Since I enjoyed writing my Goosefeather’s Cure and my Moth Flight’s Vision reviews, I’ve decided that from now on I will make my reviews full articles. Once again, I’ll say what I liked, what I didn’t like, neutral thoughts, and so on. I know I’ve missed the last few books, but I want to get into doing these reviews again.
Alright, this is probably going to be a controversial review. There’s been a lot of talk about this book since it came out, and it seems that a lot of people didn’t like this book. Well, I really liked it, and I’m here today to defend it, and to talk about what I did and didn’t like about this book.
So without further ado, my thoughts on Spottedleaf’s Heart.
SPOILERS FOR SPOTTEDLEAF’S HEART AND VARIOUS OTHER BOOKS!!!
I’ve been reading Warriors for eleven years, ever since Dawn came out. I’ve read every single Warriors book. I have been in this fandom for a long time, and for all of that time, I’ve only ever felt “meh” about Spottedleaf. I never loved her, I never hated her, I was pretty neutral to her. The most I felt about her was a vague annoyance that she didn’t have much of a personality outside of gentle, sweet medicine cat, and that her only role in the story seemed to be to be Firestar’s dead love interest.
Reading this book was the first time in eleven years that I not only saw Spottedleaf in a new light, not only began to see an actual personality and character arc for her outside of her love for Firestar, but began to really like her as a character. I was hoping that Spottedleaf’s Heart might make me like her more, but I was really impressed by how much this book changed my perspective on Spottedleaf as a character. I really like how her character arc and personality were handled in this story.
I’ll get more into her transition from warrior to medicine cat below. For now, I’ll just focus on personality. I loved her personality in this book. She isn’t just the sweet, demure she-cat who never seemed to have any mood outside of “sweet” like in the other books. Here, she’s ambitious, she’s bossy, she’s feisty, she’s determined, she’s not afraid to call out older warriors when they’re being mouse-brained, she’s compassionate, she’s willing to make hard decisions and give up what she wants if she knows it’s right. At the start of the book, she’s bossing her littermates around and wants to be totally in charge in their game, even as Swiftbreeze protests that even leaders have cats they rely on. She even seems excited and interested at the idea of Bluefur having to fight Thistleclaw if she annoys him too much.
Even as she starts to mature once she gets older, Spottedpaw still has that determination and fierceness to her. She calls out Bluefur for being mousebrained about not wanting to get Stormtail help from the medicine cats, she calls out Thistleclaw for letting Tigerpaw attack Tiny, and she confronts him about his Dark Forest training. She isn’t afraid to call out other cats when she knows that they’re wrong, even if it’s a cat she cares about and wants to please. Spottedpaw hasn’t just abandoned her compassionate side in this book, though. She learns throughout the book that compassion and empathy matter more than being the strongest fighter – that’s her arc through the story. At the start of the book, she seems thrilled at the idea of defending her Clan in battle. But when she sees how vicious the fighting in the Dark Forest is, her ideas on fighting and what battle really means change. She also tries to save the dying Dark Forest cat that Thistleclaw kills, even though she knows what kind of cats inhabit the Dark Forest, and she recognizes that love for other cats and compassion matter more than defeating your enemies, even if Thistleclaw says otherwise.
Thistleclaw is obviously manipulating and guilt-tripping her at several points, and it’s not a healthy relationship at all. But even through that, Spottedpaw manages to stand up for herself and what’s right, and when she realizes that Thistleclaw isn’t going to stop hurting cats no matter what she does, she walks away, and she makes a choice based on what she wants for her life, not on what he wants. She’s willing to walk away from a cat that she loves and she thinks loves her, because she knows what he is doing is wrong, and she’s strong enough to know what she wants in life and what path she wants to take. I thought Spottedleaf showed a lot of strength in this book, more than we’ve seen from her before.
It’s surprising that this book, which didn’t mention Firestar at all (which I was grateful for, we finally got a chance to learn who Spottedleaf is outside of her relationship with him), made me far more curious about her relationship with Firestar than if he’d been mentioned. Now that I know who Spottedleaf is, it makes me more curious about how a relationship between her and Firestar would have worked. I definitely don’t believe she would have given up being a medicine cat for him, now that I’ve seen why she made that choice. But it does make me much more invested in their relationship, and it makes me far sadder about her ultimate fate that I originally was. Overall, I was really, really happy with this book’s portrayal of Spottedleaf.
And here comes the controversial part. 😛 A few years ago, I wrote an article about why I don’t think Thistleclaw is a misunderstood character. I still stand by what I said in that article, and now I have even greater reason to dislike Thistleclaw. As I pointed out in my old article, Thistleclaw sat by and watched as his apprentice nearly killed a kit, actively goaded him and egged him on, and was actually angry when Bluefur stepped in to save Tiny. He also trained in the Dark Forest, went on a rant about how the blood of ThunderClan’s enemies must mark their borders, and was all-around aggressive.
However, it seems to me that there’s a trend in the fandom to try and excuse Thistleclaw’s actions as grief over losing Snowfur. I’m not entirely sure where this idea came from. Thistleclaw was ambitious long before Snowfur died, as shown by his bragging to Snowfur that he would be leader of ThunderClan one day. He was always aggressive as well, in his training and in battles. Not to mention, even if that were the case, grief over losing someone doesn’t excuse nearly watching a child be murdered in front of you and doing nothing to stop it, especially not actively encouraging it.
This book features more of Thistleclaw’s villainy, and more explanation for why he went to the Dark Forest. And I think it’s fitting. I’ll get more into the Thistleclaw/Spottedpaw relationship below, but I’ll still focus on it a bit here. This book pretty much trounces the theory that Thistleclaw only let Tigerpaw hurt Tiny and did other bad things because he was so caught up in his grief for Snowfur. I’ve seen complaints about that online, but for the reasons I stated above, I never really believed that theory anyway. I like how this book shows quite clearly that Thistleclaw had a chance to start over again with someone who cared about him (in a deeply unhealthy relationship, but we’ll get to that), but he refused it because his ambition and his thirst for battle mattered more to him.
Thistleclaw is a villain. He was always meant to be a villain. This book just shows that aspect of him in more depth. He kills a cat in the Dark Forest, and doesn’t see anything wrong with it, because it just meant he was the stronger in battle. That doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen with his character before – he did basically the same thing with Tigerpaw and Tiny, saying that it was Tiny’s problem if he wasn’t strong enough to defend himself even if he was a kit. He proves once and for all that ambition comes before love (no matter how unhealthy) and compassion or him, and that shows very clearly why he deserves to go to the Dark Forest.
His relationship with Spottedpaw is also clearly unhealthy. Thistleclaw has a son older than Spottedpaw, and is pursing a very young apprentice. He manipulates her and guilt-trips her, like when he says he’s a terrible cat and not worthy of her after their argument about Tigerpaw attacking Tiny, prompting her to start comforting him like she’s the one who did something wrong. This just further shows Thistleclaw’s selfishness and villainy. He’s willing to do what it takes to get what he wants, no matter who he hurts along the way, and what effect it’ll have on such a young apprentice if he starts pursuing her romantically. Their relationship is unhealthy, but it’s meant to be seen that way, and it’s fitting for Thistleclaw’s character in my eyes. It simply expands on the traits we’ve seen from his character in the past. I really don’t understand any of the arguments that this book somehow ruined his character – from what I’ve seen in the books, this is who he’s always been, we’re just seeing more of some parts of him than before.
I read the preview on iBook before reading the whole novella. In that sample, we saw a Spottedkit that completely contradicted any image we’d had of Spottedleaf before. She was wild, she was ambitious, she was bossy, she was determined to fight to defend her Clan and to be the best warrior ever. It was surprising, to say the least. I admit, I was wary of how different Spottedpaw seemed from earlier depictions, and of her wanting to originally be a warrior, when I started reading the book. I was worried that she would be another Yellowfang or Jayfeather, a cat who was so determined to be a warrior, but was forced into the unwanted role of medicine cat by fate or StarClan or some other circumstance. It’s one of my least favorite plots, and I wasn’t looking forward to that becoming the plot for one of the cats who had seemed to actually like being a medicine cat.
But after reading the whole book, I honestly thought they handled Spottedpaw’s transition from warrior apprentice to medicine cat apprentice really well. She started out wanting to be the best warrior for her Clan and defend them in battle, but through the Dark Forest training sessions and seeing the strength of Thistleclaw’s ambition and how bloodthirsty he was, she began to learn what fighting could really mean, and how cats can take it too far and enjoy battle for the sake of battle rather than defending their Clan. Through helping Featherwhisker, she slowly discovered her own talent for healing, and how she preferred it to hurting cats in battle.
Though there were outside factors to her deciding to become a medicine cat, namely Thistleclaw, she finally decided that being a medicine cat was the way she wanted to help her Clan, not just because of her talent for it, but because she wanted to be a healer. There was no omen from StarClan, no power that meant she had to be a medicine cat, no cat forcing her to give up her dreams of becoming a warrior. How she felt about Thistleclaw was clearly a part of her decision, but it felt more like she would be willing to set aside her desire to be medicine cat if he gave up going to the Dark Forest, not that him rejecting her somehow made her feel like she had to be a medicine cat. I just really liked that it was about her wanting to be a medicine cat, and making that decision based on not only what was best for the Clan, but on what was best for herself.
This is one of my pet peeves in fiction in general. In a prequel, a character who wasn’t around for a certain scene or who wasn’t privy to a certain secret suddenly knew about it all along, or was somehow involved in making something happen that originally had nothing to do with it. If it’s well-written or especially clever, sometimes it can work, but most of the time it feels forced and just serves to annoy me. It’s happened in Warriors before, but not too much, thankfully.
Unfortunately, this trope crops up in Spottedleaf’s Heart, and it did annoy me. Spottedpaw seeing Tigerpaw attacking Tiny wasn’t too terrible for me, since it wasn’t some big secret, and it helped advance Spottedleaf’s character arc and her realization of who Thistleclaw truly is. The one that bugged me was Spottedpaw seeing Bluefur sneaking her kits out of camp.
That addition felt especially contrived to me, since Bluefur was so careful to keep anyone from seeing her leaving camp. It’s such a big secret in the series, and it really wasn’t necessary for Spottedpaw to know about it in order to complete her character arc. It could have just ended with the kits going missing, Bluefur becoming the new deputy, and Spottedpaw reflecting on how she made the right choice and it’s a good thing Thistleclaw wasn’t chosen, or something. I’m not sure, but having more characters know about these big secrets makes them seem less impressive, if that makes sense.
There’s a fair few inconsistencies in Spottedleaf’s Heart. It isn’t quite as bad as Yellowfang’s Secret in that regard, but they’re worth mentioning.
There seems to be some odd stuff going on with the timeline here. In Bluestar’s Prophecy, Whitestorm is still a kit when Tigerpaw attacks Tiny on his patrol, and I think Spottedleaf and her litter weren’t born yet. And yet in this book, Spottedpaw is an apprentice when Tigerpaw attacks Tiny, and witnesses it. In addition, Bluefur is expecting kits already by the time Whitestorm is made a warrior in this book. In Bluestar’s Prophecy, however, Whitestorm is already a warrior when Bluefur goes off to meet Oakheart at Fourtrees, and she isn’t expecting kits until after that. There might have been other inconsistencies, but those were the big ones I noticed.
It is a bit annoying when the timeline gets tangled like this, at least in terms of figuring out what the canon version of events is, when there’s contradictions like this. But honestly, in this book, it didn’t bother me all that much. Finally seeing a personality for Spottedleaf and getting a satisfying character arc for her made up for some of the timeline oddness for me.
Now to get into the inclusion of this relationship in the book. I’ve already talked about why I believe this relationship is fitting for Thistleclaw’s character as an extension of his villainy, but now I want to address whether it was appropriate to include a relationship like this in this book.
There’s been arguments that a relationship between a warrior and such a young apprentice is not appropriate for a book for this age demographic. I can understand this argument – however, I’m not sure that it’s so much worse than some of the other things that have been included in Warriors. For instance, there’s already been domestic abuse in Warriors through the relationship between Tom and Turtle Tail. That especially seems like it’s on the level of this kind of relationship.
I do agree that it would have been nice if there was a little more indication in-text that the relationship wasn’t healthy through the reaction of another cat (I’m not counting Goosefeather, he’s always been a useless lump of fur so it’s not out of character for him to do nothing to stop a warrior from taking advantage of an apprentice like that and to act like it’s somehow Spottedpaw’s fault for not realizing she’s being taken advantage of).
There’s also the question of whether including this relationship was really necessary for the plot of this book and for advancing Spottedleaf’s character. Reading about their relationship is uncomfortable, which is why this is under the “neutral” label, it’s not fun to read about Thistleclaw hitting on a young apprentice and manipulating her. And no, it wasn’t necessary, per se. But I think it works well for the story that is being told, and it allows the book to both explore Thistleclaw’s villainy and Spottedleaf’s arc further. It wasn’t necessary, and it certainly shouldn’t be viewed at all that Spottedpaw had to go through something like this to become the strong cat she did. But for the story that’s being told, it works well, and I think it’s for the most part handled well.
In conclusion, I really liked this book, minus some cliches and continuity issues. I especially appreciated getting to know Spottedleaf’s personality better.