My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 384 pages
Release date: 7 August 2018
When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play. It’s time to see how many lives this cat really has. . . .
Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.
Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.
“Being normal is a trap…Don’t let it cage you.”
I tried my best to hate this one. Really I did. I was expecting to dislike this one so badly, I scanned every sentence looking for some Maasism to object to. Overdramatic fragments, unironically snarled and purred dialogue, tragic declarations of love–we’re all familiar with what we can expect from YA’s arguable #1 author these days. But no matter how hard I wanted to hate Catwoman: Soulstealer, I couldn’t muster the outrage because…surprise surprise, it was actually really good. Alright SJM, it looks like you win this round.
Without a doubt Catwoman: Soulstealer is the best SJM publication since at least A Court of Mist and Fury, possibly–just possibly–of all time. I feel it helped that she didn’t have to live up to series expectations here; barring a less pressing need to maintain some congruence with the comics, she could just write the story she wanted. And we know from her early work, before her two hit series got bloated and their editing rushed, Maas writes pretty well if she takes the time to polish. The difference between a cash cow-milking, fan-pleasing SJM and a genuine, passion-project SJM (as this book was for her) is stunning. Part of me can scarcely believe that the author of Catwoman: Soulstealer and the author of the crap pile that was A Court of Frost and Starlight are one and the same.
In retrospect, SJM’s compatibility with the DC universe makes so much sense. The cheesy, larger-than-life flair she likes to afford her protagonists fits perfectly in a superhero story, where audiences come expecting cheesy and larger-than-life at the cost of practical realism. Since Maas loves making her main characters powerful, implausibly competent superhumans anyways, I wonder if this isn’t the genre for her.
Catwoman: Soulstealer is the DC Icons novel that most involves the comics so far. Talia and Nyssa al Ghul, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, the Joker, Carmine Falcone, James Gordon and others all make appearances. Soulstealer‘s Selina, though, is a definite improvement from the sexed up cat burglar Selina could have been. She’s SJM heroine all the way. In fact, her background is almost Celaena Sardothien on Earth, minus the secret royal heritage that I always kind of hated. The League of Assassins where Selina gets trained is basically Arobynn Hamel on steroids, and she doesn’t come out of it any less jaded than Celaena. Their names even sound alike.
For all the darkness, there’s a definite romcom aspect to the story. Selina masquerades as snobby socialite Holly Vandeerhees by day, and Holly’s neighbour is none other than Luke Fox aka Batwing, who’s also hiding his alter ego behind the front of a trust-fund baby. I really liked their interactions, both as ‘themselves’ and as their personas. The cuteness, the near misses, the sass–everything you could ask for is there.
So are the plot twists. There are some great, great plot twists in this book. In classic SJM fashion, most of them stem from the protagonist making plans, not letting the reader know and then executing them with a wink, but they work so well I can’t begrudge them.
Best of all, this book is well edited. Alongside contrived prose, poor editing has been one of my biggest issues with SJM’s recent work. Some of her novels–namely Tower of Dawn and A Court of Wings and Ruin could have been quite decent if they were half their length. Catwoman: Soulstealer cuts out the fluff. It’s fast-paced, succinct and delivers the good bits and not more. Whoever forced Maas to stick to 384 pages has to be commended.
The ending descends slightly into motivational quote dialogue, but only the ending. Worthy as it is of an eye roll, the clichéd lines are a lot more tolerable in small doses. This is what you gotta do normally, Sarah. Give an inspirational speech once in a novel and it’s inspiring. Give them ten times and they just become dumb.
As a last note, can I just say I hope Ivy and Harley eventually reunite and live happily forever saving the planet from climate change. Their dynamic has got to be a highlight of the book.
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