. Faint gray light appeared ahead, silhouetting the medicine cat’s ears. The Moonstone! Mapleshade realized she had dropped into the hunting crouch and was stalking forward once step at a time, her tail flattened behind her. She reached the opening to the cave and almost gasped out loud at the sight of the Moonstone glittering in the silver light. Ravenwing knelt in front of it, his head bowed. With a hiss, Mapleshade sprang forward, claws extended. She landed on his back, sending him rolling onto the smooth cold stone. She caught a glimpse of his eyes, bright in the reflected moonlight. “Mapleshade!” Ravenwing choked. “What are you doing here?” Mapleshade let her claws sink into the fur around his throat. “Avenging the death of my kits,” she snarled. “If I could kill you three times over, I would!” She knew she had nothing to say to the medicine cat. Nothing would bring back her kits. He simply did not deserve to live.
These scenes really aren’t fundamentally different. If anything, Mapleshade is far more justified due to Ravenwing already telling her secret and causing the death of three cats while Ashfur merely threatened to. In addition, Hollyleaf is fully aware of her actions and their weight, often questioning what Starclan thinks of her. In contrast, Mapleshade actually believes that Starclan is telling her to murder him. This can also be applied to Mapleshade’s action of blinding the warrior Frecklewish for doing nothing while her kits drowned. Frecklewish did break the warrior code, and if Hollyleaf can get away with murder on the virtue of Ashfur being a scumbag, it’s not really far to judge Mapleshade, as stated before, a very unstable cat, for the act of blinding someone.
While Mapleshade’s murder of Appledusk may seem unjustifiable, other cats have gone to starclan despite committing or attempting to commit similar crimes. Take, for example, the scene where Hollyleaf (A current member of Starclan) attempts to kill Leafpool by feeding her deathberries for lying to her and breaking the warrior code.
“See those deathberries? You’re going to eat them—or I’ll make you!” “What?” Leafpool sounded bewildered. “Eat them! You deserve to die.” Hollyleaf crouched, ready to spring, when the medicine cat made no move toward the deadly berries. “I’ve killed once,” she snarled. “And I can do it again.”
“Hollyleaf,” Leafpool meowed. “I have lost my kits, the one cat I loved, and my calling as a medicine cat. Which do you think would be easier for me, to die or to go on living?
There was only one answer to that question. Silently Hollyleaf stood aside, and Leafpool padded past her and out of the den.
Hollyleaf clearly does not spare Leafpool for any moral reason in this scene. She literally keeps her alive because she will suffer more having to live with the consequences of her actions then dying. (This is quite similar to Mapleshade’s treatment of Crookedstar, in fact.) The same goes for Ashfur, who knew fully well that having her world torn apart would hurt Squirrelflight far more than her death. Given that both of these characters fully considered killing to punish for honestly far less serious actions and only decided against it only to hurt their victim more and went to Starclan, Mapleshade’s actions against Appledusk seem far less terrible. Ashfur also seemed to be perfectly willing to kill Hollyleaf, Jayfeather, and Lionblaze because Squirrelflight wouldn’t date him. Appledusk legitimately caused harm to Mapleshade, and is implied to have lead her on in some ways, due to Reedshine being heavily pregnant relatively soon after Mapleshade kitted.
(And just a side note, if you think that Mapleshade should be in the Dark Forest due to having kits with a Riverclan tom and causing them to die with reckless behavior, I’d like to introduce you to a little cat called Bluestar)
In conclusion, in life, Mapleshade wasn’t really much worse than several Starclan cats, yet was still banished to the Dark Forest. When Mapleshade’s actions are closely studied, she appears to be less of a cunning mastermind and more of a lonely, unstable cat who could never be satisfied until every cat had felt the same pain she had. If she had lived longer, perhaps she might have reformed like Hollyleaf, but her life was cut off, leaving her in the Place of No Stars with a firm belief her destiny was to place her suffering upon others. Mapleshade was put down a path of tragedy as soon as she became mates with Appledusk. Perhaps if she had chosen a Thunderclan mate, she might have been a great warrior of Thunderclan rather than an angry force of vengeance.